Is the Pull-up Overrated? (Why You NEED to Master It)

The pull-up is an exercise that’s been around for a long time and can be performed without any special equipment. There’s some debate over the question is the pull-up overrated?. Pull-ups work your entire upper body. They strengthen everything in your back, work your arms and shoulders, and increase grip strength. Pull-ups provide numerous benefits to your body, so no, the pull-up is not overrated.

In this post, we’re looking at the age-old exercise, the pull-up, and what it has to offer. We’ll talk about the benefits for the body and the mind. We’ll look at the different types of pull-ups there are, as well as steps to help you get better at doing them. Keep reading to find out why pull-ups are not overrated exercises.


Why Do Some Think Pull-Ups Are Overrated?

Generally, those who think pull-ups are overrated feel that way because of the risk-to-reward ratio. They feel the risk involved isn’t worth the reward they get.

Pull-ups are hard on the joints at the wrist, shoulder, and the elbow. If you force pull-ups without proper form, you risk hurting yourself. But this is true of any exercise.

It may be that people feel pull-ups are overrated simply because they couldn’t ever do them. The bottom line is it’s up to you to decide what’s right for your body. If you take the time to learn the proper form and execute your pull-ups safely, you may find they’re an excellent addition to your fitness regimen.

What Are the Benefits of Doing Pull-Ups?

Is the Pull-up Overrated?
Is the Pull-up Overrated?


Pull-ups work several muscles all at once. That’s a huge benefit when so many of us don’t have a lot of spare time for working out. They also make the perfect partner exercise for all those push ups you’ve been performing. Let’s take a minute to look at what muscles are worked while performing pull-ups.

Pull-Ups Work Your Back Muscles

The pull-up is the best exercise for developing the muscles in your back. If you want that ripped look for wearing tank tops, pull-ups will help you get it. Below is a brief description of the four main back muscles pull-ups strengthen.

Trapezius (the traps) – These are those muscles that live at the base of your neck where it connects to your shoulders.

Latissimus dorsi (the lats) – Your lats are the biggest muscles in your back. They’re located toward the middle of your back and they run from your spine to your armpits.

Infraspinatus – These muscles are smaller and are part of the shoulder blade area. You work these when you extend your shoulders.

Thoracic erector spinae (three muscles) – These three muscles are in your middle and upper back. They work to support your thoracic spine.

Pull-Ups Work Your Shoulders and Arm Muscles

Regardless of the type of pull-up you’re doing, you’ll work the muscles in your shoulders. They are needed to pull your body up. But you can also work different muscles in your arms.

Your forearms get a good workout doing pull-ups. Your biceps can, as well. You can work your biceps more by changing the position of your grip on the bar. If you grip the bar underhanded, it will cause you to engage your biceps more for each repetition.

Pull-Ups Work Your Grip Strength

We mentioned above how pull-ups strengthen the muscles in your forearms. Those muscles are tied into your grip strength. The pull-ups will also strengthen your wrists and hands, causing your grip to get stronger.

Pull-Ups Provide Other Benefits

The pull-up is a good exercise for giving your overall health a boost. This is a strength training exercise that helps build muscle in half of your body. Muscle helps reduce the visceral fat that attaches to your organs. Reducing visceral fat then leads to less risk for diabetes, high blood
pressure, arthritis, and other conditions.

Studies show that strength training also helps with mental health. Research shows that strength training exercises like pull-ups help to reduce anxiety and fatigue, as well as depression symptoms. They also help people feel more confident with higher self-esteem. Cognitive abilities are typically higher in people who strength train regularly, as well.

Do Pull-Ups Shrink Your Waist?

While you can’t actually target areas of your body where you want to lose fat specifically with exercises, you can perform exercises that will help you get the results you want.

Pull-ups are good for building muscle. Muscle helps reduce visceral fat on your organs. That, in turn, does shrink your waist. The more muscle you build, the less fat you’ll have.

However, while they may not measurably shrink your waist, the result of doing lots of pull-ups is that your lats will grow creating the broad upper back that can give the illusion of a narrow waist.

So for aesthetic reasons, it is good to incorporate pull-ups into your exercise regime.

Pull-Up Variations

There are more kinds of pull-ups than you think. If you’re just getting started with this type of exercise, you should stick to the basics. So, let’s start with those.

Underhanded chin-up – Grip the bar underhanded with your palms facing toward you. You can keep your hands about shoulder-width apart. Pull your body up until your chin is just above the bar and then lower yourself back down.

Overhanded pull-up – Grip the bar with your palms facing away from you. Position your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Raise up until your chin is above the bar, then lower back down.

Wide grip pull-up – You’ll do these overhanded, too. They put emphasis on different muscles just like wide-armed pushups do.

Close grip pull-up – Place your hands less than shoulder-width apart on the bar. Pull your body up until your head is completely above the bar and lower back down to full extension.

Kipping pull-up – These are the pull-ups that were popularized by CrossFit. Grip the bar overhanded with your hands set shoulder-width apart. Pull your legs back and then swing them forward. Use the swinging momentum to help pull yourself up for the pull-up.

Weighted pull-up – You can alter any of the other pull-up variations to make it a weighted pull-up. Many perform this by wearing a weighted vest. You can also wear a weighted belt or use a chain to hang a weight plate around your waist.

These are some of the most widely-performed pull-ups. Once you master these, you can move on to more complex and isolating pull-ups.

How to Work Up to Doing Pull-Ups

Pull-ups aren’t easy for all of us. But you can do them if you know how to work up to it. In this section we’re looking at the steps you can take to build up enough strength for performing pull-ups and how to get better at them.

The first thing you should do is try to do a pull-up. If you can do one or two, congratulations. Make sure you write down where you started so you know how far you’ve gone later on down the line.

If you can’t do a pull-up, then start by gripping the bar and hanging there so your body gets used to holding the weight. You can increase your hang time every day to just get started.

The next phase is performing assisted pull-ups. You can do these with a set of resistance bands. You’ll loop the band over the bar and under your foot. That creates resistance that counters your body weight. You’ll perform your pull-ups at a percentage of your body weight. As you improve, you can change the resistance so less of your weight is countered.

Isometric Holds and Weighted Pull-Ups

Isometric holds help strengthen your muscles and build their endurance. You can jump up to where your head is above the bar. Then, hold yourself there as long as you can. Over time, you can increase the length of your hold.

Weighted pull-ups build strength and muscles even more. As you get better at doing regular pull-ups, you can start to add weight beyond your own body weight.

How Many Pull-Ups Should I Do Before Adding Weight?

You’ll want to work up to sets of around 12-15 pull-ups regularly before adding any weight. If you start adding weight too early, you increase the risk of suffering an injury.

Once you add weight, you shouldn’t add anything additional until you can do at least 6 reps per set.

What Is a Strong Weighted Pull-Up?

A strong weighted pull-up is in reference to the amount of weight added and the number of reps you can perform with it. Anything that’s 20% or more above your body weight that you can perform more than 5 reps with is considered a strong weighted pull-up.

The Proper Form for a Pull-Up

The most important part of doing pull-ups is to maintain proper form. Exercise injuries occur when people aren’t performing the exercise correctly.

Grip the bar overhanded with your hands a little more than shoulder-width apart. Pull your feet off the floor so you’re hanging. Tighten your core. Keep your shoulders back. Bend your elbows and lift your body up toward the bar. Try not to swing your legs or crunch your shoulders up. Once your head is above the bar, breathe in. Lower yourself back down as smoothly as possible.

Is the Pull-up Overrated? The Bottom Line

Pull-ups are not overrated. The pull-up has been around for decades. It’s an excellent strength-training exercise that works several muscles all with one motion. You can do it anywhere there’s a bar to hang from. As long as you take the time to develop your technique and perform them properly, you’ll get stronger and healthier with every rep.

So what’s your experience with pull-ups? Are you regularly busting out weighted sets of 10 reps? Or are you still struggling to master your first unassisted pull up? Let me know in the comments.



2 thoughts on “Is the Pull-up Overrated? (Why You NEED to Master It)”

  1. Hey Matt, I love your content! I wanted to ask what you thought about doing pull ups with a hiatal hernia? I’ve seen a lot of people say no and other say yes. Just wondered about what you thought. Thanks a bunch.

    • Hi Sean. Thanks for your comment and for letting me know you’re enjoying the site. I’ve got lots of new great content planned, but finding the time to write it is an issue at the moment!!

      You ask a very timely question – you’ll see why as I give you my take on whether pull ups are a suitable exercise for those with a hiatal hernia.

      My own experience would lead me to say that you are fine to do pull ups with a hiatal hernia. Recently, I’ve been smashing pull-ups, often completing over 70 chins in a circuit workout without even so much as a twinge of discomfort. No burps, no burning, nothing!

      In fact, chins and pullups have been a fallback exercise for me at times when my gastritis and hiatal hernia pain prevented me from lifting weights.

      So, all good?

      Well, there’s something else I need to share with you.

      Two weeks ago, we had to take my son to hospital as he complained of severe nausea and stomach pain that had persisted for more than 48 hours. His pain and discomfort seemed so familiar to me and, once the doctors had ruled out appendicitis and sent him back home, I began the work of investigating what my son had been eating before this unpleasant episode.

      In the conversation that followed, I discovered that he hadn’t eaten anything unusual, but he had been competing with his mates at school to see who could do the most pull ups!! Given that he doesn’t train (at least not yet, but he will be the subject of some upcoming content here), he complained that in the days following the pull up competition his abs were very painful as the DOMS kicked in.

      And this was just days before his acute nausea and pain episode!!

      This leads me to conclude that pull ups are fine for those with hiatal hernias if they are accustomed to performing them and they have a sufficiently strong core.

      If you’ve been diagnosed with a hiatal hernia and are looking to improve your health by starting strength training and want to incorporate chins into your workout regime, you need to be very careful and certainly don’t over-do it in the way that my son did.

      If you experience any pain in the stomach area whatsoever either during the session, or in the days that follow, back off completely and focus instead on improving your core strength.

      I hope this helps Sean, and I hope you’re having an excellent day.


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