Vertical Pulling with Pull-ups and Pull-downs

Related: Arm Workout

If you want to build that hourglass shaped body you have to build your back and specifically the lats. The best way to build the lats are the vertical pulling exercises. In this article we go through variations of pull-ups and pull-downs to get wider over the upper back. We will list exercises for every level of lifter as the bodyweight versions often can be tough for a beginner.

4 Benefits of Vertical Pulling

  1. With vertical pulling you will build a wider upper back. Combining it with a fit midsection and a well built lower body will give you that perfect hourglass shaped body.
  2. Improved posture. Pulling weight down or pulling yourself up will put the most focus on your lats but will train your whole back. The benefits are huge as most people have shoulders that are bit rolled forward due to sitting too much in front of the computer at work. Or sitting too long in school which can cause back and shoulder discomfort. These exercises will help correct that.
  3. Getting a stronger back will also help you get stronger in other lifts. A stronger back makes it easier to be stable when doing deadlifts or squats. Which is a huge advantage if you want to lift heavy weights.
  4. Stronger arms. In every pulling exercise you use your biceps quite a lot. So all these exercises will also train and grow your arms.

Below we will list 5 variations of vertical pulling exercises and how to do them. Three which uses your bodyweight and 2 where you use a cable machine.

vertical pulling

The Chin-up

Stand on a bench, box or jump up and grab a pull-up bar just inside shoulder width. Grip with the palm of your hands facing you. Straighten your arms while hanging from the bar. Keep a slight arch in you lower back and keep your chest high to maximize lat activation. Start the movement by pulling your shoulders down and then start to pull yourself up. Try to get the feeling of pulling with your elbows. Pull until your chin is over the bar. Hold yourself there for a second and then start the lowering part of the lift down to the starting position. As always do the lowering part under a controlled speed.

vertical pulling

The Pull-up

Grab the bar with the palm of your hands facing away from you. You can try different grip width and see where you feel your back working the most. But as a starting point hands outside of your shoulders in width is perfect. Straighten your arms and lean back a little bit. Keep your chest high, pull your shoulders down and start pulling yourself up. Try to keep focusing on squeezing your back muscles until you reach the top of the lift with your chin above the bar. Hold that position for a second then start lowering yourself in a controlled motion.

Related: How to Build the Booty of the Upper Body

Neutral Grip Pull-ups

Grab a neutral grip pull-up bar with your palms facing each other. The setup is the same as the other two lifts with a starting position that is with straight arms, chest high, shoulders pulled down. Pull yourself up so the chin is over the bar. Hold for a second and lower yourself back again in a controlled motion.

Try these lifts and use the variation of these lifts that you like the best. They all hit the same body parts in a very similar manner. If you are a total badass and think these lifts are too easy you can add weight. You can do it with chains, a weight belt or hold a dumbbell between your feet to increase the difficulty. Keep the reps as you like but don’t start adding weight until you can do at least 10 reps. If you can’t do these don’t feel bad as many people have that problem and below are two variation everyone can do!

vertical pulling

The Lat Pull-down

So this is a variation if you don’t have the strength to pull yourself up or if you want to use lighter weight for higher reps. Go to a cable lat pull-down machine and grab the bar. Grab it either with your palms facing you or away, choose the one you like the best. If you choose facing you keep grip width at inside shoulder width. But if you choose facing away then keep them outside the shoulders. Keep your chest high and lean back a little, about 25 degrees is perfect. Start the lift with straight arms and start the motion by pulling your shoulders down and then continuing with the arms. Focus on squeezing your lats down and feel them working. When the bar is about an inch over your upper chest hold that position for a second before start the motion back to the starting position. A tip if you have trouble feeling your lats working is to have a friend put a finger on each lat, this will make you feel in contract in a whole other way.

vertical pulling

Related: Booty Building and Stiff Leg Deadlifts

Behind the Neck Pull-downs

This lift is very debated. Some say it is a great lat builder and some say it is dangerous for your shoulders. The difference between these people are shoulder mobility. If you have good shoulder mobility it is a great lift to really isolate the lats even more, or you can use the lift with very low weight for that reason, to increase mobility.

Start this lift with your palms facing away from you with your arms straight and you sitting right under the bar. Grip the bar wider than your shoulders. Keep your head a bit tucked forward and start pulling down with the elbows until the bar touches your neck, hold it there for at least a second before starting the upward motion. Remember to keep reps slow both on the way up and down on this movement as it is a lift focusing more on the lats specifically. Keep reps high on this one, at least 10 as this lift puts a bit more strain on the shoulders than the other lifts even if your flexibility is spot on.     

How to Program them

If you do full body sessions you can put them wherever you want, no later than the middle of the workout. If you do an upper lower split we recommend putting them early in the upper body workout, preferably in the first 3 exercises. And if having a back only day, do them as a second exercise after your first heavy pull of the floor. The behind the neck variation you can put wherever you like as it is more isolation and can be used as a finisher for high reps.

Go try these vertical pulling variations in the gym and choose the one you like best and take your back to the next level!