A question many trainees have is, “Do pull ups work the biceps?”
Read on to find out if that’s the case and how much biceps growth you can expect from doing pull ups.
Let’s dive in.
Do Pull-Ups Work the Biceps?
The short answer is that pull ups work the biceps, often more than people imagine. Pull-ups are suitable for the biceps because they involve elbow flexion––bending of your arms. Since the biceps’ primary function is to bend your arms, it would be impossible for the muscle not to work during the exercise.
Of course, solely relying on your biceps for pull-ups would be a bad idea. These muscles are strong but small, and it would be nearly impossible for them to lift your entire body without the support of the back. Your back is the primary mover during pull-ups and chin-ups, whereas the biceps serve a more secondary role.
The precise ratio is difficult to calculate because it depends on several factors, but your back probably does 70 percent of the work, whereas the arm muscles do the remaining 30 percent.
For instance, a wider grip emphasizes the lats and can lead to a broader back. Still, a too wide grip can put your shoulders in a compromised position and unnecessarily hinder your performance.
In contrast, a narrower grip switches the emphasis to your arms. Also, using an underhand grip, such as when doing chin-ups, puts your biceps in a better position to do work, leading to better activation.
A wider grip with pull ups emphasizes the back and lats, and less emphasis on the arms.
A more narrow grip engages the arms more than a wider grip, but the back is still doing 70% of the work.
Okay, But What If I Can’t Do Even One Rep?
Doing pull-ups might feel impossible, but you can develop the necessary strength with consistency and patience. One good tactic for learning to pull yourself up is to start from the top down: do eccentrics (negatives). Reach the top by jumping or stepping on something and lower yourself as slowly as possible.
Eccentrics work well because almost every person can control the descent for at least two to three seconds. If you can do that, you can improve upon it and gradually develop the strength to do a full pull-up.
Aside from that, you should do back-strengthening exercises like dumbbell rows, lat pulldowns, barbell rows, and such.
Fantastic Benefits of Pull-Ups
A notable benefit of pull ups is that they strengthen and develop your back, midsection, shoulders, biceps, forearm, and grip. Each of these muscles serves an important aesthetic function and contributes to a muscular physique. As a bonus, you become stronger and more balanced. (1)
Another considerable benefit of pull-ups is that you don’t need any special equipment besides a pull-up bar. You don’t have to wait for machines or free weights to free up at the gym and can do your sets uninterrupted.
The Final Consideration For Safe And Effective Pull-Ups
Despite being a bodyweight exercise, pull-ups are challenging and can place undue stress on your muscles, joints, and connective tissues. Because of that, we strongly recommend warming up for at least a few minutes before starting your workouts. You can begin with a few minutes of light cardio on the treadmill or elliptical trainer and transition to dynamic stretching. (2)
Once you’ve done the above, you can do a few lighter sets on a gym machine––lat pulldowns, seated cable rows, etc. to further warm up the back musculature before starting pull-ups.
Click to return to the bodyweight exercise.
- Sayer, A. (2021, November 30). 8 benefits of pull-ups and why you should do them. The Manual. https://www.themanual.com/fitness/benefits-of-pull-ups/
Rider, S. (2021, September 15). How to master the pull-up – one of the toughest bodyweight moves there is. coachmaguk. https://www.coachmag.co.uk/exercises/full-body-workouts/2534/10-pull-variations