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Pull Arm Exercises: The Complete Guide
Keeping your workouts varied not only helps to keep you motivated, it’s also important for working all of the major muscle groups in order to see continued strength gains and muscle growth.
By splitting your training, you’ll be allowing certain muscles to rest and recover meaning you can fit more workouts into your week. Training can be split in a variety of ways. For example, one day you could use heavy weights with the next day being light weights.
Another way is to split push-pull workouts. One day, could be a push day, this would involve exercises such as the bench press where you push the weight away from you. Conversely, the next day would by a pull day. As the name suggests, pull exercises necessitate the use of a pulling movement.
With pull arm exercises, you’ll be using target muscles to pull yourself up and by adding resistance, which is done over time, you can increase your strength and muscle mass.
In addition, many pull exercises are compound movements, meaning they work different muscle groups. Typically, the biceps, forearms, and upper back muscles are all used during a pull day workout.
Pull arm exercises are highly recommended as they have several benefits. When you practice these exercises with good form and full range of motion, your muscles shorten as they experience concentric contractions.
These types of exercises work against the forces of gravity, think of curling the arm up during a barbell curl. Concentric movements may help improve overall muscle power and speed. This means they can have excellent carry over to push exercises, such as the bench press or squat.
This article looks at some of the best pull exercises that you incorporate into your strength training workout plan.
Top Upper Body Pull Exercises
One of the best and most well-tested bodyweight exercises that can enhance the upper body is the pull-up exercise. This exercise helps work your core, chest, shoulders, and back muscles.
A pull-up is an advanced movement so to make this exercise a little easier to perform, you can make use of a resistance band. Alternatively, you can make it more difficult by wearing a weightlifting lift belt and attaching a weight plate.
How to perform a pull up exercise:
- Stand beneath a pull-up bar and take hold of it with an overhand grip. Make sure that you grip the bar wider than your shoulders to allow for full range of motion. This will be your starting position.
- Raise your feet from the ground so you are now hanging from the bar.
- Retract your shoulders (drop them back and down) and brace your core.
- Start to pull yourself up inhaling as you go, aim to get your chin just above the bar (this may take practice and a bit of time).
- Pause briefly at the top and squeeze your back muscles.
- Slowly lower yourself back down with control, exhaling as you go.
- Aim for about 4 sets of 6-12 reps taking about 2 minutes rest time in between sets.
Single Arm Dumbbell Row
Another exercise to enhance your upper body is the single-arm dumbbell row exercise, working the lats, traps, rear delts and biceps. This is unilateral exercise meaning that it works the musculature of one side of your body at a time and all you need is a dumbbell and access to a weights bench.
How to do the single arm dumbbell row:
- If working the left arm first, place the dumbbell next to the bench on the left side.
- Position your right knee on the bench pad positioned towards the middle. Your left foot will stay fixed to the floor on the left of the bench.
- Take hold of the front of the bench with your right hand, this will provide support.
- Extend the left leg out slightly from the bench and maintain a slight arch to the lower back and neutral spine.
- Take hold of the dumbbell, making sure to keep your wrist straight.
- Slowly pull the dumbbell up towards your armpit without flaring out your elbow.
- Make sure that you keep your back parallel to the ceiling to maintain form.
- Pause at the top before lowering the dumbbell back down, do not lock out at the elbow joint.
- Repeat 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions before switching sides.
A chin-up exercise is a variation of the pull-up. The main difference between the two is hand position. With a pull up you would typically perform this with a pronated grip (overhand) which places less stress on the elbow joints. However, a chin up requires the user to take hold of the bar with a supinated grip, so that your palms face towards you. This grip formation makes for excellent bicep activation and muscle growth and is easier to perform when compared to a pull up.
How to do a chin up exercise:
- Stand underneath a pull up bar and hold it with an underhand grip so that your palms face towards you. Keep your hands in line with your shoulders so as not to put too much stress on the shoulder and elbow joints.
- Lift your feet off the ground so you are now suspended from the floor.
- Slowly pull yourself until your chin is just above the top of the bar, as with the pull up this will likely take some practice.
- Pause at the top before lowering yourself back down, exhaling as you go.
One of the benefits of chin-ups is that they are easier execute when compared to traditional pull-ups. This makes it a better option for beginners.
Pulldowns are an excellent alternative to chin-ups and pull-ups, especially if you’re new to strength training. The muscles activated in pull-downs are the same as those used when performing pull-ups or chin-ups. These muscles are, however, engaged to a lesser degree. The trapezius, deltoids, biceps, rhomboids, chest, forearms, and lats are all worked during the lat pulldown exercise.
Depending on which attachment you use would make a difference as to what muscles are worked the most. For example, a lat pulldown bar is quite long in length with a bend and will allow you to grip the bar at multiple widths. If you specifically want to target the lats, you’d choose a wide grip. Conversely, using a triangle grip (sometimes called a V bar) keeps the hands positioned closely together allowing you to isolate more of the mid upper back muscles.
To Perform the Lat Pulldown
- Select the appropriate weight on a lat pulldown machine and adjust the seat if necessary.
- If using a lat pulldown bar, take hold of it with a wide grip and take a seat.
- Keep your shoulders back and down.
- Your back should be straight with chest up.
- Pull the bar down towards your chest without flaring out the elbows.
- Hold at the bottom of the movement before slowly allowing the bar to return to the starting position.
- Repeat around 3 sets of 10 – 12 repetitions.
Seated Cable Row
Another name for the seated cable row is the cable low row. The prime mover muscles during this exercise are the lats, rhomboids, traps, and the bicep muscles. This movement helps to build a strong back which in turn can aid with improved posture.
How to do the Seated Cable Row
- To do the seated cable row exercise, ensure that you have access to a cable row machine with a V bar which will allow for a neutral grip.
- Sit on the seat pad and, if using a dedicated low row machine, place your feet on the foot plates making sure your knees are slightly bent.
- Lean forward and take hold of the V bar handles and sit upright.
- Your chest and head should remain up with a slight arch to the lower back. This is your starting position.
- With your arms extended, draw your hands towards your abs, keeping your elbows tucked in throughout.
- Squeeze your back muscles and exhale as you go.
- Pause for a second or two, before allowing the weight to return to the starting position.
Barbell Bent-over Rows
The barbell rows or the bent-over rows are fundamental upper-body pull exercises suitable for most people that wish to work on building a wider and stronger back. Aside from working the lats, it will also activate the posterior deltoids, rhomboids, traps, teres major, teres minor and the infraspinatus muscles making it one of best compound exercises for back development.
How to do the barbell bent over row exercise:
- Start off with a bar loaded with the desired weight. It can be positioned either on the floor or slightly elevated from the ground.
- Stand directly in front of the bar with feet shoulder-width apart.
- The next step is to get into a bent-over position, keeping your back straight at around 45 to 60 degrees.
- Take hold of the barbell, making sure that your grip is just wider than your shoulders.
- Keep your back straight with a slight bend in your knees. Brace your core.
- Maintain a neutral spine with your head up, and slowly bring the bar up and in towards your hips. Exhale as you pull the weight.
- Make a brief stop at the top of the movement and squeeze your back muscles. Then lower the bar slowly until it is below your knees.
If you find you are having to use momentum of the legs to pull the weight up, then this could be the result of too much weight. In which case, drop this back and try again. You’ll be using certain posterior chain muscles, such as the hamstrings and glutes, as stabilisers but they should not be assisting you with pulling the weight.
The inverted row is typically a bodyweight exercise, but weight can be incorporated to make it more challenging.
Set up involves a barbell and access to either a squat rack or power rack or a smith machine. A smith machine tends to provide the most stability with less movement of the barbell throughout the exercise. The correct height of the barbell is key to ensure good form and a full range of motion. To know how to position the bar lie on the ground and extend your arms up towards the ceiling. Wherever your hands reach, the barbell should be positioned just above this. This will allow your upper back to be slightly elevated from the ground at the bottom of the movement.
How to do an inverted row exercise:
- Lie on the ground and position yourself under the bar and take hold of it with an overhand grip at just outside shoulder width.
- Your upper back should be raised off of the ground whilst you are holding the bar.
- Your heels should be the only parts of your body that are touching the ground. This is your starting position.
- Retract your shoulder blades and pull yourself up towards the bar making sure you lead with the chest.
- Pause at the top before slowly lowering yourself back to the starting position.
What muscles are used for pull-arm exercises?
Most pull exercises will work many muscles of the upper body. This includes the lats, traps, rhomboids, biceps brachii, infraspinatus, teres major, teres minor and the core muscles. Depending on the specific exercise performed, will depend upon how much emphasis is placed on each muscle group.
Why are pull-arm exercises important?
As many people now live sedentary lifestyles, pulling exercises can help to engage muscles helping to build strength which in turn may help with improved flexibility, mobility, and posture.
Can pull arm exercises work biceps?
Several pull arm exercises work the biceps. This is because whenever you are practicing an exercise that involves pulling, your biceps will typically be activated. For this reason, practicing moves like banded pull-downs, chin-ups, and row variations build strength in your arms.
With pull arm exercises, there are many options which can be incorporated into workout routine irrespective of your fitness level and goals. As you challenge your upper body muscles, you strengthen many muscles of the upper body increasing both strength and stability. However, to obtain the most benefits, it’s recommended to combine pull workouts with push exercises to achieve maximum hypertrophy.
Finally, before committing to a new exercise routine it’s advisable to seek advice from a qualified personal trainer or fitness expert. They can assist with putting together the right workout for you taking into account your ability and any pre-exiting injuries.