The wide-grip pullup is an upper-body strength movement that targets your back, chest, shoulders, and arms. It also gives your core muscles a pretty fantastic workout.
Including wide-grip pullups in your overall fitness routine can help increase your strength in other movements, such as the lat pulldown and shoulder press.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of wide-grip pullups and how to do them.
“The wide-grip pullup is an effective exercise to strengthen the back and shoulders, since the motion contracts the latissimus dorsi, the largest muscle of the upper body.”
— Allen Conrad, DC, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
Start by standing underneath a pullup bar, with your back and spine straight.
- Reach up and grab the bar with each hand. Your thumbs should be pointing toward each other, and your grip should be wider than your body.
- When positioned correctly, your arms and torso should form a ‘Y.’ To be more specific, each arm should be 30 to 45 degrees from your body, but no more than a 45-degree angle.
- Look straight ahead and pull your body upwards towards the bar.
- Pause, then lower yourself back down to the original position.
“If performing a wide-grip pullup is too difficult, you can start practicing with a weight-assisted pullup machine,” recommends Allen Conrad, DC, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). “These machines have a platform you kneel on while performing a pullup, and the counterbalance of reduced weight can help you develop arm strength to perform a standard wide-grip pullup,” he explains.
The key to using a weight-assisted pullup machine is to start with a weight you’re comfortable with and change the counterbalanced weight as the exercise becomes easier for you to perform. Once you can lift your body weight, Conrad says you can progress to a standard wide-grip pullup on the hanging bar.
If you want to make the wide-grip pullup more challenging, Conrad suggests adding weight. There are three ways you can do this:
- Wear a belt that you can attach a weight to.
- Wear a weighted vest.
- Hold a dumbbell by cradling it between your feet.
Each of these modifications will challenge the strength of the latissimus dorsi muscle during wide-grip pullups.
One of the reasons the wide-grip pullup is such an incredible exercise is because of the many muscles used to perform the move:
The “lats” are the largest muscle of the upper back, and they run from the mid back up to under the armpit and shoulder blade. Conrad says this muscle is the prime mover for adduction, extension, and internal rotation of the shoulder.
The “traps” are located from your neck to both shoulders. They connect the neck, shoulder, and back regions, and run downward in a V-shape pattern toward your mid-thoracic spine. Conrad says this muscle assists in shoulder elevation.
Thoracic erector spinae
These three muscles run along your thoracic spine in your back. Conrad says these muscles assist in back extension.
These small muscles are located between the thoracic spine and shoulders. They contract during the downward motion of the shoulder pull to cause shoulder adduction.
Located on the shoulder blade, Conrad says this part of the rotator cuff assists in shoulder extension.
Located under your armpit and behind the shoulder blade, Conrad notes this rotator cuff muscle assists in shoulder flexion and external rotation.
Part of your abdominal muscles, the external obliques are located along the sides of your abdominal wall. Conrad says this muscle helps stabilize the core and assist the abdominal section during shoulder flexion.
The great thing about pullups is that you can change your grip to recruit different muscles. One way to do this is with the close-grip pullup. The close-grip version of the pullup changes the width of your hands.
With wide grip, your hands are more than shoulder-width apart. In close grip, you move your hands closer together, which impacts how your shoulder joints move as you perform the exercise.
The closer grip also allows you to recruit your biceps and chest muscles more than the wide grip, which means you may be able to complete more repetitions.
Performing the same exercise repeatedly can lead to boredom, overuse, and a decrease in performance and gains. If you’re looking to train the same muscles required in the wide-grip pullup, you might want similar movements you can add to your fitness routine. Here are some alternative exercises you can try:
- Sit facing a lat pulldown machine.
- Grab the bar with your palms facing away from your body, wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Lean your torso back and pull down on the bar until it hovers over your upper chest. Pause.
- Return the bar slowly to the starting position.
TRX horizontal row
- While standing, start with the TRX handles at the side of your chest.
- Lean back and slowly lower your body, keeping your back flat.
- When your arms are extended, pause.
- Pull your body back up toward your chest.
Using a thick exercise band to assist in the pullup allows you to target the same muscles with enough support to be able to do the move with good form. A good rule of thumb is the thicker the band, the more support you’ll get.
- Stand in front of a pullup or chin-up bar.
- Loop a band around the bar. Bend one leg and put the band under your knee, bust above the shin bone.
- With both hands, grab the bar and pull yourself up.
Barbell or dumbbell row
- Load a barbell with the appropriate weight.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart, and knees slightly bent. Shift your hips back, so your torso is parallel to the floor.
- Grab the bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder-width, bend elbows, and bring the bar towards your chest.
- Pause and lower down to starting position.
Having the strength to do a wide-grip pullup is no easy feat. After you successfully do it once, though, the feeling of accomplishment is pretty awesome. That’s why it’s important to take your time through the natural progression of the movement.
Remember, if the traditional wide-grip pullup is too challenging, try one of the modifications mentioned above. Strict form and recruiting the correct muscles matter more than the number of repetitions you perform.