Top 10 Barbell Pull Exercises To Include In a PPL Workout

If you love lifting barbells and want to integrate some of the best pull workouts, you can check out this article. I’ve shared the best barbell pull exercises that can help you build strength and size. Having a list of barbell pull workouts can be helpful while creating a push, pull, and legs (PPL) workout split.

Muscles Involved During Pull Barbell Exercises

The barbell pull exercises work on multiple muscles from the upper to lower body, especially the back, biceps, rear delt, forearms, and posterior chain muscles.

  • Back: It is the largest muscle of the upper body. It is made up of four muscles, latissimus dorsi, trapezius, infraspinatus, and erector spine. The different dumbbell rowing exercises help strengthen all these muscles and build a defined back.
  • Biceps: It is a group of two muscles, the long and short head and they work when you flex your arms, for example when you do bicep curls.
  • Rear Delt: It is one of the three deltoids that is located on the back of your shoulders. It engages during different rowing exercises, such as barbell seal row and Pendlay row.
  • Posterior chain muscles: The posterior chain muscles are located on the back of your lower body that includes the hamstrings, glutes, and hips muscles. And barbell pull exercises such as conventional and Romanian deadlifts strengthen these muscles.

Related:

10 Best Barbell Pull Exercises To Do On Your Pull Day

Let’s see how you can perform various pull exercises with a barbell, what their benefits are, and how you can incorporate them into your workout regime.

1. Standard Deadlift

LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
IntermediateBack, Legs, and CoreBarbell and Weight Plates
Barbell Deadlift

The deadlift is a fundamental exercise that is great to include in any strength training program. If done correctly, it will strengthen various muscles throughout the body, bolster lower back and core strength, enhance bone density, improve high jumps, and minimize the risk of spinal injuries.1 Which Patients With Low Back Pain Benefit From Deadlift Training? Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research?, 2Nigro F, Bartolomei S. A Comparison Between the Squat and the Deadlift for Lower Body Strength and Power TrainingJ Hum Kinet. 2020;73:145-152. Published 2020 Jul 21. doi:10.2478/hukin-2019-0139, 3Oliva-Lozano JM, Muyor JM. Core Muscle Activity During Physical Fitness Exercises: A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(12):4306. Published 2020 Jun 16. doi:10.3390/ijerph17124306

Despite numerous health benefits, many people fear doing deadlifts because they think it’s scary. However, it is one of the exercises you need to learn as early as possible if you want to build up your strength and take your fitness to the next level.

Here’s how you can do it step by step:

Set up:

  • Place the bar on the floor and insert the appropriate weight into it.
  • Wear a weightlifting belt and stand in the shoulder-width stance with your feet under the middle of the bar and shin close to it. Your toes should be pointed forward or slightly outward.
  • Bending your hips and knees, lean forward toward the bar.
  • Grip the barbell with an alternate grip, placing your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with arms straight and just outside the knees.
  • Now, lower the hips down by allowing the knees to move forward until the shins touch the bar. Make sure your back remains flat throughout. That’s the starting position.

Execution:

  • Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and arms extended, take a deep breath and lift the bar with your full strength by extending your hips and knees.
  • Keep driving through your feet until your hips come forward into the standing position.
  • Exhale and lower the barbell in the starting position. Your spine and head should be neutral until you return the bar to the floor.

Recommended reps and sets: Start with light weights during the first couple of sets and perform five to eight reps each. And then increase the load in your following sets and perform two to four reps.

2. Bent-Over Barbell Row

LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
Easy to IntermediateBackBarbell and Weight Plates
Barbell Bent Over Row

The bent-over barbell row helps build a strong back. It works on every muscle of the back, such as the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, erector spine, and supraspinatus.

A study has shown the standing bent-over row elicited large muscle activation symmetrically from the upper to lower back. 4Fenwick CM, Brown SH, McGill SM. Comparison of different rowing exercises: trunk muscle activation and lumbar spine motion, load, and stiffness. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Mar;23(2):350-8. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181942019. PMID: 19197209 However it also puts more stress on the spine compared to inverted row and one-arm cable row.

So, depending on your fitness level, you can incorporate this exercise for achieving a broader and sizeable back.

How to perform bent-over barbell row:

Setup:

  • Put the appropriate bar into a barbell and grasp it with an overhand grip, placing the hands just outside your hips. Stand straight with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Pushing your hips, softly bend your knees, and slightly lean forward.
  • Keep your arms straight downward, core tight, and chest up. That’s the start.

Execution:

  • Pull the barbell toward you until it reaches close to your lower abs.
  • Contracting your back muscles, pause for a moment and then return to the start.

Recommended reps and sets: Perform 15 reps with light weights in your first set and then increase the weight in your second and third sets, and do eight to 12 reps.

3. Barbell T Row with V grip Handle

LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
Easy to IntermediateBack and BicepsBarbell, Weights, V-Grip Handle

The barbell T row is another excellent way to fire up your back muscles. It also strengthens the biceps and core muscles and helps improve posture. Adding this to your workout routine provides variety and helps you target your back from different angles.

You can do the following steps to perform the T row with handles:

Set up:

  • Position one end of the barbell in the corner of the wall and put the suitable weight into another end.
  • Stand between the barbell with your feet shoulder-width apart. The bar should be landed between your legs.
  • Take a V-grip handle and place it under the bar, usually below the weight plates and hold the handles firmly with your palms facing each other.
  • Hinge forward at your hips and maintain a slight bend in your knees.
  • Lift the bar off the floor and keep your arms straight and back flat. This will be the setup.

Execution:

  • Brace your abdominal muscles and pull the bar toward your torso until the bar is close to your stomach.
  • Contracting your back muscles, wait for a moment, and then lower to the start.

Recommended reps and sets: 8-12 x 4

4. Pendlay Row

LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
IntermediateBack and Rear DeltBarbell and Plates

I’ve seen Crossfit athletes mostly perform Pendlay row to enhance their snatches and clean & jerks. However, it can also be included in traditional strength and muscle-building training programs.

The Pendlay row is an explosive barbell pull workout that hits multiple muscles at the same time, particularly the upper back and posterior delt. It is a great way to maximize strength, power, and explosiveness while building upper body muscles.

It involves lifting the bar from the floor every single rep. This can also be used as a substitute for the bent-over row.

How to do it:

Setup:

  • Place a loaded barbell on the floor and stand close to it with your feet shoulder-width apart and shin close to the bar.
  • Push your hips back and bend your knees until your torso is parallel to the floor.
  • Extend your arms and grip the bar with an overhand grip. Your elbows will be just outside the knees. This is your starting position.

Execution:

  • Keeping your core tight, pull the bar off the floor quickly with your arms until the bar reaches the upper or middle stomach.
  • After a second pause, lower the bar to the floor and again pull it explosively.

Pro Tips:

  • Your hips, knees, and lower back will be in a fixed position throughout the movement.
  • It is a high-intensity exercise so you should do it as quickly as possible.

Recommended reps and sets: 8-12 x 3

5. Barbell Seal Row

LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
IntermediateBack and Rear DeltBarbell, Plates, Bench, and Blocks

The barbell seal row is not popular among gym communities, but it is an exercise you must give a try. It helps forge traps and rear delt and improves the definition of the back.

The seal row is especially helpful for those who don’t want to put much stress on the lower back. It involves lying prone on a flat bench and pulling the bar towards you.

However, it requires multiple equipment to perform this movement, such as a barbell, weight plates, blocks or boxes, and a workout bench.

Let’s see how to do it:

  • Place the barbell on the floor and position the legs of a weight bench on the blocks. The bar should be underneath the bench.
  • Lie on the bench with your face down and legs straight.
  • Extend your arms and grasp the barbell with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • Inhale and pull the bar toward you until it reaches close to the bench.
  • Squeezing your back muscles, pause for a moment, and then extend your elbows.

Recommended reps and sets: 8-12 x 3

6. Barbell Shrug

LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
IntermediateShoulder and TrapsBarbell and Plates

The barbell shrug is an effective way to add some size and strength to the muscles of your upper back, lower traps, and shoulder.5Pizzari, Tania et al. “Modifying a shrug exercise can facilitate the upward rotator muscles of the scapula.” Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon) vol. 29,2 (2014): 201-5. doi:10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2013.11.011

 It also engages various stabilizer muscles which are often skipped during other exercises. If done correctly, this will improve stability around your neck and traps as well as correct poor posture.

How to do it:

  1. Holding a barbell with an overhand grip, stand straight with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Keep your arms straight in front of your thigh with your palms facing in.
  3. Keeping your arms straight, pull your shoulder blades toward your ears, as high as possible.
  4. Squeezing your muscles for a couple of seconds, relax your shoulder blades and repeat.

Recommended reps and sets: 8-12 x 3

7. Meadows Row

LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
IntermediateBack and Rear DeltBarbell and Plates

If you feel your one side arm dominates the other, then this exercise is for you. The Meadows row is a unilateral workout that allows using the muscles on one side of the body at a time and helps improve strength imbalance.

Like various pull exercises, it also strengthens upper boy muscles and helps build a defined back.

How to do it:

  • Position one end of the barbell in the corner of the wall and put the suitable weight into another end.
  • Stand in the split stance and bend forward to grab the bar with an overhand grip with your left hand.
  • Place your right on your right knee for support.
  • Pull the bar toward the body until you feel the contraction in your back muscles.
  • After a brief halt, lower the barbell and repeat.

Recommended reps and sets: 8-10 x 3 on each side.

8. Barbell Biceps Curl

LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
BeginnerBicepsBarbell and Plates
Barbell Biceps Curl

The barbell curl is a favorite exercise for almost everyone who wants to put on muscles. It is one of the most popular exercises for building a big, thick set of biceps. This exercise works each head of your biceps muscle, the long and short heads. Sturdy biceps improve the shape of your arms as well as enhance your lifting and pulling performance.

How to do a barbell bicep curl:

  1. Grasp a loaded barbell with an underhand grip with your hands hip to shoulder-width apart.
  2. Stand straight in the hip-width stance and keep your arms straight in front of your thigh with your palms facing up.
  3. Curl your arms until your biceps is fully flexed.
  4. Pause for a moment and then uncurl your arms and repeat.

Recommended reps and sets: 8-10 x 3

9. Barbell Romanian Deadlift

LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
IntermediatePosterior ChainBarbell and Plates
Barbell Romanian Deadlift

The Romanian deadlift is a great exercise for strengthening the lower back and hamstrings. It also helps improve balance, coordination, and core stability.

It works differently than the conventional deadlift where you lift directly from the floor while during this exercise, you are required to bend at your hips and lower the bar to your shin and then lift.

Let’s see how to do it:

  1. Holding a loaded barbell, stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Use an overhand grip to grasp the barbell and place your hands outside your hips.
  2. Brace your core and maintain an upright posture.
  3. Pushing your hips back, lower the bar until it reaches your shin level. You can bend your knees softly.
  4. Driving through your heels, return to the standing position until your hips come forward.

Recommended reps and sets: 6-8 x 4

10. Barbell Wrist Curl

LevelMuscles WorkedEquipment
IntermediateForearmsBarbell

Forearms are usually activated during the various biceps curls, but sometimes you need to work on it specifically. And for that, you can do barbell wrist curls. Barbell wrist curl is an effective exercise to forge your forearms and improve wrist flexion strength for both grip and stability.

You can do barbell wrist curls in various ways, such as in the seated position and standing position. Depending on your comfort, you can do the one that suits you the most.

To perform a wrist curl without a bench, grab a bar with your hands hip-width apart, bend forward, and place your elbows on your knees. Curl your wrists until your forearms are entirely engaged.

Final Words

The barbell is a piece of free-weight exercise equipment that provides a better range of motion and helps you lift heavier.

From the deadlift, bent-over row, and Pendlay row to shoulder shrug, Meadows row, and biceps curl, you can do as many as ten crucial exercises with barbells to maximize your growth.

You can also combine these workouts with dumbbells, machines, and kettlebell exercises to build a sturdy and sizeable physique.

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Author
Murshid Akram
I'm a certified personal trainer, fitness blogger, and nature lover. I always learn more about exercise science and human anatomy so that I can provide the best information possible. I share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you achieve your desired fitness goal.