8 Best Back Exercises Using A Pull Up Bar

Pull ups are one of the best and simplest ways to build your back. 

They allow you to target the whole of your upper back, as well as your arms, shoulders, chest and core. 

And pull up bars are for much more than just doing chin ups. 

In fact, there are more than 30 different types of pull ups which all build muscle as well as functional strength. 

Ready to get started? Below we’ve listed our top 8 exercises you can do with just a pull up bar. 

Best back exercises using a pull up bar 

These exercises are ideal for anyone who is still quite new to pull ups or simply wants to improve their form.  

They can be done at the gym or at home. And if you’re not already kitted out, you can get yourself a wall mounted pull up bar here. 

1) Lat pulldowns 

Lat pulldowns are great for anyone who is just starting out. You don’t need to be able to take your whole body weight and you can work your way up the levels as you go. 

Tie a resistance band around the pull up bar and then sit either on the floor or on a weight bench while holding onto the band. With your chest elevated, bring the band down to your lower chest while squeezing your shoulders together. 

Release back up in a controlled manner. 

2) Assisted pull ups 

Assisted pull ups are also great for beginners and can help you get a feel for doing pull ups as well as holding onto the bar.  

Depending on what level band you’re using, either hook your knee or your foot into the band and then perform your pull ups as normal.  

As you improve, lessen the amount of resistance you’re working with until you can complete a full pull up. 

3) Chin ups 

Chin ups are a type of pull up and are great for helping you build strength so that you can progress. 

They really focus your biceps – as well as your back – so you can get a little help from your arms as you work your back. 

Read our step-by-step guide on how to do a chin up here. 

4) Hang tough 

crossfit expert does a pull up on a mirafit half power rack

These are really good for targeting your wrists and forearms – which are really important for doing pull ups. So many lifters miss out on working the smaller muscles and then struggle to progress later on. 

So, remember not to overlook the weaker links and include these in your training. 

Simply hang from the pull up bar for as long as you can and try to work up to doing 2-3minutes in one go. 

5) Negative pull ups 

These are great for building functional strength as well as improving control.  

You can use a weight bench to help you get up to the bar if you need. Then once you’re onto the bar, slowly lower yourself down. Then start again. 

6) Knee raises 

Pull up bars are also a great for training your back and your abs at the same time. Especially if you’re looking for core exercises that are more challenging than your average sit up. 

Use them to perform knee raises. And as you build strength, you can also work up to L-sit pull ups, front lever pull ups, inverted L pull ups and tuck front lever pull ups. 

7) Wide grip pull ups 

You can use a wide grip for a variety of pull ups. And doing this will help to target your lats. This is also key for developing a classic V-shape back that many lifters are looking for. 

Remember when performing wide grip pull ups, not to scoop your back and elevate your chest. Squeeze your shoulders together and maintain a straight posture as you pull yourself directly upwards. 

8) Pull up shrugs 

Pull up shrugs are another great one to do to help build your upper, middle back.  

Hang on the bar and then squeeze your shoulders together so that your shoulders and elbows come down. The aim here isn’t to bring yourself up into a full pull up, but simply to work on the initial part of the pull up to help you build strength. 

They’re great for beginners as well as those looking to perfect their form.

Benefits of pull up exercises 

Your back is made up of several muscles – most of which you'll want to target. These muscles include:

  • Posterior Deltoids
  • Trapezius
  • Rhomboids Major (and Minor)
  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Teres Major (and Minor)
  • Infraspinatus
  • External Obliques

In terms of composition, the back is a little more complex as there are quite a few smaller muscles which all have specific functions.  

Unlike a lot of muscle groups, back muscles can be quite difficult to work and isolate, so getting that all-important tension as you train can be tricky to get right. 

As always, practice makes perfect and the more you work on your back the more you will start to feel – and see – the benefits. 

How many pull ups should I be able to do? 

Being able to lift your body weight is no mean feat. Additionally, pull ups take a lot of practice.  

It’s also worth keeping in mind that different types of pull ups are more difficult than others. 

  • For standard chin ups, men should aim to do anything between 8-20 pull ups. 
  • In general, women will be able to do fewer reps so should aim for 1-10 pull ups. 

If you’re not able to do a pull up yet, keep working on your supplementary exercises to build strength gradually. 

It’s a good idea to keep practising on the bar too. You might not be able to get all the way up. However, using the bar is great for developing wrist and forearm strength. So, keep up your shrugs, assisted pull ups, hang toughs and negative pull ups. This will also help develop your nervous system too. 

Can you build muscle with just pull ups? 

Yes, pull ups are a great way to build muscle. 

And once you have mastered chin ups, you can progress to doing variants such as towel grip pull ups and muscle ups, to continue building strength. 

And if all of this is sounding too easy, add in some more weight. A weight belt with chain along with a few weight plates, is perfect for doing this. 

When doing a lot of work on your back, it’s important you balance out your training by working your chest. Read about the three best exercises for building your chest, here. 

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