The Best Pull-Up Variations for All Experience Levels

The pull-up is one of the most versatile exercises you can do in the gym.

If there’s one upper body exercise every strength athlete should include in their training program, it’s the pull-up. Think of pull-ups as squats for the upper body — arguably, no other upper body exercise gives you as much bang for your buck for building overall strength and stability.

man doing pull-up with weight vest
Credit: BLACKDAY / Shutterstock

The pull-up is a compound exercise that engages multiple muscle groups while at the same time developing functional strength as well as a powerful grip. Plus, they’re convenient; all you need to do them is your own body and something to hang from

Whether you’re looking to build up to your first pull-up or learn more advanced variations to amp up your training, this article has you covered. You’ll also learn all about the exercise’s benefits and how to program pull-ups.

Best Pull-Up Variations

Beginner Pull-Ups

Intermediate Pull-Ups

Advanced Pull-Ups

Beginner Pull-Up Variations

Maybe you can eke out a few pull-ups. Or perhaps you have yet to complete your first pull-up. Either way, even experts can benefit from going back to basics. These five beginner pull-up variations will teach you good form while building the strength you need to conquer any version of the exercise.

Bent-Knee Inverted Row

Why Do It: Inverted rows may be helpful for beginners who are building up to pull-ups, but they’re useful for lifters at all levels. If you’re looking to increase your upper body strength and build back muscle, you don’t have to look farther than inverted rows. 

With your knees bent, the direct support from your feet and legs can help take some pressure off your upper body, but this variation may be more challenging for your core. You’ll have to work extra hard to maintain a rigid trunk.

Coach’s Tip: The more horizontal you are when you perform this lift, the more challenging it will be. Take advantage of the adjustable posture to increase the difficulty. 

Sets and Reps: four sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Straight Leg Inverted Row

Why Do It: By straightening your legs and performing a standard inverted row, you’re bringing balance into the equation, thus recruiting more stabilizers across your upper body. Depending on the exact angle of your lean, your heels may be your only point of contact with the ground. The more horizontal you are, the more challenging it will be.

Coach’s Tip: Once you have the basic move down, it can be beneficial to play with your grip. Reverse grip, wide grip, and narrow grip inverted rows all help develop your strength in different ways.

Sets and Reps: four sets of eight to 15 reps.

Dead Hang

Why Do It: The name “dead hang” might make it seem like you’re doing nothing, but there’s a reason it’s considered a challenge by Rogue Fitness. With a dead hang, you’re simply hanging from a bar — no actual pulling required. But you’ll be building your positional strength and majorly improving your grip endurance and strength. These are both key for developing powerful pull-ups, not to mention their carryover into deadlifts.

Coach’s Tip: While you don’t want to pull upwards during these hangs, you want your body engaged. So work to keep your shoulders away from your ears while hanging.

Sets and Reps: three sets to a second or two shy of failure.

Jumping Pull-Up

Why Do It: This pull-up variation isn’t a kip — you’re not using extra body English to hoist yourself up to the top. Instead, you are more intentionally jumping and using that momentum to get you where you want to be. The dead hang gives you positional strength and comfort at the bottom of the pull-up. The jumping pull-up will help develop the same things at the top position of the move.

Coach’s Tip: Try to hover for a couple of seconds at the top of your jump and hold yourself over the bar. Control the descent as much as you can before you let your feet touch the ground to begin another jump.

Sets and Reps: three sets of eight.

Eccentric Pull-Up

Why Do It: If you can’t complete a full pull-up yet, you’ll need to begin this move with a jumping pull-up to get yourself over the bar. Then, you’ll emphasize a prolonged descent. Doing so will build tremendous eccentric strength, which will immensely develop your grip strength and back muscles — whether or not you can do a full pull-up. 

Coach’s Tip: Find your sweet spot of descent speed. Does it feel nearly impossible to extend the descent to two full seconds? Make that your goal. Is seven seconds a tough but manageable challenge? Make that your mark.

Sets and Reps: four sets to two reps shy of failure.

Intermediate Pull-Up Variations

If you’ve been hitting the bars for a little while and find remedial pull-up variations a bit too easy, don’t worry. Trainees with more experience in the gym still have a lot to gain by varying their routines with some more mid-level pull-up variations. 

Band-Assisted Pull-Up

Why Do It: Whether you need a technique tune-up or help getting into the top position, band-assisted pull-ups are a great option. Because you can do more reps when supported by a band, this is a great move to work on your back hypertrophy. The band support also lets you pack in more reps per set, increasing your muscular endurance over time.

Coach’s Tip: Make sure you’re using suitable resistance bands for pull-ups. When you slip your foot or feet into position, make sure to come to a full and steady stop in the hanging position before initiating the pull.

Sets and Reps: four sets of two reps shy of failure.


Why Do It: Want to benefit your back, core, and full-body coordination while also targeting your biceps? Enter chin-ups. Their supinated grip makes them more accessible for some athletes than the pull-up, and they’re great for stimulating biceps growth and strength without relying solely on curls.

Coach’s Tip: If you’re experienced with chin-ups, it’s easy to move through your reps relatively quickly. Try slowing your pace down, emphasizing a controlled descent with every rep.

Sets and Reps: three sets of two reps shy of failure.

Isometric Pull-Up

Why Do It: Holding an isometric pull-up is both accessible to intermediate lifters and not for the faint of heart. Perform a jumping pull-up or a regular pull-up and — at the top position of the pull-up — keep everything contracted and maintain your position. This exercise challenges you to find your weak spots and linger in them for as long as you can.

Coach’s Tip: You can perform isometric pull-ups from any position — perhaps when your biceps are at 90 degrees or a quarter way through the move — wherever your sticking points are.

Sets and Reps: three sets to a second or two shy of failure.

Kipping Pull-Up

Why Do It: Think of kipping pull-ups like the CrossFit cousin of jumping pull-ups. While jumping pull-ups are about providing assistive momentum to get you to the top, kipping is a performance-centric gymnastics skill. By taking a controlled, muscle-centric movement and adding a rhythmic, ballistic element, you can perform many repetitions very quickly. 

Coach’s Tip: Make sure you’ve thoroughly warmed up — and excellent at high-rep strict pull-ups — before adding kipping pull-ups to your repertoire.

Sets and Reps: four sets of four reps shy of failure.

Chest-to-Bar Pull-Up

Why Do It: Instead of being satisfied with just getting your chin over the bar, these puppies involve getting your chest to the bar. You’ll develop excellent midline control and perform even stronger muscle contractions to do this. That means more muscle recruitment and muscle growth, which is an impressive feat considering how good the standard pull-up is at this to begin with.

Coach’s Tip: Unless you’re intentionally performing kipping pull-ups, keep these chest-to-bar pull-ups strict to maximize control.

Sets and Reps: three sets of two reps shy of failure.

Advanced Pull-Up Variations

You don’t have to resign yourself to endless reps or impossibly heavy weights in order to progressively overload your pull-ups. When you’re ready to level-up your programming, keep these advanced pull-up variations in mind.

L-sit Pull-Ups

Why Do It: If you want to really blast your core, L-sit pull-ups are the way to go. The move essentially consists of lifting your legs and holding an L-sit whilst simultaneously doing pull-ups. The combined upper body movement and isometric core hold will train your body to remain rigid in the face of all kinds of pressures.

Coach’s Tip: To build up to this one, try holding perfect L-sits in dead hangs. Gradually integrate the pull-up to complete the exercise.

Sets and Reps: four sets of two reps shy of failure.

Typewriter Pull-Ups

Why Do It: These are called “typewriters” because that’s exactly what you look like doing them. This variation combines the intensive muscle recruitment of chest-to-bar pull-ups while training you to build unilateral strength and stability in your pull-up. Using a wide grip, pull your chest to the bar, and then shift your weight from one arm to the other, extending the opposite arm out.

Coach’s Tip: Determine your rep scheme with your non-dominant side so that you can keep the reps even on both sides, avoiding developing muscle and strength imbalances.

Sets and Reps: three sets of two reps shy of failure per side.


Why Do It: Popular amongst rock climbers, Frenchies are a killer. Pull your chin over the bar and hold for five seconds. Then, do another pull-up, this time only lowering one-quarter of the way down. Hold for five seconds, then repeat, each time stopping and holding slightly lower than the previous time. One cycle through each isometric you choose is one rep. These pauses will help build major muscle, endurance, and strength and fight any weak points you have.

Coach’s Tip: Prioritize your personal sticking points to make these moves most effective for you.

Sets and Reps: three sets of one rep.

Archer Pull-Ups

Why Do It: These are called “archers” for the reason you’d expect—the motion resembles an archer shooting a bow and arrow. From a dead hang, pull up to one side with the other arm extended straight. This move is an immediate precursor to the one-arm pull-up, and will help get your body used to the rigor of unilateral upper body pulling.

Coach’s Tip: For an added challenge, add a typewriter before lowering down.

Sets and Reps: three sets of two reps shy of failure per side.

One-Arm Pull-Ups

Why Do It: One-arm pull-ups are perhaps the ultimate test of superhuman strength. Your upper body unilateral stability will grow tremendously when you can add this move to your repertoire. That’s not to mention the core strength it takes to maintain proper positioning throughout the movement — and it’ll only get stronger the more you practice it.

Coach’s Tip: You can use a resistance band if you need to during your very last stages of learning this move (and later too, if you want to increase your volume).

Sets and Reps: three sets of two reps shy of failure per side.

Benefits of Pull-Ups

Pull-ups are a true powerhouse exercise. Few strength moves require so little — just a stable bar to hang from — yet give so much. While it certainly is impressive to slap a few plates on the bar and bench heavy, being able to raise your own bodyweight all the way up from a dead hang is a true test of full-body strength.

To do a pull-up, you need good overhead mobility and stability; solid grip strength; a stable core; full-body coordination; and a very strong back, shoulders, forearms, and biceps. The beginner pull-up variations described above will help get you there if you’re still developing all of that. 

And that’s the coolest thing about pull-ups — yes, the exercise has a pretty high barrier of entry. But once you’re able to do one, then two, and on and on, the benefits keep increasing. The more you perform pull-ups, the stronger your entire body will become. 

Enter the intermediate and advanced pull-ups discussed above. The more consistent you are with your practice, the more diverse your pull-up training can become. That way, you can hone in on specific areas of strength you want to develop — and look super cool doing it.

How To Program Pull-Ups

How you program the pull-up depends on your experience level. If you’re just learning the exercise, you might perform moves like dead hangs, inverted rows, and band-assisted pull-ups as often as two or three times per week. You should try to pack on volume because these moves — while excellent for building strength — are not quite as demanding as full pull-ups.

When you are able to integrate pull-ups, you may still keep them in your program fairly often. If you can only perform two or three per set, for two or three sets, that’s great — but it also allows you to complete them more often. 

Take advantage of that and integrate these moves into upper body days. If you’re lifting heavy, you’ll likely want to perform your pull-ups after your main lifts. If you’re lifting lighter, you may be able to complete pull-ups first (since they are quite demanding).

When you’ve become more advanced and you’re able to do multiple sets of eight or more pull-ups, you need to get more choosy about programming. You don’t want your pull-ups to interfere with your big lift recovery — or vice versa. 

Listen to your body. If three sets of eight drains you or feels very challenging, keep that movement to once or twice per week. But if Archer pull-ups are your favorite way to do a dynamic warm-up, more power to you. 

No matter how advanced you are, your body always needs recovery. So you probably want to avoid performing the fancy variations too frequently. Stick to three, maybe four times a week to ensure continued shoulder health and general muscle recovery.

More Pull-Up Training Tips

Ready to hop up to that pull-up bar and get cracking? These articles will give you even more ways to improve your pull-up game.

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