Pull ups are a great addition to any workout and can be done by beginners and athletes alike. They improve your strength, power, and overall fitness levels and there are countless variations out there to suit literally anyone!
One such variation, that is popular right now, is the weighted pull up. By adding weight to the standard pull up, you can further increase your muscle gain and pulling ability while seriously building your back and upper body strength.
Before you attempt a weighted pull up, though, there are a few things you need to know in order to prepare for and execute this advanced exercise.
In this article, we will discuss the weighted pull up in its entirety, including what it is, what muscles are worked, the benefits, how to do one, what weight to use and more! Keep reading to find out more.
What is a weighted pull up?
A weighted pull up is very similar to a regular bodyweight pull up, only it involves additional weight, designed to further challenge your overall body strength, and particularly your upper body strength.
Weight is added by securing a dumbbell with your feet, using a dipping belt or by wearing weighted clothing such as a weighted vest or shorts.
For reference, a pull up is an upper body strength exercise where your body is suspended by your hands and then pulled up using a variety of muscle groups. As you pull up, your elbows will flex and your shoulders extend to bring your elbows to your torso.
The move can be done in a number of variations, such as the mixed grip pull up, one arm pull up and, today’s topic, the weighted pull up.
What are the muscles worked during a weighted pull up?
Weighted pull ups are classified as a ‘compound exercise’ which means it works more than one muscle group at the same time.
A weighted pull up will work the same muscle groups as regular pull ups and other variations. The extra benefit of doing a weighted version is it will work them harder.
Weighted pull up muscles worked include:
- Lats (Latissimus Dorsi) - these are the primary muscles worked. Working the lats is what enables you to pull your arms close to your body when you pull up
- Biceps - these work as stabilizers as you flex your elbows during the pull up movement
- Forearms - strong forearms are vital for a successful pull up, especially a weighted pull up. When you grip the bar, your forearms will be instantly engaged so strong forearms will be able to provide you with a nice firm grip
- Abdominal muscles - this group is actually more important in a successful weighted pull up. This is because they work to keep you stabilize you throughout the movement
- Posterior Shoulder & Teres Major- the pull up movement actually uses every single one of your shoulder muscles. The muscle group also work to stabilize you during the lift and help to pull your arm back when your elbows are at the side
- Upper back muscles (including Rhomboids & Traps (Trapezius) - these work in unison with the lats to properly pull all the way up
- Pecs (Pectoralis major) - as with the lats, your pecs are one of the primary muscles worked during shoulder movements such as pull ups
What are the benefits of weighted pull ups?
Weighted pull ups have very similar benefits to most variations of pull ups, but there are some additional advantages.
Where the weighted pull up differs from a regular pull up is the impact it will have on your upper body strength and muscle gain. While the pull up is better suited to advanced lifters, if done right and with the appropriate amount of added weight depending on your strength, you can have several benefits. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits in more detail.
1. Build upper body strength
All variations of pull up will work on your upper body strength, that goes without saying. In fact, anything that engages your forearms, biceps, lats and shoulders will improve your upper body strength.
Where adding a weight to the equation really helps is that once you’re at a stage where lifting your own bodyweight is no longer as much of a challenge, you’ll progress to gaining muscle endurance rather than muscle build. Adding a weight will allow you to progress and further build your upper body strength.
2. Build overall muscle strength
It’s not just your upper body that benefits from weighted pull ups, this exercise will build your overall muscle strength too.
Being able to hold your own body weight is impressive enough, adding extra weight will only improve your overall strength even more. In fact, it’s a popular move for strongmen and powerlifters as part of their training programs.
3. Improve grip
A super important element to improve on that will hugely impact how you progress in your training is grip.
Weighted pull ups, as with heavy deadlifts etc. are the perfect way to improve your grip strength and stamina.
There are lots of ways you can improve your grip including higher rep sets and other pulling exercises, but when it comes to progressing to maximum grip strength, the only thing that can get you there is weighted pull ups.
Adding weight to the movement shocks your brain and hands into action by engaging the feedback centers and neural centers. This will improve your grip in other areas too.
How do you do a weighted pull up?
With a weighted pull up, you first need to decide how you’re going to introduce the extra weight. This can be done using any type of weight such as dumbbells or weight plates (the easier it is to grip the weight between your legs the better). Alternatively, you can add the extra resistance by wearing a weighted vest or shorts or by using a dipping belt.
When you’re starting out, opt for a lighter weight and build from there to allow you to discover what weight you’re comfortable with and progress from there. You don’t want to start off too heavy and end up with an injury that will stop you from training.
Here’s how to do a weighted pull up using a dumbbell (or weight plate, etc.):
- Step 1: position the dumbbell between your ankles
- Step 2: assume the pull up position by grasping the bar with hands shoulder-width apart, and lift your heels up so your legs are at a 90-degree angle
- Step 3: tighten your core and lift your body up, leading with your chest and pushing power through your forearms and biceps
- Step 4: lift your body until your chin is a little higher than the bar and hold it there for a second or two, keeping your entire body engaged
- Step 5: lower your body back down until your arms are almost straight again. Don’t let your body drop completely, so your arms are fully extended, as this may put too much strain on them due to the added weight.
- Step 6: repeat as many reps are you are comfortable with
If you don’t want to have to hold the dumbbells yourself, you can use a dipping belt instead. How you do the weighted pull up will be pretty much exactly the same as with a dumbbell, but it will feel slightly different.
They work by attaching a weight to a belt via chains that hang between your legs. Using a weighted belt will give your arms and upper body more of a challenge when raising your body upwards.
What weights can you use for a weighted pull up?
When it comes to choosing how you will include the extra weight, you need to consider what equipment you have or have access to.
The most common types of weights used for weighted pull ups are dumbbells, weight plates, weighted vest or shorts or a dipping belt.
Don’t stress over the type of weight you use too much because it doesn’t really matter where the weight is coming from so long as it does the job it’s required to do which is increase resistance and train your muscles.
If you need a little extra help deciding which method to use, though, the best way to think about it is in terms of ease. When you’re starting out using lower weights, sticking to a simple dumbbell or weighted plate is recommended.
This will make the whole process easier because you won’t have to fuss with attaching a dipping belt or weighted vest before you even begin, and you won’t have to waste time taking it all off again when you’re done
This option is also good for teaching beginners how to remain engaged and in control during a weighted pull up, because the dumbbell reinforces your mid-stability.
That being said, using this method will require you to think more about the weight because you’ll need to keep your legs and feet together throughout the entire move to keep the weight secured.
Maintaining the proper position here is actually really important because if they drop out of position, the neural drive to your arms and core is weakened, which means your pull ups will have less power behind them.
You may find it more comfortable to use a dipping belt or weighted vest because you won’t be distracted by the possible instability of the weight, resting between your squeezed legs.
If you’re looking to use much heavier weights, using dumbbells won’t be as good an option. You will likely struggle to clench a weight that is upwards of 60 lbs between your legs, or it will at the very least be super uncomfortable.
This is where you’ll really benefit from a dipping belt, even if just for the benefit of not having to worry about staying in control of a dumbbell while trying to execute a pull up with good form.
What are some other pull up variations?
Before we go into all the pull up variations, let's look at grip variations first. There are three hand positions that most lifters will use, these are:
- Neutral grip - where your pals are facing each other
- Underhand grip - where your palms are facing you
- Overhand grip - where your palms are facing away from you
You can use any of the above grip variations with any of the pull up variations below.
There is a huge amount of pull up variations to choose from, but some are harder than others and wouldn’t be suited to beginners. Equally, there are variations that may be too easy for advanced lifters.
Here’s a list of our favorite pull up variations after the weighted pull up:
- Butterfly pull ups - this variation places particular strain on the abs and arm muscles
- Body rows/ horizontal pull ups - this variation really works your back, particularly the rhomboids and posterior deltoids
- Close grip pull ups - a great one for working the inner lats and strengthening the backs, arms and core
- Wide grip pull ups - this variation targets your chest, back, arms and shoulders predominantly
- Headbanger pull ups - one of the best variations for strengthening the biceps as well as develop overall strength and endurance
- Around-the-world pull ups - this variation tends to be used in preparation for attempting a one arm pull up. It puts most strain on the arms and sides of your back and requires you remain in the tension position at the top of each rep
- One arm pull ups - this is particularly good at ensuring that you work both arms equally, rather than relying on the strong side to do more of the work
- L-sit pull ups - this variation helps you built a very strong core while also strengthening triceps a lot more than a standard pull up
- Fat bar pull ups - this one’s good for spreading the resistance evenly while increasing muscle engagement to take the pressure off your joints
- Fingertip pull ups - an advanced variation that’s great for improving grip and forearm strength