Pull-ups seem to be one of the most Hollywood-friendly exercises in the world. 90% of the training sequences in movies include pull-ups. Question is, are pull-ups good enough to give you a big back by themselves?
Define what’s a big back, please.
Obviously, you are not getting Ronnie Coleman’s back development by doing pull-ups alone. His back became a reality thanks to 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 the main factor behind muscle growth isn’t exercising. The real muscle builders are the hormones swimming in your body. Males are bigger and stronger than females without training because we have more testosterone.
In the context of natural bodybuilding, the back of someone like Frank Medrano good be considered big. Honestly, this is good enough for most people. You may not know it yet, but if you have a physique similar to Medrano’s, people will envy you.
In the video above, you can see a man doing many difficult pull-up variations. Notice that he isn’t very big despite having a lot of strength. A similar back is what you can expect from a pull-up heavy back routine.
The Pull-up Is a Lat Exercise
The pull-up represents a vertical pull. Therefore, the portion of the back that lifts most of the load is the latissimus dorsi. Of course, other parts of the back are working hard too, but the lats are still the engine.
Pull-ups Can Give You a Really Wide Back
One of the best exercises for achieving a wide back is the close grip pull-up. 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.
Related article: The Most Complete Pull-up Tutorial On The Internet
A Complete Back Development Requires Horizontal Pulling
A balanced back will require some horizontal pulling. The goal is to target the rhomboids, the teres major, the middle traps and the rear deltoids. Pull-ups do that but not as well as exercises like wide grip rows for example.
The Lower Back and The Upper Traps Will Be Lagging
Obviously, pull-ups alone won’t do much for your lower back and upper traps. The exercise doesn’t demand much from those areas. That’s why you will have to incorporate exercises like barbell rows, deadlifts or rack pulls.
At Some Point, You Will Have To Add Weight
Eventually, pull-ups will become too easy, and all you’ll be training mainly your endurance. To keep getting stronger and render your workouts more efficient, you will need to add resistance or perform more advanced pulling exercises such as the sternum pull-up.
What’s the final answer?
Pull-ups cannot produce a complete back development or their own. They are a very good lat exercise but leave many important areas such as the spinal erectors untouched. A thick back requires more movements.