Exercise Substitutions: The Pull Up

Thursday July 25 2019
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The pull up is one of the best upper body strength and muscle building exercises. The pull up primarily trains the muscles of the back, with a huge focus on the lats. The pull up is also a fantastic exercise for developing a stronger core and impressive arms. Pull ups are highly portable, all you need is something to hang from and you can bang out a set in no time. Suddenly tree branches, door ways, scaffolding, and more can become a gym in seconds. It’s also a great “strength to bodyweight ratio” test. The lighter and stronger you are, the more pull ups you can do.

For all those reasons and more, the pull up is a fantastic exercise. But, as we’ve mentioned throughout this series of “exercise substitutions”, the pull ups is an exercise and not a movement pattern. This means, the standard method of performing the pull up might not work for you, your unique anatomy, and injury history.

The standard pull up is often performed on a bar, with your palms facing away from the body (pronated), and hands around just outside of shoulder width apart. This set up, for some people, can cause issues. For those with “tricky” shoulders or shoulder injuries, the fixed position of training your pull ups using a straight bar with your palms facing away may aggravated shoulder issues.

If this is the case with you, then perhaps a great substitution would be …


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Gym Ring/Suspension Trainer Pull Ups: 

Performing your pull ups using gym rings or suspension trainer, such as a TRX, allows for a much smoother experience for the shoulders. Because the hands are not stuck in a fixed position, like they are when performing pull ups on a bar, they can freely rotate throughout the movement in a way that allows for natural movement of your unique shoulder joint. For many people, this small change will help eliminate discomfort in the shoulders, as well as the elbows, during pull ups.

How to perform the ring pull ups:

  • Hang from the rings as you would for a pull up, palms facing a way from the body and shoulders “packed down” pulling them away from your ears. This will engage your upper back, lats, and the muscles surrounding your shoulder blades.
  • Begin to pull yourself up towards the ceiling, rotating the hands around as you pull yourself up
  • Once you’ve reached the top of your pull up, your palms should be fully rotated around and facing your body
  • Slowly lower to the start potion, rotating the hands back to the starting “facing away from the body position” as you lower


As always, this may or may not work well for you. It’s just one of the many exercise substitutions available for the pull up. If you’re confused and don’t know what might work well for you, and need some guidance, set up a meeting with one of our Wynn Fitness Trainers. They’ll help you figure out what exercises are right for you and your body type.



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