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Which Pull-Up Grip Reigns Supreme? An In-depth Exploration of All Grip Types

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

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The pull-up is a challenging exercise and is often seen as one of the cornerstones of upper body strength. It’s used as a measurement for fitness in different militaries across the globe—but where do you put your hands?

Changing your pull-up grip position can drastically change the difficulty, comfort, and muscle recruitment.

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That’s why it’s essential to select a pull-up grip that suits your needs. We cover everything you need to know about the four primary types of pull-up grips in the article below. Read on for more information. 

The Different Pull-Up Grips

There are a few different pull-up grips that alter the range of motion, difficulty, and major muscles activated. Swapping to a different grip type might better suit your fitness goals or help you avoid joint pain and discomfort. 

Standard Grip Pull-Ups

The Standard Pull-Up uses a pronated grip or double-overhand grip. The palms face away from the body with the knuckles on top of the pull-up bar. The pronated grip is the traditional grip orientation, helping develop upper body strength. 

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The United States Marine Corps uses the regular pull-up form for their athletic performance test, requiring minimum criteria based on age and sex.

The standard grip primarily targets the upper back muscles like the lats and traps but also engages the biceps and shoulder muscles.

Benefits

  • Broad Muscle Engagement: Traditional pull-ups engage a wide range of upper body muscles, including the latissimus dorsi (lats), biceps, forearms, and the upper back. This makes it an excellent all-around exercise for upper body strength development.
  • Functional Strength: The standard grip closely mimics natural pulling movements used in daily activities and sports, making it a practical exercise that translates well to real-world scenarios.
  • Scalable Exercise: Pull-ups can be adapted to different fitness levels. Beginners can use assistance (resistance bands), while more advanced individuals can add weight or vary the grip to increase the challenge.

Training Tips

  1. Gradual Progression: If you can’t perform a pull-up yet, try using resistance bands, assisted pull-up machines, or other variations to develop strength. As you progress, you can incorporate different grip variations into your training regimen.
  2. Focus on Proper Form: Proper form is critical for all pull-up variations. Ensure your palms are facing away from you and your hands are slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your body straight, engage your core, and avoid using momentum.
  3. Scapular Engagement: Emphasize scapular retraction by squeezing your shoulder blades together as you initiate the pull. This helps target the lats and ensures better engagement of the back muscles.

Neutral Grip Pull-Up

Neutral Grip, sometimes called Hammer Grip Pull-Ups, has differences in muscle engagement, thanks to the hand position. The grip position has the palms facing each other, requiring a parallel grip pull-up bar.

The slight adjustment of the hammer grip pull-up places more engagement on the biceps brachii, forearm, and brachialis muscle

This makes the neutral pull-up variation a great assistance exercise for developing more arm strength. 

With proper form, the neutral variation can place less stress on the shoulder blades and wrists. Individuals with previous issues or a high risk of shoulder injuries tend to prefer this variation. 

Benefits

  • Shoulder-Friendly: The neutral grip, where your palms are facing each other, is often considered a shoulder-friendly option. It can reduce stress on the shoulders, making it a suitable choice for individuals with shoulder pain or those looking to vary their routine.
  • Engages Different Muscles: Neutral grip pull-ups emphasize the biceps brachii and the brachialis muscle in the arms. It also recruits the brachioradialis in the forearms to a greater extent compared to other grips. 
  • Comfortable Grip for Beginners: Some individuals find the neutral grip more comfortable when they are just starting with pull-ups, as it can feel less stressful on the wrists and shoulders.

Training Tips

  1. Perform the Full Range of Motion: Perform full-range neutral grip pull-ups, starting from a fully extended position with your arms straight and pulling yourself up until your chin is over the bar or as high as you can comfortably go. Avoid partial repetitions.
  2. Emphasize the Biceps: Pause for 1–3 seconds at the top of the pull-up and squeeze your biceps and forearms. This will increase the difficulty and increase the muscle recruitment, helping you develop more muscle mass.
  3. Maintain Control: Avoid swinging your body or excess momentum. Coordinate your breathing with your movements, maintaining a controlled descent. Exhale as you pull yourself up, and inhale as you lower yourself down.

Wide Grip Pull-Ups

As you can imagine, Wide Grip Pull-Ups use a wider grip. It still requires a double-overhand grip, but you use a wider hand placement on the pull-up bar.

Instead of grabbing the bar about shoulder distance apart, you place your hands significantly wider apart. This adjustment makes a more challenging upper body exercise, requiring more strength, mobility, and shoulder stability. 

The wide overhand grip style also places more emphasis on the upper back, especially the outer lats. It’s an excellent variation for building more muscle mass and achieving a well-rounded back. 

Benefits

  • Lats Emphasis: Wide grip pull-ups, where your hands are positioned wider than shoulder-width apart, emphasize the lats more. This grip variation is beneficial for targeting the outer portion of the back.
  • Greater Range of Motion: Wide grip pull-ups typically require a greater range of motion, which can contribute to improved flexibility and mobility in the shoulder girdle.
  • Improved Grip Strength: Holding the bar with a wide grip challenges your grip strength, as you have to maintain control over a larger surface area. Improved grip strength can be beneficial for various activities and exercises.

Training Tips

  1. Work Your Way Up: If you’re new to wide-grip pull-ups or pull-ups in general, start with standard grip pull-ups to build foundational strength. As you become more proficient, gradually transition to the wide grip.
  2. Find a Comfortable Hand Position: Place your hands on the pull-up bar wider than shoulder-width apart. Experiment with different hand placements to find a comfortable width that allows for a full range of motion.
  1. Scapular Engagement: Like other variations, focus on scapular retraction (squeezing your shoulder blades together) as you initiate the pull. Focus on maintaining proper form and avoiding excessive arching of the back. This engages the back muscles and ensures sound muscle activation.
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Supinated Grip (Chin-Up)

The Chin-Up utilizes a double-underhand grip where the palms face the body, drastically changing muscle engagement. It’s known as the “chin-up grip” because it resembles the position of holding onto a chin-up bar with your palms facing your face.

Underhand grips are typically more straightforward than traditional pull-ups, making them the preferred option for beginners. 

The chin-up hand position still engages the lats but offers more biceps recruitment, making it a versatile option for developing the arms. Incorporating chin-ups into your training routine provides variety and can help break plateaus. 

Benefits

  • Emphasis on Biceps: The chin-up grip focuses more on the biceps than other pull-up variations. The supinated position allows for more effective bicep recruitment during the movement. As a result, chin-ups are an excellent exercise for building bicep strength and size.
  • Easier for Beginners: Many individuals find chin-ups with a supinated grip to be more accessible than pull-ups with a pronated grip (palms facing away). This can be particularly helpful for beginners who are building upper body strength.
  • Less Stress on the Shoulders: The chin-up grip is generally considered more shoulder-friendly than other pull-up variations. It can reduce stress on the shoulder joints, making it a suitable choice for individuals with shoulder issues or those looking to minimize the risk of shoulder strain.

Training Tips

  1. Warm-Up: Perform a thorough warm-up to prepare your upper body and core muscles for the workout. Dynamic stretches and light cardio can help increase blood flow and reduce the risk of injury.
  2. Use Chin-Ups to Build Strength: These are often easier for beginners, so use them to build strength before progressing to other variations. Once you get comfortable with chin-ups, you can move on to standard pull-ups or other options.
  3. Squeeze the Biceps: Pause at the top of the movement for 1–3 seconds and tighten your biceps. This increases the difficulty and engages more muscle fibers, helping with muscle development. 

Which Option Is Right for You?

How do you know which exercise is proper for you with all the different types of grip?

Choosing the correct pull-up hand position will depend on your fitness goals, current fitness level, and preferences. Here’s a breakdown of various scenarios and which pull-up grip we recommend: 

Overall Strength Development

We recommend the Standard Grip Pull-Up (pronated grip) for overall strength development. 

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The double-overhand grip targets a wide range of upper body muscles, including the latissimus dorsi (lats), biceps, forearms, and the upper back.

It provides functional strength and is a foundation for improving upper body strength. 

Beginners can use resistance bands and customize the difficulty to suit their fitness levels. You can also adjust your hand position to make the exercise more comfortable—a narrow grip will engage the arms more, while a wider grip works the back. 

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Emphasizing the Biceps

If you want boulder biceps, we recommend the Chin-Up (supinated grip). 

The supinated grip used in chin-ups places the biceps in a mechanically advantageous position, allowing for greater activation of the biceps throughout the entire range of motion.

Because they’re also beginner-friendly, chin-ups are one of the most effective bodyweight exercises for bicep isolation, right next to the bicep curl. 

Reducing Shoulder Strain

If you want to reduce shoulder strain while still benefiting from pull-up exercises, the Neutral Grip Pull-Up (palms facing each other) is often considered the best option.

The variation has a natural shoulder position, as it closely mimics the natural resting position of the shoulder joint. This alignment can reduce shoulder complex stress compared to other pull-up variations.

Building the Upper Back

We recommend the Wide Grip Pull-Up for larger lats and the perfect “V-Taper” physique. 

The wider hand placement stretches the lats more effectively, increasing muscle activation and engagement in the outer lats. You can increase the width of your hand placement to engage the lats even further—just don’t go past the point of comfort. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What Grip Is Best for Pull-Ups?

The best option will depend on your fitness level and goals, but many find the Neutral Grip Pull-Up the most comfortable option. The neutral grip has the palms facing one another. This option places less stress on the shoulder joint and wrists. 

Does a Wider Grip Make Pull-Ups Easier?

No, a wider hand placement increases the difficulty of a pull-up. This pull-up style increases the range of motion, emphasizing the lats and upper back more. A narrower grip tends to make pull-up easier, mainly if you use an underhand grip. 

Does Pull-up Grip Make a Difference?

Yes, the different types of grip change muscle recruitment and difficulty. Wider grips engage the back more, while narrow grips emphasize the arms. An underhand position will engage the biceps more. This means selecting a grip that suits your fitness level and goals is essential.

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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