Pull-ups, just like push-ups, seem to be one of the most Hollywood friendly exercises in the world. 90% of the movies that include some type of training sequence almost always include pull-ups done on a home pull-up bar. That’s how so many noobs get hooked and buy all of those cheap doorway pull-up bars.
With that being said this is one of the useful side effects caused by Hollywood movies – getting people to do a productive exercise that can help you see results.
Pull-ups are very demanding, especially for fat people and women. Question is, are they good enough to give you a big back by themselves?
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DEFINE WHAT IS A BIG BACK, PLEASE?
Obviously, you are not getting Ronnie Coleman’s back from doing pull-ups alone. His back was built with a variety of heavy exercises and large cocktails of anabolics, growth hormone and insulin. If you are a natural bodybuilder, you would be lucky to have a back as big as Ronnie Coleman’s left lat.
People need to understand that main factor for muscle growth isn’t exercising. The real muscle builder are hormones. Most of the time males would be bigger than females without even training. That’s because males have much more testosterone than ladies do.
When we talk in the context of natural bodybuilding a big back would be considered the back of someone like Frank Medrano. Quite frankly, this is good enough for most people. You may not know it yet, but if you have similar to Medrano’s physique you will be admired by both sexes.
In the video below you can see a man doing all kinds of pull-up variation some of which extremely difficult. Notice that he isn’t very big despite obviously having high strength levels. Similar back is what you can expect from a pull-up heavy back routine, if you’re a natural.
PULL-UPS ARE MAINLY A LAT EXERCISE
During pull-ups all of your pulling muscles are working hard. However, the portion of the back that gets most of the load is the latissimus dorsi a.k.a. lats. The main reason for that is that pull-ups represent a vertical pulling movement which means that during the execution of the exercise the upper arms get closer to the body from an overhead position. Similar motion reduces the stress on the upper back and places more emphasis on the lats. This does not mean that the whole back isn’t working. The stress, however, shifts to the lats, at least when the pull-up is done correctly.
Of course, pull-ups also work the arms and the forearms. The abs also get some work. That’s why when you haven’t train in a long time, you may experience soreness in your mid-section after a set of pull-ups. While the demands aren’t high, the abs still need to stabilize the body.
YOU CAN GET A REALLY WIDE BACK FROM DOING PULL-UPS
Pull-ups can help you build a wide back. One of the best exercises for achieving a wide back are close grip pull-ups. Contrary to popular belief, close grip pull-ups do more for your width than wide grip pull-ups. The range of motion is longer and it’s easier to activate the lats with a close grip. Back in the day Dorian Yates used to swear by the same principle – close grip pulldowns and pull-ups do more for lats than wide grip stuff.
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FOR COMPLETE BACK DEVELOPMENT YOU WILL NEED HORIZONTAL PULLING
In order to develop a balanced back, you need to do some horizontal pulling as well. The goal is to target the rhomboids, the teres major, the middle traps and the rear deltoids. Pull-ups do that but not as good as exercises like wide grip rows for example. That’s why there are a lot of people with wide backs but with lacking detail. It’s because very few actually put emphasis on the upper back. It’s all about width when it comes to the back.
Luckily, it’s really easy to train your upper back with bodyweight exercises. You can use movements such as horizontal pull-ups a.k.a. Australian pull-ups. You can have days when you do only pull-ups and other workout sessions when you do only Australian pull-ups. It’s a healthy combination that will help you build stronger arms and back.
THE LOWER BACK AND THE UPPER TRAPS WILL BE LAGGING
Obviously, pull-ups alone won’t do too much for your lower back and upper traps. The exercise just isn’t particularly demanding for those areas. That’s why you will need to incorporate some type lower back extensions and wide grip bodyweight rows done with the bar touching high on the chest. Of course, you could also do barbell exercises like beny over barbell rows and deadlifts. They will take care of your lower back and traps.
Of course, all of this holds true only for the basic pull-up variations. If you do super advanced moves like front lever pull-ups, your lower back will be plenty strong. The upper traps and neck, however, really love heavy iron exercises such as deadlifts, rack pulls and shrugs.
AT SOME POINT YOU WILL NEED TO ADD WEIGHT
Whether you want it or not, at some point doing pull-ups will become too easy, and all you’ll be training for will be endurance. This is the time when in order to keep getting stronger you will need to either add resistance or do more advanced gymnastic exercises such as the front lever or the sternum pull-up.
Related article: How To Get Better At Weighted Pull-ups
SO, WHAT’S THE FINAL ANSWER, MOTHERFUCKER?
The final answer is that pull-ups alone will make your back strong but a variety of exercises would work better. When you do the same exercises over and over again you not only limit muscle involvement to the same muscle groups all the time, but you’re also risking overuse injuries since the same joint parts are stressed continuously. Variety, hits not only the muscles from different angles, but also the joints. This helps recovery.
However, bodyweight exercise alone are really all you need to develop a very strong back. If you are a natural, you can definitely reach you back potential with just bodyweight movements such as pull-ups. Sometimes training is simple. There’s nothing to it, but to do it.