Pull Up Grip – Garage Strength

Pull Up Grip

Which Pull Up Grip Is Hardest?

In the world of upper body strength, the bench press can be seen as the front squat of the absolute strength developing exercises. The bench press is a pressing movement that is nearly unrivaled in regard to weight used and the strength developed with upper body pushing.

But if the bench press is the front squat of upper body strength, that makes the pull up the back squat of upper body strength. Where the bench press develops incredible pushing strength, the pull up, particularly if loaded up with weight hanging from a belt, develops monumental pulling strength.

The pull up and bench press work as a one, two punch able to knock out any weakness in the body when it comes to absolute strength development, similar to our strength training app, Peak Strength. And the absolute strength development latent in the pull up as a movement is often overlooked by athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and strength trainees alike.

The pull up is diverse in its manners of performance. The diversity comes in how many different ways athletes, strength hobbyists, and full-time fitness experimentees can go about gripping the bar.

But which grip when performing a pull up is the best?

The Pull Up

At its core, the pull up is pulling the entirety of the body from a hanging position to a one where the chin is over the bar. Overachievers and those looking for a greater challenge will pull their chest to the bar. Some advanced calisthenic athletes will go so far to pull their hips to the bar and sail to a locked-out arm position, commonly known as a muscle up.

Not talking about muscle ups today. Pull up only.

The pull up develops crazy back strength. It also develops pretty legit arm strength too. The pull up is a compound movement, taking place over the wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints. And let’s not forget that the pull up is a big-time grip developer too. Hanging from that bar makes for greater grip endurance and strength.

Knowing that the heart of the pull up is hanging the body from an overhead grip and then pulling the body up, the manner in which an athlete grips can vary.

The grip can vary a lot.

Pull Up Grips

Before I start to add in some inane variables, like what is being held onto, I’m going to begin with what I consider the two main ways to grip a typical bar, and then a third way that is incredibly valuable, especially if you or an athlete you are training need to navigate around shoulder issues.

Overhand Grip

The classic pull up grip. Grabbing the bar with the palms facing away from the body. Thumbs wrapped (or not wrapped) and the forearms, upper arm, lats, and upper back working in conjunction to pull the body from a dead hang to chin over the bar.

The overhand pull up grip is the most straightforward of the bunch and one of the easier grips to perform. It allows you to go heavy, bang out many reps for ginormous sets, and sets itself up wonderfully to put on a dip belt and load up weight.

Chin Up Grip

At Garage Strength, we call the chin up version of the pull up a curl up. Still a pull up, the chin up grip has us grabbing the bar with our palms facing our body. Thumbs wrapped (or not wrapped) around the bar and the forearms, biceps, lats, and upper back working as a coordinated unit to pull the body from a dead hang to chin over the bar.

The underhand grip is the grip that for most will allow the most weight to be added. With the underhand grip, a lot more bicep engagement takes place, thus the Garage Strength rebranding of the movement as the curl up.

The minor caveat here is that turning the hands so that the palms face the body puts a higher demand on upper back mobility. It is quite an awesome stretch to just dead hang from a bar with a chin up grip.

But because of this extra bit of mobility needed, the palms facing the body, chin up grip may actually be the hardest grip to perform. Because the arms aren’t naturally positioned this way in everyday, typical movement patterns, the extra mobility needs may present trouble for some athletes.

This may actually be the hardest grip of the bunch.

Neutral Grip

The neutral grip cannot be performed on a typical pull up bar. That is unless you have two bars positioned in a manner that is reminiscent of playground monkey bars. Another neutral grip workaround is using pegboard pegs inside a peg board. There is also always the specialty pull up bars that have neutral grips manufactured in.

The neutral grip is when your palms face each other. Basically, reach your hands overhead and signal a touchdown has been scored and you got yourself in prime position to perform a neutral grip pull up.

From a mobility standpoint, the neutral grip is without question the easiest manner in which to hold on and perform a pull up. The hands, besides being overhead, are positioned in a manner that mimics the ways in which an overwhelming majority of people go about conducting everyday business, like walking, standing still, and having our hands at our side.

And like the chin up grip, there is a lot of bicep involvement when doing a neutral grip pull up, much in the vein of a hammer curl.

The biggest problem I have found with the neutral grip pull up is having the equipment to be able to perform the grip.

Palms Out Grip

The palms out pull up grip is a variation on the neutral grip. You need that monkey bar pull up setup, a specialty bar that allows you to do a neutral style grip, or a peg board. The big difference here is instead of the palms facing one another like in a neutral grip pull up, the palms are now facing out, requiring you to rotate your shoulder so the inside of your elbow joint faces away from the body.

Yeah, awkward and a little bit weird. The grip feels very unnatural. And that is because it is. Kind of feels like a mini shoulder dislocate, similar to what gymnasts do on the bars or rings.

Very rarely do you see the palms out grip programmed or utilized in a sports performance training program. Unless you’re a gymnast, calisthenics, or parkour style athlete.

This grip is awesome, incredibly challenging, and probably the most difficult from a mobility standpoint, but it is also the one that falls into a specialty type of category and the least likely to be performed or programmed.

Pull Up Variations

Technically each pull up grip is itself a variation. And technically, doing the various grips weighted or unweighted are variations as well. The same can be said for varying the reps and sets.

But there are other means of creating variety with pull ups. That variety is typically created in two ways: what is gripped and where it is gripped.

For instance, you can do an overhand grip, the classic pull up, with a wide grip, similar to how you hold a snatch. Or, you can do an underhand grip, the classic chin up, with a very narrow grip, hands touching, similar to how the arms come together doing a carry or Zercher squat.

That covers the ‘where it is gripped’. Now for ‘what is gripped’ the world is ours.

One way to add variety around ‘what is gripped’ is the thickness of the bar. A fatter, wider, girthier bar is harder to grip than a smaller circumferenced bar. That’s one variation of ‘what is gripped’.

You can also drape a towel, or towels, over the bar and grip onto the towels to simulate a Gi in jiu-jitsu. Not gonna lie, the towel grip pull up is extremely grip intensive and way harder than it appears watching adept athletes perform the movement. Gripping a towel is no joke.

You can do a false grip pull up. You can hold onto vertical columns of various diameters. You can use a rock climbing hangboard. You can grip onto spherical implements. The manners in which you can vary what is gripped is pretty limitless.

When To Program

Pull ups need to be a regular part of training in every athlete's programming. Athletes who participate in sports that require a lot of lat strength, like swimming and wrestling, need to be doing pull ups with even more consistency, both weighted and unweighted.

As I said in the open salvo, pull ups are a great absolute strength movement. The level of entry is pretty steep–you have to be able to move your bodyweight to do a rep. And more the husky athletes out there, throwers, lineman, and upper weight wrestlers, that can be challenging when first starting out. And then being asked to add weight can make the movement even more daunting. Rows are a great supplement in such cases and serve as great accessory movements to begin to build the requisite strength.

The days to program pull ups are for sure on the upper body power day and hypertrophy day. For the upper body power day, programming can focus on intensity. Load the weights up and do pull ups for multiple sets of two to five reps. And depending on the phase of training, whether it is volume or intensity based, you can add in some unweighted drop sets.

On the hypertrophy day you can do pull ups as well, but you can change the focus and go towards building localized muscle endurance, performing the reps and sets unweighted for higher reps. Ten plus reps is ideal, but for some athletes this may not yet be achievable, so program accordingly.

Besides varying intensity and volume, it is also beneficial to vary which pull up exercise is performed. So if on the upper body power day you are doing weighted curl ups, it is best on the hypertrophy day to do pull ups or neutral grip pull ups for reps. Feel free to throw in other means of varying the pull up as well, like grip width or what is being gripped.

Sample Upper Body Power Workout (Pull Up Focus)

The Bottom Line

The pull up is without question one of the ultimate exercises for developing absolute strength in the upper body. Kids on playgrounds hanging from monkey bars are working towards achieving their first pull up and athletes in the gym pulling on lat machines are doing the same thing. The pull up, no matter the grip used, is going to build extreme upper body pulling strength that is beneficial to athletes of all varieties. And let’s face it, having a wide, muscular back, which a pull up will help you develop, makes you look freaking swole and jacked AF.

I have yet to meet an individual who talks ill of the pull up as a strength developing exercise. The closest thing I have heard is people still working to develop the requisite strength vocalizing frustrations around not yet being able to perform the movement to their satisfaction. Talking ill of the pull up is like dissing the squat. Are you trying to showcase your lack of strength training knowledge?

So if you’re an athlete looking to up their pull up game, or any pulling strength movement for that matter, head over to peakstrength.app and download Peak Strength our strength training app developed with athletes in mind so you can reap the benefits of the upper body power day and all the various absolute strength exercises that will make you stronger, more explosive, and better able to hold up in competition.



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Yo, It's Dane

Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!

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