From pull ups to muscle ups

One of the most known and diffused exercises in fitness and Cross Training gyms are pull ups on the bar. It’s a fundamental exercise both for training at home and at the gym, and is able to be performed in many variants from those that are simpler to more complex. It develops strength and elasticity, that’s why it’s in multiple sports and is fundamental in bodybuilder preparation, for those who practice calisthenics, functional fitness and in general for those who want to become stronger and more muscular.

What are pull-ups

The pull up is a bodyweight exercise that’s done on the bar that consists of pulling yourself up, attached to the bar with your hands.

The types of pull ups that are most common are the standard ones (prone grip, with thumbs facing inwards) and chin ups (supine or inverse grip, with thumbs facing outwards). Pull ups can also be done with just strength or with the use of kipping, more typical of Cross Training, or with an oscillation of the legs that allows the use of the pelvis and core. Pull ups can also have the goal of bringing the chin above the bar, or the chest to the bar (chest-to-bar pull ups). 

pull-ups exercises

Given the complexity and the various possibilities of performing this exercise, the pull up is a movement that involves practically all of the muscles of the upper part of the body, gran dorsal, deltoids, biceps, triceps, subscapularis, infraspinatus, rhomboids, but also the abdominal wall (core) and a large variety of primary and secondary stabilizing muscles. Variations in the width of the grip, the range of movement and in the execution also the focus and the main muscles involved varies.

Considering a complex movement, in suspension, that requires strength and coordination, often its necessary to practice a lot and to have good progressions before being able to master one or more strength pull ups done well to then pass to the variants with the chest to bar or kipping.

How to get started with pull-ups

It would be opportune to start with pull ups at a low height or TRX, maintaining the feet on the ground to then progress to isometric holds on the bar, first in suspension and then with the chin above the bar, slowly increasing the amount of time you’re holding, and as a last step negative pull ups should be included (both with the standard and chin up grip). Next, you can pass to the pull ups on the bar with a resistance loop, of decreasing intensity and lastly with bodyweight.

Variants of exercises at the barre in fitness

Beyond the classic pull ups, on the pull up bar you can also perform more complex movements like muscle ups and toes-to-bar.

From pull ups to muscle ups

Muscle up

The muscle up is the combination of the pull up and a dip on the bar, so an advanced movement that unites pull and push. Natural evolution of the pull up and chest-to-bar, although it can seem like a purely strength movement, it requires also a lot of mobility and flexibility, understanding of one’s own body and of the core. Like the pull ups, it can be done with just strength or with momentum, using legs, knees and pelvis to facilitate the ascent. Contrary to the pull ups, they can’t be done with an inverse grip, because this doesn’t allow you to rotate the hands changing the grip in the transition phase for a quick and efficient dip.

Toes to bar

Il toes to bar invece è un esercizio per allenare principalmente gli addominali, essendo il core il motore del movimento. Infatti, seppur sembrano le gambe a muoversi, sono spalle e addominali a governarne la meccanica. 

The toes-to-bar instead is an exercise to mostly train the abdominals, since the core is the motor of the movement. In fact, even if it seems like the legs move, it’s the shoulders and the abdominals that govern the mechanics. 

In the toes-to-bar you start by hanging on the pull up bar and you bring your feet above your head to touch the same bar. Like all movement on the bar, they can be done with strength or with the help of kipping.

In fitness and Cross Training, these movements are inserted into the workouts, once the learning phase is completed, it’s necessary to develop consistency and efficiency in order to perform the most repetitions possible in the unit of time and under strain.

Pull up bars: how and which to choose

For all of the movements and the skills that we’ve described, it’s necessary to have a pull up bar available. Depending on the type of movement and work, even the bar to be used should have different characteristics. 

If you work out at the gym or in a box no problem, you’ll surely have a certain variety of bars available that can be used for your purpose. You should always evaluate the height and the distance from the ceiling, essential for muscle up bars, the solidity of the structure if you do kipping movements, and the grip and the capacity of the bar. There are bars that are smoother and more slippery and others that are rougher. There’s not a better or worse version, it’s about finding the most comfortable one for you.

If you want to do pull ups at home, you can choose among many bars on the market, all different between themselves according to the space you have available and your budget.

Among the simplest and less bulky ones are the doorway bars, for someone who truly doesn’t have any space. Thanks to levers, this bar can be mounted and dismounted as desired on any door in the house, they occupy very little space, but they definitely limit the movements that can be done and not having a fixed fastening can cause safety issues.

From pull ups to muscle ups

Having a solid wall available and being able to have a slightly higher budget, a wall mounted pull up bar is surely the best choice. Stable and safe, it definitely guarantees the most versatility, practicality, and safety. They come in different measurements, with smaller or bigger sizes, some can also be fixed to the ceiling. 

Lastly, if you truly don’t have space problems, a good solution could be that of having a squat stand with an integrated pull up bar in order to optimize the space and the possibility of movements and laying the essential foundations for a home gym.



  • Project invictus. Trazioni alla sbarra: tutto quello che c’è da sapere
  • Sánchez Moreno, M., Pareja Blanco, F., González Badillo, J.J. y Díaz Cueli, D. (2015). Determinant factors of pull up performance in trainedathletes. The journal of sports medicine and physical fitness, 56 (7-8), 1-23
  • Leslie, K. L., & Comfort, P. (2013). The effect of grip width and hand orientation on muscle activity during pull-ups and the lat pull-down.Strength & Conditioning Journal, 35(1), 75-78
  • Ronai, Peter MS, RCEP, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D; Scibek, Eric MS, ATC, CSCS The Pull-up, Strength and Conditioning Journal: June 2014 – Volume 36 – Issue 3 – p 88-90
  • Prinold JA, Bull AM. Scapula kinematics of pull-up techniques: Avoiding impingement risk with training changes. J Sci Med Sport. 2016; 19(8):629-35.



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