The Best Pull-Up Bar Exercises: Skyrocket Your Upper Body Strength

A shirtless man performing a pull-upIf you have limited space at home but you don’t want to spend out on expensive gym memberships, then equipment such as the pull-up bar is one of the most versatile and space-saving pieces of home-gym apparatus you can buy.

Pull-up bars offer a wide range of exercise options, they’re easy to mount – whether that’s over a door frame or to a wall – and they offer flexibility to your workouts meaning you’re not dictated to by the opening hours of your local gym.

In addition to the pulling movement that will help you to build your back, biceps and shoulders, a pull-up bar can also help transform your mid-section and build a killer set of abs – if you know the best pull-up bar exercises to use that is.

Does The Type Of Pull-Up Bar Matter?

In short, no not really – they all do the same thing but which one you choose will depend on personal choice as well as the kind of space you have available at home.

Whichever you choose – door, wall or ceiling-mounted, parallel or freestanding – you’ll want to make the most out of it. If you’ve been sticking to the basic chin-ups and pull-ups up to this point then you’re in for an education!

Here are the best pull-up bar exercises you can do to help maximise your gains and make the most out of your new purchase.

The Beginners…

If you’re new to pull-up bars then here are a couple of moves you may want to begin with to help build up strength to then enable you to progress onto more ambitious exercises.

The Dead Hang:

A great move which will help increase your grip strength and help you build-up to doing a full pull-up.

Using an overhand grip (palms facing away from you) grab the bar and ensure your feet are hanging off the ground. Remain hanging like this for as long as you can. If possible, try and raise yourself up slightly so your arms aren’t locked, which will help to build bicep strength at the same time.

The Negative Pull-up:

This is a really good exercise that will help you progress to doing a complete pull-up, whilst also improving your grip strength. If you’ve got a small platform or box to hand then great.

You can take either a close underhand grip or a wide overhand grip with this one. Then, either step onto your raised platform or jump up so you’re holding yourself at the top of the bar – with your chin roughly at the same height as the bar itself. Next, with as much control as you can, lower yourself down slowly until your arms are completely straight. Then repeat for as many reps as you can until failure (you’re unable to do any more reps in good form).

The point to remember here is to move in a slow and controlled way in order to make the most progress.

The Trusted Favourites…

The Chin-up:

When performed properly, this is an excellent way to increase bicep size and strength as you’re putting them through a full range of motion. Grab the bar using a close grip (palms towards you) and pull yourself upwards until your chin is at bar height. Try to squeeze your biceps at the top of the move to help ignite even more growth.

The Pull-up:

The pull-up is a compound exercise meaning it’s highly effective at working multiple muscle groups all at once. This one will work most muscles in your upper body but it will really target your back.

Grab the bar with an overhand grip, ensuring your arms are shoulder-width apart, and pull yourself up so your chin is at least level with the bar. Lower yourself back down slowly and then repeat.

The More Adventurous…

If your pull-up bar has forearm grips (you can hang off the bar so your palms are facing in towards each other) try these variations of the regular pull-up to develop your forearms, shoulder and biceps.

Alternatively, you could always hang two towels over each end of the bar and grip onto those…

The Forearm Pull-up:

A man hanging from a pull-up bar using two towelsA slight variation to the traditional pull-up exercise above that will help develop your forearms. Instead of grabbing the bar with both hands facing away from you (overhand grip) use the forearm grip on your bar (or a couple of towels as in the picture) so your palms are facing in towards each other and pull yourself up in the same way you would a normal pull-up.

You will still work your back and biceps but you’re now activating your forearm muscles which will help develop strength in this area. More forearms strength will prove invaluable in getting better at exercises that require you to grip something!

The Side to Side:

A man performing the side to side pull-upGrabbing the bar from both sides (so your palms are facing in towards each other) pull yourself up and move to the left side as you reach the top of the move so your left shoulder almost touches the bar. Lower yourself down slowly and then repeat on your right side. Continue to change sides on each rep. (Again if you don’t have forearm grips you can use towels).

Around the World:

Hold the bar with an overhand grip, shoulder-width apart, and move your body up in a semi-circle to the left and then down to a semi-circle to the right. This move not only works your core but will also target, and put greater focus, on your shoulder, bicep and back muscles on each side of your body. Try and do four going one way and four the other way.

The Ab Killers…

A pull-up bar isn’t just for your back! These exercises will really target your abdominal muscles helping you to increase strength, build muscle and improve your tone in this area. Try some of these moves out to help complement your usual ab routine.

The Hanging Knee Raise:

Using an overhand grip, hang from the bar. Using a slow and controlled movement, bring your knees up until your thighs are parallel to the ground, then lower and repeat.

The Hanging Leg Raise:

Similar to the hanging knee raise but tougher! Using an overhand grip, hang from the bar and raise both legs whilst trying to keep them together and extended out in front (try not to bend at the knees). Raise them upwards until they are parallel to the floor and then lower back down slowly.

The Garhammer Raise:

This is the hanging knee raise but with a twist. Begin with your knees raised so your thighs are horizontal, then bring up your knees to your chest and then back down to the starting position. Because your legs remain raised throughout this exercise your abs will be under constant tension as they don’t get a rest between sets!

The Windscreen Wipers:

Grab the bar with an overhand grip and hang so your arms are fully extended. With legs together, bring your knees up to your chest then sweep them from one side to the other in an arc.

Admire Your Progress!

These are all moves to help you get the most out of your pull-up bar and ignite some serious strength and muscle building gains in the process. If you start slowly and steadily and gradually build up to more you will be amazed at how quickly you’ll begin to develop your upper body strength, and with it some noticeable increase in muscle and definition.

Mastering the pull-up bar has other advantages when it comes to performing other strength-based exercises such as increasing your forearm, bicep, shoulder and grip strength – perfect for helping you develop your chest and shoulder presses, bicep curls, dips, squats and deadlifts to name just a few!

Looking For A Decent Pull-Up Bar?

If you’re on the hunt for a decent pull-up bar I’ve just written a review on my personal favourite – the Total Upper Body Workout Bar from Iron Gym, which you can read below.

<< Check out my review on the Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar here >>

Alternatively, here are a few recommendations for wall, and door mounted variations, as well as freestanding pull-up bars, direct from Amazon which I’ve based on user reviews and feedback.

  1. Komsurf Pull-up Bar for Doorway
  2. ONETWOFIT Wall-mounted Pull-up Bar
  3. KT Standing Pull-Up Bar

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and it’s given you some fresh ideas and enthusiasm to make the most out of your pull-up bar. As ever, if you have any questions, or if you want to share your own experience and advice, please comment below!




  1. We have a pull-up bar at home and my boyfriend pulls himself up on it now and then. I wonder if I ever manage to do that! Although I used to go to gym for years and have quite a nice muscled figure, my arms are not strong and even in those years when I worked out a lot I never managed to pull myself up. It’s the only exercise I could never accomplish (or only with help of someone who was standing behind me holding my waist and helping me up). Is there any way how to increase the power in the arms to be able to do this pull-up eventually? Do you think push-ups would help?

    • Hi Lenka. The pull-up is one of the hardest upper body exercises to perform and does require an element of upper body strength to begin with – not just in your back and biceps but in your forearms as well. 

      In terms of developing your strength in this area and building yourself up to perform a full rep, do take another look at the section in this article called ‘The Beginners..’. These couple of exercises are great for those who can’t yet perform a full rep but want to build up strength. Try these exercises out and build them into your routine and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your strength develops. You’ll soon be able to pull yourself up and then it’s just a case of working towards more reps over time, and more reps = more strength, and vice-versa! 

      Let me know if you need any more guidance or support, I’ll be happy to help.

  2. I have been searching for a website such as this for a long time that will discuss such a sensitive topic with most people with body building goals. Setting up a good pull up bar can aid in increasing your upper body strength and adding firmness and shape. I believe that a lot of people trying to get in shape will find this article helpful.

    • Thanks for your feedback Lucas. I’m glad you’ve found this article useful and I agree with your comments about pull-ups adding to tone and definition, as well as increasing strength. 

  3. Thanks for your comment Joy. I agree with you about pull-ups being a great exercise to improve your upper body strength. And yes, these really do get your heart rate up, meaning you burn a good few calories at the same time!

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