A pullup is one of the most difficult exercises to perform. It requires a substantial amount of upper body strength, plus the grip strength to pull your body up to the bar. Pullups mainly work the latissimus dorsi muscle, the big muscle group that runs from the fronts of your shoulders to your spine in your back. It also requires the use of many secondary muscles, including the biceps, rhomboids and some shoulder muscles.
The closest exercise to the pullup is the chinup. The chinup works all of the same muscle groups as the pullup, but places greater emphasis on your biceps. Chinups are often easier to perform than pullups, because there is less isolation of the latissimus dorsi. You perform chinups by placing your hands slightly closer than shoulder-width apart on the bar and using an underhand grip instead of an overhand grip. If chinups are still to difficult to perform, use an assisted pullup machine to work on developing strength in the muscles necessary for the pullup.
The lat pulldown exercise is another alternative to the pullup exercise. When performing the exercise, include at least two sets each using a wide-grip hand placement and a close-grip hand placement to ensure your are developing all the muscles needed for the pullup. Select a weight you can lift a maximum of between six and 10 repetitions each set. Pull the bar down until it is between your chin and your chest and pause for a moment before slowly returning to starting position. Avoid leaning back too far when bringing the bar down; this causes you to pull with your body weight instead of muscles in your back.
Bent over rows are an effective exercise that strengthens the same muscles used in the pullups. Bent-over rows are performed with either a barbell or dumbbells. Grasp the barbell with a hands wider than shoulder-width apart, using an underhand grip. Bend at the waist and, keeping your back straight and your core taut throughout the entire movement, pull the bar up to your lower waist and slowly return to starting position and repeat. Use your back muscles to move the weight, not your arms. When using dumbbells, perform the row using both arms simultaneously or with one arm at a time.
The biceps muscles are secondary muscles used in pullup and chinups. Strengthen your biceps muscles using exercises such barbell curls, dumbbell curls, single-arm cable curls or preacher curls. Regularly practicing a flexed-arm hang, in which your hold your body up at the top of the pullup position for as long as possible, not only develops strength in your biceps, but also the same back and shoulder muscles you use in the pullup.
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