Wellness Warrior

What muscles do pull ups work?

Oh, the old favorite pull ups! But what muscles do pull ups work? This bodyweight exercise is a great way to build upper body strength. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a novice looking to build strength, adding pull ups into your routine can change your results for good. One of the key reasons for their enduring popularity is the comprehensive set of muscles they engage. I’ve wondered about the anatomy of pull ups for ages and finally decided to write a blog about it.

What muscles do pull ups work

What muscles do pull ups work?

While we might have a fugue idea of what muscles get worked while doing pull ups, what are all of the muscles that are used during pull ups? I recently added pull ups into my routine and I don’t regret it one bit. Although some hand positions are easier than others, it’s made a big impact on my arms and strength in general.

Lats (Latissimus Dorsi)

Lats are the main muscles that get worked during pull ups, although they definitely aren’t the only ones. As you initiate the upward pull, the lats undergo intense activation, stretching from the outer edges of the back to the spine. These broad muscles play an important role in executing the primary movement, pulling your body towards the bar.

Engaging the lats not only contributes to the impressive V-shape that many fitness enthusiasts aspire to achieve but also enhances upper body strength and stability. While these muscles might not always be as visible in women as in men, moving your body around by your arms only becomes a much easier task.

lats in pull ups

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Traps (Trapezius)

I love working on my traps, but man oh man do they hurt. But, the good news is, all the pain of stiffness is worth it! As you elevate your body during a pull-up, the traps kick into action, working to stabilize the shoulder blades and ensure a controlled and efficient pull. These kite-shaped muscles extend from the neck to the middle of the spine and play a role in maintaining proper posture and alignment.

Engaging the traps not only adds to the sculpted appearance of the upper back but also helps prevent unnecessary strain on the neck and shoulders.


These often-overlooked rhomboid muscles a great part when doing pull ups. Nestled between the shoulder blades, the rhomboids are key players in retracting and stabilizing the scapulae, ensuring proper form and function during each pull-up repetition. As you pull your body upwards, the rhomboids come alive, contracting to bring the shoulder blades closer together.

The rhomboids’ not only give you a great looking back but also play a role as their activation promotes shoulder health and reinforces the foundation for a variety of upper body movements.

Muscles in pull ups


Although biceps aren’t the main muscles being worked, they play a significant role and specific hand placements can change the intensity of these muscles. I tend to change my hands around, (underhand grip) palms facing me, to ensure a more intense focus on my biceps. As you pull your body upwards, the biceps, situated in the front of your upper arms, undergo significant activation to flex the elbow joint.

This dual engagement makes pull ups a dynamic compound movement that not only sculpts a powerful back but also leaves you with toned arms.


I tend to have a great weakness in my shoulders so making use of pulls up can really help work on my downfalls. The deltoid muscles form the rounded contours of the shoulders and play a supportive role in pull ups. As you pull your body upwards, the deltoids aid in the abduction of the arms, providing stability and control throughout the movement.

Pull ups can be really tough at first but using negative pull ups can be a great starting point.

ways to do pull ups

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The amazing benefits of pull ups.

There are so many benefits to pull ups that you might not even think about. Not only is this a great way to build upper body strength but to work on great posture too.

  • Upper Body Workout: Engages multiple muscle groups simultaneously, including the back, shoulders, arms, and forearms.
  • Improved Grip Strength: Enhances grip strength due to the necessity of gripping the bar throughout the exercise.
  • Increased Upper Body Strength: Builds overall upper body strength, contributing to improved performance in other exercises.
  • Versatility: Adaptable for various fitness levels, targeted muscles and goals.
  • Functional Fitness: Strengthens muscles used in daily activities, promoting functional fitness and reducing injury risk.
  • Scapular Stabilization: Engages the trapezius and rhomboid muscles, promoting stability in the shoulder blades.
  • Postural Benefits: Reinforces proper posture and alignment, especially in the upper back and shoulders.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: Contributes to a well-sculpted upper body, including the development of the biceps and deltoids.

How many pull ups per day should you do?

There is no magic number when it comes to how many pull ups you should be doing. Everyone is unique and that means that their reps differ too. For beginners, starting with a modest number, such as 3 to 5 pull ups per day, can be a reasonable goal. This allows the muscles to adapt gradually and minimizes the risk of overtraining or injury.

As strength and endurance improve, individuals may gradually increase the number of pull ups per day. Intermediate to advanced fitness enthusiasts might aim for 3 to 5 sets of 10 to 15 pull-ups, with adequate rest between sets. It’s crucial to listen to your body, ensuring that the exercise is challenging but not causing excessive strain. Consistency is key, and adding pull ups into a well-rounded workout routine alongside proper nutrition and recovery will contribute to sustained progress and overall upper body strength.

how many pull ups should you do

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Different pull up variations.

Using variations of pull ups can target different muscle areas and some variations are easier to do than others. By using a variation that suits your fitness level you can ensure your progress aligns with your fitness goals.

  • Standard pull ups: The classic overhand grip pull up targeting the back and biceps.
  • Wide grip pull ups: Hands placed wider than shoulder-width to emphasize the outer lats.
  • Close grip pull ups: Hands positioned closer together, focusing on the inner lats and biceps.
  • Chin ups: Palms facing towards you, emphasizing bicep engagement.
  • Mixed grip pull ups: One palm facing towards you, the other away, providing a unique challenge.
  • L-sit pull ups: Lifting the legs into an L-shaped position, adding core activation.
  • Towel pull ups: Gripping towels hanging from the bar to engage stabilizing muscles and improve grip strength.
  • Weighted pull ups: Adding resistance through a weight belt or vest to increase intensity and muscle development.
  • Assisted pull ups: Using a resistance band or assisted pull-up machine to support and gradually build strength.


Adding pull ups into your fitness routine is a powerful way to sculpt a strong and defined upper body. By understanding the muscles involved and the benefits they offer, you can tailor your workout to achieve specific fitness goals. So, grab that pull up bar, challenge yourself, and witness the transformative effects of this timeless exercise on your physique and strength. While they might be tough, they most definitely are worth it.

Happy Workout,

Your Wellness Warrior!

6 thoughts on “What muscles do pull ups work?”

  1. This article was very inspiring. I am what you call top heavy, so my shoulders look so narrow. I think adding pull ups to my routine would be something that will work well to balance me out.

  2. I love pull ups! They’re such a satisfying and empowering workout and they truly do work so many muscles. It was super interesting to read about all the muscles involved!

  3. Pingback: 9 Tips For Juggling Fitness And A Busy Life.

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