From pull ups to muscle ups: everything you can do with a pull up bar

Certainly, one of the most well-known and diffused exercises in all of the fitness and Cross Training gyms are pull ups with the bar. It’s a pivotal exercise for both training at home and at the gym, able to be performed in many variants starting from the simplest to the more complex. It develops strength and elasticity, which is why it’s found in many sports and is a fundamental part of training for bodybuilders, calisthenics, functional fitness and in general for those who want to become stronger and more muscular.

  • Pull ups: what are they and how to start
  • From pull ups to muscle ups: variants of exercises done with a bar in fitness
  • Pull up bar: how to select the type you should choose

Pull ups: what are they and how to start

Pull ups are an exercise done on a bar using your bodyweight that consists of pulling your body upwards while attached to the bar itself with your hands.

The types of pull ups that are most common are the standard pull ups (prone grip with thumbs facing inwards) and chin ups (a supine or inverse grip with thumbs facing outwards). Pull ups can also be done with only strength or using the kipping movement that’s more typical in Cross Training, or with an oscillation that allows you to use your legs, 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).

Given the complex and various ways of performing it, pull ups are a movement that involve practically all of the muscles of the upper part of the body: grand dorsal, deltoid, biceps, triceps, subscapularis, infraspinatus, rhomboids, but also the abdominals (core), and a large variety of primary and secondary stabilizing muscles. Variations in the width of the grip, in the range of movement, and in the performance of the exercise can affect also the focus and main muscles involved.

Since it’s a complex movement in suspension, that requires strength and coordination, often a lot of practice and good progressions are needed before being able to master one or more strength pull ups done properly, to then be able to pass to the other variants with the chest-to-bar and kipping.

It would be opportune to start with pull ups on a low bar or with TRX, maintaining the feet on the ground to then pass to isometric holds on the bar, first while suspended and then with the chin above the bar, slowing increasing with time. As a last step, negative pull ups can be inserted (with both the standard grip and the chin up). Next, you can pass to pull ups with an elastic (loop band) of decreasing intensity and then body weight.

From pull ups to muscle ups: everything you can do with a pull up bar

From pull ups to muscle ups: variants of exercises done with a bar in fitness

Beyond the classic pull ups, with a pull up bar you can perform more complex movements like muscle ups or toes-to-bar.

The muscle up is a combination of a pull up and a dip to the bar, so an advanced movement that unites pull and push. The natural evolution of pull ups and chest-to-bars might seem like a movement of pure strength, however, it also requires good mobility and flexibility, as well as an understanding of one’s own body and core. As for the pull ups, it can be performed with strength alone or with momentum, using the legs, knees, and pelvis to facilitate the ascent. Contrary to the pull ups, you can’t perform it with a reverse grip, as this won’t allow you to rotate your hands and change grip in the transition phase for a quick and efficient dip.

The toes-to-bar on the other hand, is an exercise to train mainly the abdominals, since the core is the “motor” of the movement. In fact, even if it seems like the legs are moving, it’s the shoulders and abdominals that govern the mechanics.

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

In fitness and Cross Training, these movements are inserted in the workout, so that once you’ve completed the initial learning phase of the movement, it’s necessary to develop consistency and efficiency in order to perform the greatest number of repetitions possible in the unit of time and under stress.

From pull ups to muscle ups: everything you can do with a pull up bar

Pull up bars: how to select the type you should choose

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

If you work out in a gym or in a box, no problem, you’ll definitely have a variety of bars available for your specific purpose. The height and the distance from the ceiling should always be evaluated, essential for muscle up bars, the solidity of the structure, and if kipping movement is to be done, the grip and hold of the bar. There are bars that are smoother or slippery, and others that are rougher – there’s not a better or worse version, it’s about finding the one that’s most comfortable.

If you want to do pull ups at home, you can choose between a lot of bars on the market, all being different from one another according to the space you have and your budget.

Between the simplest and the less bulky, we have the doorway bars for those who don’t have space available. Thanks to the game of levers, this bar can be mounted and dismounted as desired from any house door. It occupies very little space, but definitely limits movement and not having a fixed anchor can be a safety issue.

If you have a solid wall available and are able to make a greater investment, then a wall pull up bar is the best choice. Stable and secure, it’s definitely the one that guarantees the most versatility, practicality and safety. They come in different sizes, with more or less bulkiness, some can even be fixed to the ceiling.

In conclusion, if you don’t have problems with space, then a good solution could be a squat stand with an integrated pull up bar, in order to optimize your space and the possibility of movement, and having the essential basics for a home gym.


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  • 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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