Special Pull Up Variation to Build a Stronger Back (Tutorial and Progressions)

December 31, 2017 by VAHVA Fitness

Special pull up variation to build stronger back muscles and improve your pulling mechanics. 

The basic pull up is one of the hardest movements to truly master. Sure many can do many reps of pull ups, but mastering the single rep is a very high level feat.

In the beginning it's fine to focus on just completing the repetitions, but the stronger you get the more you should start to focus on the quality of your repetitions. Once you do this, the number of repetitions no longer matter.

Chasing a certain amount of repetitions, a certain amount of weight or a certain progression will only ruin the exercises and thus hinder your progress.

In the fitness world there is a massive misconception between demonstrating strength and building strength. 

One-arm chin ups look cool and chin ups with extra weight can look impressive, but they are poor ways for building strength.

Real strength, or "universal strength" as we call it, is built by focusing on quality and the basics are perfect for quality training because they are not too hard and not too easy.

Many think they can do good pull ups, but most people still make these mistakes:

  • Poor scapula (shoulder girdle) stabilization.
  • Poor core stabilization.
  • Bad pulling mechanics (not driving with the back muscles).
  • Momentum and kipping.

Even if the form looks "pretty good", it's not perfect and it's often only good on paper.

Believe it or not, but you can use the core to generate movement even when it appears to be static. Likewise, a small amount of scapula movement can make a big difference.

ENTER: Wide Underhand Chin Ups

underhand wide pull up

What makes the wide underhand chin up special is that it promotes very good form and pulling mechanics. 

The wide underhand chin up locks the elbows and shoulders in a nice line which forces you to pull with your back muscles. Cheating with a bad form like cranking with your arms is made very difficult. 

The wide underhand chin up will work the teres major, latissimus dorsi and posterior deltoids. Your middle back muscles are also worked thanks to the scapula stabilization. 

If you feel pain in the wrists, then pick a narrower grip. Also, mobilizing your wrists can be a good idea. 

How to make progress with pull ups:

  1. It's fine to arch the back, just try to keep the core and hips stable (not generating movement).
  2. The next step is to tighten the core (core stability) to add resistance to the exercise.
  3. You can also raise the knees up to change the angle of the body even further.

All of these variations are slightly different in their pulling mechanics (which makes them all useful), but the most important things to focus on are stabilizing the shoulder girdle and stabilizing the core.

The real "perfect pull up" could be considered a mythological repetition where your scapula and core are perfectly stable and you are purely pulling with the shoulder joint.

The next step would be to improve your mind-muscle connection to the targeted muscles and improve your pulling form even further. There really is endless progress to be made.

Adding Weight is a Low Level Tactic

Once people can do many pull up repetitions, they often start to progress by adding weight or by moving towards the harder variations (like unilateral - single arm pulling).

This is what most calisthenics trainees and coaches recommend and this is a very poor way to make progress. It is a simple low resolution tactic but easily graspable by everyone ("just add more weight").

The only reason why you should do different variations of an exercise is not "to make progress with the harder exercise" but to train different parts of the arms and back.

For example, pull up (overhand grip) and chin up (underhand grip) are two very different exercises and they emphasize different muscles of the back. There are lots of overlap though.

No exercise variation is better than another. People have been misled to believe there exists better and more effective exercises.

This is how we have done it in Movement 20XX online course. All pulling exercises of Movement 20XX are useful and work, they just target different areas of the back.

Progressive bodyweight training is the lowest level tactic known to man, but people do it for 3 reasons: 1. it's good for the ego,  2. it's easy to grasp, 3. they don't know better.

The best way is to focus on the body itself and not be fooled by the external factors which are only poor indicators of strength and success.

A properly done pull up is many times more effective than a heavy pull up done poorly.

To make real progress with any exercise out there, you have to focus on the body and master the form. The better you can do a pull up, the better results you will get.

In pull ups there is an endless amount of progress to be made by improving your scapula and core stability and by improving your mind-muscle connection.

Focusing on quality is the worst thing you can do for your ego (because you cannot immediately show off to your friends), but the best thing you can do to build universal strength.

Do you actually want to get strong or do you just want to appear strong?


samuli jyrkinen

About the author 

Samuli Jyrkinen

Samuli is the ninja behind the scenes (photography, videography, websites, program platforms and more). He has been training religiously for over a decade and has a firm grasp of physical and mental fitness. You will find our story here.

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