Do These 16 Pull-Up Bar Exercises For A Full Body Workout (Can You Do Them All?)

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Julien Raby

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Want to know the most effective ways to engage your back, shoulders, arms, and core using just a pull-up bar?

In fact, you can perform a full-body workout using a standard pull-up bar. Here are the 16 best pull-up bar exercises to consider adding to your workout regimen. 

Pull Up Bar Exercises
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The 16 Best Pull-Up Bar Exercises

The pull-up bar is a fantastic piece of workout equipment, whether you’re a fitness veteran or new to training. You can adjust the range of motion or exercise selection to suit your fitness level. 

There are many more options than just the standard pull-up—so what are the best pull-up bar exercises?

Here’s a breakdown of each exercise in more detail. They’re ranked from hardest to easiest, can you do them all?

Front Lever

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The Front Lever is an advanced calisthenics exercise performed on a pull-up bar, known for its ability to develop strong core muscles, along with the back and arms. It’s an impressive skill that requires practice, strength, and technique.

Muscle Groups Engaged:

  • Primary: Core (especially the abdominal muscles and lower back)
  • Secondary: Lats, deltoids, biceps, and forearms

How to Perform: 

  1. Start Position: Hang from the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, arms fully extended.
  2. Raise Body: Engage your core and pull your body up while keeping it straight, like a plank.
  3. Horizontal Alignment: Gradually raise your legs and lower torso simultaneously until your body is parallel to the ground. Your eyes should be facing forward.
  4. Maintain Posture: Keep your body straight and rigid, avoiding any sagging or bending at the hips.
  5. Hold the Position: Try to maintain the front lever position for a few seconds initially, then gradually increase the duration as you gain strength.
  6. Return to Start: Lower your body back to the starting hanging position in a controlled manner.

Tips for Beginners:

  • Start with easier variations, like tuck front levers, where knees are bent and drawn to the chest.
  • Incorporate exercises that strengthen the core, lats, and shoulders.
  • Focus on technique and form rather than duration initially.
  • Gradually progress to the full front lever as strength and stability improve.

Muscle-Ups

Muscle-ups are an advanced exercise requiring tremendous amounts of core strength and body control. The movement combines elements from a standard pull-up and dip position. 

Starting from a dead hang on a standard bar, you pull yourself up and swiftly flex your wrists until the forearms are above the bar. The rep is finished when the bar is at waist level and the arms are entirely straight.

Muscle-Ups are designed for advanced athletes and target the following muscle groups: 

  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
  • Biceps Brachii
  • Trapezius (Traps)
  • Anterior Deltoids
  • Triceps Muscles
  • Pectoral Muscles

Muscle-ups utilize the chest and tricep muscles to the fullest. Strong abs muscles are critical, as you must keep your core tight throughout the entire range of motion. 

The exercise can be performed as a standard pull-up bar workout or with calisthenic rings. Either way, proper form is vital to ensure you can get over the bar without causing strain, tears, or injuries. 

How to Perform: 

  1. Begin by hanging from a standard pull-up bar with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you).
  2. Now, perform a standard pull-up, bringing your chest up to the bar.
  3. As you reach the height of the pull-up, transition the movement by explosively pressing your chest forward and bringing the hips up. 
  4. Continue through the motion, quickly rotating the wrists and elbows around the bar until your torso is above the bar. 
  5. Finish the exercise with your body supported above the bar and arms completely extended, similar to the top of a dip. 
  6. That’s one repetition. Repeat the muscle-up for your desired rep range. 

Hanging Windshield Wipers

Hanging Windshield Wipers, or simply “Windshield Wipers,” aren’t as easy as flicking a switch in your car. It’s an intermediate abdominal and core exercise that involves hanging from a pull-up bar or moving your legs in a side-to-side motion—mimicking the movement of a windshield wiper. 

Windshield Wipers don’t just target the abdominal region but also work the following muscles: 

  • Abdominal Muscles
  • Obliques
  • Erector Spinae
  • Hip Flexors
  • Hip Abductors and Adductors
  • Quadriceps
  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
  • Shoulder Stabilizers

Windshield wipers demand a strong core, oblique strength, and excellent stability. It’s best to build a solid foundation of core strength before adding it to your routine. The incorrect technique can lead to stress on the lower back, increasing the chance of injury.

Start with other core movements, like planks, leg raises, or crunches if you’re working your way up to windshield wipers. This will allow you to gradually increase your strength, flexibility, and range of motion. 

How to Perform: 

  1. Grip a normal pull-up bar using an overhand grip. Let your body hang off the ground with your arms completely extended.
  2. Before you begin, inhale deeply into your stomach and tighten the core. This helps stabilize your body and reduces the chance of injury or strain.
  3. Keep your legs straight and raise them straight up toward the bar. 
  4. Start the side-to-side movement by keeping the legs together and lowering them to one side. Maintain control and stability throughout the motion. You aim to bring your legs as close to the ground as your flexibility and strength allow without compromising your form.
  5. After lowering your legs to one side, reverse the movement and lift them back to the starting position
  1. Perform the same pattern in the opposite direction, lowering your legs to the other side and lifting them back up.
  2. Repeat the side-to-side windshield wiper motion for the desired number of repetitions or times, maintaining proper form throughout.

L-Sit Pull-Up

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The L-Sit Pull-Up is a challenging variation of the standard pull-up, known for its intense core engagement. This exercise combines upper body strength with core stability, offering a full-body workout.

Muscle Groups Engaged:

  • Primary: Upper back, biceps, and forearms
  • Secondary: Core, especially the lower abdominals

How to Perform: 

  1. Start Position: Hang from the pull-up bar with an overhand grip.
  2. L-Sit Formation: Lift your legs in front of you, keeping them straight, to form an ‘L’ shape with your body.
  3. Pull-Up Movement: While maintaining the ‘L’ position, pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.
  4. Controlled Descent: Lower yourself back down slowly, keeping your legs lifted.
  5. Repeat: Perform multiple repetitions while maintaining form.

Tips for Beginners:

  • Start by practicing the L-sit hold on the ground to build core strength.
  • Initially, perform the exercise with bent knees if straight legs are too challenging.
  • Focus on controlled, smooth movements to maximize muscle engagement.

Behind Neck Pull-Up

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The Behind Neck Pull-Up is an advanced variation targeting the upper back differently than traditional pull-ups. It requires good shoulder mobility.

Muscle Groups Engaged:

  • Primary: Upper back, particularly the trapezius and rear deltoids
  • Secondary: Biceps, forearms, and rotator cuff muscles

How to Perform: 

  1. Start Position: Hang from the pull-up bar with a wide overhand grip.
  2. Pull-Up Movement: Pull up with the goal of touching the back of your neck to the bar.
  3. Controlled Descent: Slowly lower back to the starting position.

Gironda Sternum Chin up

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The Gironda Sternum Chin-up, created by Vince Gironda, is a unique pull-up variation. It emphasizes the lower lats and requires a strong mind-muscle connection.

Muscle Groups Engaged:

  • Primary: Lower lats, upper back
  • Secondary: Biceps, forearms

How to Perform: 

  1. Grip: Use a wide, underhand grip.
  2. Pull-Up: Lean back slightly as you pull up, aiming to touch your sternum to the bar.
  3. Arch Back: Arch your back as you pull up.
  4. Lower Slowly: Return to the start with a slow, controlled movement.

Pull-Ups

The Standard Pull-Up is one of the best upper body exercises to incorporate into your workout routine. The movement seems simple at a glance, but it’s a challenging exercise requiring you to lift your entire body weight to chin height. 

It uses overhand grip strength and engages the following muscles:

  • Latissimus dorsi (lats)
  • Trapezius
  • Biceps brachii 
  • Rhomboids
  • Deltoids
  • Brachioradialis

Like all other pull-up variations, the movement also engages the core muscles as stabilizers.

The most basic form requires the hands shoulder-width apart or a bit wider. You can adjust your hand placement to perform a Wide Grip Pull-Up, which engages the upper back muscles more. A more narrow grip will engage the arms and shoulder muscles more.    

You can also make the basic pull-up easier by adding resistance bands. This can help you develop enough upper body strength and stability to perform an unassisted variation. 

How to Perform: 

  1. Stand underneath the horizontal pull-up bar. Reach up and grab the bar with both hands, palms facing away from the body (this is an overhand grip). Maintain a shoulder-width grip or a bit wider. 
  2. Now, start from a dead hang with your arms extended and your feet hanging off the ground. 
  3. Start the pull-up by engaging the back, shoulders, arm, and abdominal muscles. Start the upward movement by bending the elbows and bringing your chest to the pull-up bar. 
  4. Continue pulling yourself up until your chin is above the bar. Pause at the top of the movement for 1–3 counts.
  5. Now, slowly return to the starting position until your arms are completely extended. That’s one repetition. Repeat the exercise for your desired rep range. 

Chin-Ups

The Chin-Up is another staple exercise to develop upper body strength. Chin-ups use an underhand grip with the palms facing toward the body. This slight difference engages the biceps and forearm muscles more, making it an excellent arm workout.  

The Chin-Up works the following body muscles:

  • Biceps Brachii
  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
  • Brachialis
  • Rhomboids
  • Deltoids (Shoulders)
  • Brachioradialis
  • Abdominal Muscles
A man performs chin-ups on a pull-up bar
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The classic chin-up is often more manageable for beginners than the standard pull-up, making it an excellent workout to develop foundational strength. Like pull-ups, you can vary chin-ups by changing your grip width and angle to target different muscle groups to some extent.

How to Perform: 

  1. Like the standard pull-up, you will need a sturdy horizontal bar. Stand underneath the bar and grab it with both hands. The palms should be facing toward your body (underhand grip) with hands shoulder-width distance or slightly closer. 
  2. Assume the starting position by hanging with your arms extended and feet hanging off the floor.
  3. Execute the movement by engaging the biceps, shoulders, chest, and core muscles. Bend the elbows, pulling yourself up toward the bar. 
  4. Continue pulling until your chin is higher than the bar. Pause for a brief moment.
  5. Now, lower your body slowly to a dead hang position with the arms completely extended. That’s one repetition. Repeat the chin-up for your desired number of reps. 

Neutral-Grip Pull-Ups

Neutral Grip, or Hammer Grip Pull-Ups, have the hands in a neutral position where the palms face each other. It does require a parallel pull-up bar, which is available in most commercial and in-home configurations. The slight difference from an overhand grip provides more engagement to the upper arm muscles. 

With the correct form, it can be an amazing exercise for engaging the following muscles:

  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
  • Rhomboids
  • Trapezius (Traps)
  • Biceps Brachii
  • Brachialis
  • Brachioradialis

This grip variation is generally more wrist and shoulder-friendly compared to traditional overhand or underhand grips. It may be a good choice if you have wrist or shoulder issues.

How to Perform: 

  1. First, you will need a neutral grip-pull-up bar with handles parallel to each other. 
  2. Grab the parallel handles with the palms facing one another. The hands should be about shoulder-width apart. 
  3. Hang from the bar, arms completely extended, and feet hovering off the ground. 
  4. Start the pull-up by activating the back, shoulders, and arm muscles. Bend at the elbows, raising your chest toward the bar. 
  5. Continue the movement until your chin is just above the bar. Pause for 1–3 counts. 
  6. Now, lower your body with control. Return to the starting position with the arms fully extended. This is one rep. Repeat the exercise for your desired rep range. 

Toes-to-Bar

Toes-to-Bar (often abbreviated as TTB) is a challenging compound exercise commonly seen in CrossFit, calisthenics, and functional fitness routines. It’s similar to Leg Raises, as you start from a dead hang position. But unlike leg raises, you lift your legs until your toes make contact with the bar. 

TTB is an advanced abdominal and core-strengthening exercise primarily targeting the muscles of the core. 

The movement engages several muscle groups, including the following:

  • Abdominal Muscles
  • Hip Flexors
  • Lower Back (Erector Spinae)
  • Hip Stabilizers
  • Shoulders
  • Forearms and Grip Muscles

With a greater range of motion, Toes-to-Bar exercises engage the hips and abdominal muscles more intensely. It’s an advanced variation with a complicated form, but you can modify it by bending your knees as you lift your legs toward your chest. 

As you build strength and flexibility, you can work on straightening your legs and progressing to the full toes-to-bar movement.

How to Perform: 

  1. Grasp a standard pull-up bar using an overhand grip. Allow your body to hang freely with the arms completely extended and feet hovering off the floor. 
  2. Now, take a deep breath and tighten your core muscles to stabilize the lower back.
  3. Utilize your abdominal muscles to raise your legs toward your hands on the bar, keeping them straight and together. Your goal is to make contact between your toes and the bar.
  4. At the top of the movement, take a short pause for 1–3 counts. 
  5. Now, deliberately lower your legs to the starting position, maintaining control. Engage your core throughout the entire range of motion to prevent unnecessary motion. 
  6. That’s one repetition. Repeat the exercise for your desired rep range, maintaining the correct technique. 
Woman does toes to bar in a park
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Hanging Leg (Knee) Raises

Hanging Leg Raises, or Hanging Knee Raises is an abdominal and core-strengthening exercise. The movement involves a dead hang from a pull-up bar while raising the knees to chest level. Many commercial gyms also have assisted machines you can use to perform knee raises. 

Hanging knee raises primarily engage the lower ab muscles but also utilize the hip flexors and lower back muscles:

  • Rectus Abdominis
  • Transverse Abdominis
  • Hip Flexors
  • Obliques
  • Quadriceps
  • Adductors

As an abdominal exercise, this movement requires significant amounts of core strength. It’s critical to use proper form and practice until you have enough strength and flexibility. Overall, hanging knee raises are a fantastic movement to incorporate into your exercise routine. 

A man performs hanging leg raises
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How to Perform: 

  1. Stand underneath a stable pull-up bar. Grip the bar using an overhand grip (palms facing away from the body). Allow your body to hang freely off the ground with the arms fully extended. 
  2. Now, take a deep breath and engage your core muscles by pulling your belly button toward the spine. This helps stabilize the lower back and protects it from injury. 
  3. While keeping your legs straight or slightly bent at the knees, lift your legs upward in a controlled manner. Raise the legs higher to engage the lower abdominal muscles, or you can perform knee raises by bending your knees up toward your chest.
  4. At the height of the exercise, pause for 1–3 counts and tighten your core muscles. 
  5. Now, carefully bring your legs back to the starting position. Maintain control without excessive swinging or momentum. 
  6. That’s one repetition. Repeat the exercise for your desired rep range, using a full range of motion and control throughout. 

L-Sit Hold

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The L-Sit Hold on a pull-up bar is an advanced core exercise, combining abdominal strength with upper body stability. It’s challenging but offers significant core and arm benefits.

Muscle Groups Engaged:

  • Primary: Core muscles, especially the abdominals
  • Secondary: Arms, shoulders, and upper back

How to Perform: 

  1. Grip: Hang from the pull-up bar with an overhand grip.
  2. Lift: Raise your legs to form a 90-degree angle with your torso, creating an ‘L’ shape.
  3. Hold: Keep legs straight and hold the position.
  4. Return: Lower legs back down slowly.

Tips for Beginners:

  • Start with knees bent if straight legs are too difficult.
  • Gradually increase hold time as strength improves.

Band Assisted Chin-Up

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Band Assisted Chin-Ups are excellent for beginners or those working to increase their chin-up strength. The resistance band provides support, reducing body weight to be lifted.

Muscle Groups Engaged:

  • Primary: Biceps, upper back
  • Secondary: Core, forearms

How to Perform: 

  1. Setup: Secure a resistance band on the pull-up bar and place one foot or knee in it.
  2. Perform Chin-Up: Pull yourself up while the band assists your movement.
  3. Controlled Descent: Lower back down slowly, maintaining tension in the band.

Australian Pull-Ups

Australian Pull-Ups, or Body Rows or Inverted Rows, are a fantastic beginner exercise. With this exercise, the feet stay on the ground, with the hands grabbing onto the bar and the body at an incline position. This makes the movement less difficult, making it perfect for early fitness levels or those new to training. 

Australian Pull-Ups target the following muscle groups: 

  • Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)
  • Rhomboids
  • Shoulder Muscles
  • Biceps Brachii
  • Trapezius
  • Abdominal Muscles

This calisthenics movement can be a fantastic alternative to traditional pull-ups or chin-ups and help you develop upper body strength. Australian pull-ups can help build strength in the upper back, improve posture, and develop the muscles that support shoulder stability.

You can adjust the difficulty of this exercise by changing your body angle or using different hand placements. 

The more horizontal your body is to the ground, the more challenging the exercise becomes. Conversely, the more vertical your body is, the easier it becomes.

How to Perform: 

  1. First, locate a horizontal bar or similar surface. You can utilize a Smith machine bar, a low bar in a squat rack, or something similar. 
  2. Adjust the bar or surface so that it is around waist height. 
  3. Stand facing the bar a few steps away with feet hip-width apart. 
  4. Grab the bar with both hands using an overhand grip. The palms should be a bit wider than shoulder distance.
  5. Walk your feet forward a few paces so your body is at a slight angle toward the ground with your arms fully extended and your heels on the ground. Your body should be straight from your head to your heels.
  6. Now, maintain a tight core and pull your chest toward the bar by bending your elbows and retracting your shoulder blades. Your body should remain in a straight line.
  7. At the top of the exercise, pause and squeeze the shoulder blades together to engage the upper back. 
  8. Now, carefully return to the starting stance while maintaining control and tension throughout the body. 
  9. That’s one repetition. Repeat the exercise for your desired rep range. 


The article “Rise Above Average with These 8 Killer Pull-Up Bar Exercises!” from BoxLife Magazine details various exercises that can be performed using a pull-up bar. These exercises are designed to engage multiple muscle groups, including the back, shoulders, arms, and core. The article provides a breakdown of each exercise, offering step-by-step instructions on how to perform them correctly. This includes exercises like Standard Pull-Ups, Chin-Ups, Neutral-Grip Pull-Ups, and several others, each targeting different muscle groups for a comprehensive upper body workout.

For the new section on “Front Lever,” here’s a suggested write-up:

Negative Pull-Ups

Negative Pull-Ups focus on the eccentric (lowering) phase of the pull-up, beneficial for building strength, especially for those working towards their first full pull-up.

Muscle Groups Engaged:

  • Primary: Lats, upper back, biceps
  • Secondary: Forearms, core

How to Perform: 

  1. Start at the Top: Use a box or jump to start in the pull-up’s top position.
  2. Slow Descent: Lower yourself slowly and controlled.
  3. Duration: Aim for a descent of 5-10 seconds.
  4. Repeat: Use the box or jump for each rep.

Hanging Reverse Shoulder Shrugs

Hanging Reverse Shoulder Shrugs are an excellent exercise for targeting the lower trapezius muscles, which are often neglected. This exercise also helps in improving shoulder stability and mobility.

Muscle Groups Engaged:

  • Primary: Lower trapezius
  • Secondary: Upper back, shoulders

How to Perform: 

  1. Start Position: Hang from a pull-up bar with an overhand grip.
  2. Shrug Movement: Instead of pulling up, elevate your shoulders towards your ears.
  3. Controlled Lowering: Slowly lower your shoulders back to the starting position.

Why Should You Use a Pull-Up Bar?

If you have access to dumbbells or barbells, you might wonder, “Why should I use a pull-up bar?” 

This is a fair question. Pull-up bars have several unique advantages, like more functional strength, progressive difficulty, and more: 

  • Exercises can strengthen multiple muscles in the upper body, including the back, shoulders, chest, and arms. 
  • Every variation requires a strong grip, which can benefit other exercises, sports, or daily tasks. 
  • All of the movements engage the core muscles, which helps strength, stability, and coordination. 
  • Pull-ups are a bodyweight exercise, making them accessible, convenient, and low-cost. 
  • Pull-up bars can be used for various exercises beyond just pull-ups, including chin-ups, hanging leg raises, knee raises, and more. 

Regular pull-up bar workouts can strengthen the back and shoulder muscles. This helps improve posture, reducing the risk of developing a rounded or hunched back. 

With different exercises, you can perform a full-body workout, helping you achieve a balanced physique. Overall, the pull-up bar is an excellent piece of equipment that should be a staple in your fitness routine. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can I Workout With Just a Pull-up Bar?

Getting a full-body workout with just a pull-up bar is possible, but you’ll need to get creative. Besides standard pull-ups and variations, you can perform Hanging Leg Raises, Toes-to-Bar, and Windshield Wipers. These will engage your lower body and core, helping you target your entire body. 

How Do You Train for a Pull-up Bar?

You can use resistance bands, assisted pull-up machines, or perform variations to work up to a normal pull-up. Australian pull-ups or inverted rows are a beginner-friendly variation that allows you to develop strength. Negative pull-ups can also help you engage the same muscles and develop your technique. 

How Many Reps Should You Do on a Pull-up Bar?

The number of reps you should perform will depend on your fitness level, goals, and the variation you’re performing. A good rule of thumb is to perform three sets of 6–8 repetitions with 60–90 second rest periods. This can be a challenging starting point and help you develop the foundations of a strong upper body. 

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About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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