Pull-ups are the best overall back exercise – how to get a massive back

April 08, 2016

Pull-ups (or chin-ups) are one of the best overall exercises. They are easy enough that kids can do them. Yet they can be challenging enough (with added weight) that even the biggest and strongest guy will find them challenging.

Pull-ups are fun. I have done pull-ups in a park with my kids. I made them more interesting by having my kid climb on my back and doing a few with their added weight. My kids thought it was hilarious and I actually got a decent mini workout.

Pull-ups are also a great indicator of overall fitness and strength. You can be a fat ox and still bench a ton of weight. However, if you are a fat ox you likely won’t be able to do a single pull-up. If you are looking to be attractive to the opposite sex pull-ups are a great test of where you are at. If you can do a ton of pushups that means you are strong and lean.

The Rock and Zac Efron just had a pull-up contest. The result? The Rock did 100 and Zac did 99. I am pretty sure most women would assure you that both of them are pretty damn good looking.

#BAYWATCH lifeguards are the fireman of the beach. I did 100 (over hand & wide grip) pull ups and @zacefron did 99. Valiant effort from the kid, but the OG pulled thru. For now, until he dusts me in the speed round. Us #BAYWATCH lifeguards take our jobs extremely serious and we're the best of the best. We're also slightly f*cked up and dysfunctional. #IGot99Problems #ButPullUpsAintOne #OnSet #BaywatchGauntlet #BAYWATCH MAY 2017.

A photo posted by therock (@therock) on

Once you start progressing and finding regular pull-ups easy, you can add weight to make it more challenging. Believe me, there is nothing more fun then strapping on a 45 pound weight and busting out multiple reps.


Pull-ups are a relatively straightforward exercise. This actually makes it very likely that you are doing them in a less than optimal manner. Here are some tips to try out next time you do pull-ups.

  1. Concentrate on your back – you should feel your back muscles throughout the movement. This sounds stupid simple but it really isn’t. Slow down and concentrate.
  2. Pause for a split second at the top of the movement (chin above the bar) and feel your bicep and back contract. This will help with the mind muscle connection that is so important to gaining muscle.
  3. Pause at the bottom. Don’t use your momentum to bring you up. If you can’t finish after pausing at the bottom, stop. Don’t swing and gyrate to complete.
  4. Chin-ups are better for beginners. They are a bit easier to do and can be less frustrating. This is because chin-ups put the bicep in a stronger position. I have found if someone can do 10 chin-ups they can likely only do around 7 pull-ups.


The other great thing about pull-ups is they have great alternatives for beginners. If you can’t do a pull-up you can start with complementary exercises and then can progress to the traditional pull-up. After that you can add weight.

Beginners should start with the first level below and work your way up. Even after you can do weighted pull-ups I would still recommend doing straight bodyweight pull-ups frequently. They are that great of an exercise.

LEVEL 1 – negatives and lat pulldowns
LEVEL 2 – band assisted pull-ups
LEVEL 3 – bodyweight pullups
LEVEL 4 – weighted pull-ups