12 Best Calisthenics Pull Exercises to Build Resilience

If you want to strengthen and tone your upper body muscles, especially the back, biceps, posterior delts, and core, try calisthenics pull exercises.

Calisthenics pull exercises increase strength, balance, and flexibility and improve posture.

In this article, I’ve shared the 12 best pull exercises for beginners to advanced levels. These exercises will help you increase strength, lean mass, and mobility and take your fitness to the next level.

Depending on your fitness level and goal, you can integrate them into your calisthenics workout routine.

Calisthenics Pull Workouts for Beginners to Bolster Foundational Strength

  1. Chin-up
  2. Inverted Row
  3. Negative Pullup
  4. Superman Row
  5. Bodyweight Curl
  6. Neutral Grip Chin-up

1. Chin-up

Bodyweight Chin-up

The Chin-up involves lifting your body using your arms until your chin reaches above the bar. It works on the biceps and back and is a more functional exercise than the lat pulldown you do on a machine.1 Doma K, Deakin GB, Ness KF. Kinematic and electromyographic comparisons between chin-ups and Lat-Pull down exercises. Sports Biomech. 2013 Sep;12(3):302-13. doi: 10.1080/14763141.2012.760204. PMID: 24245055

About Chin-up:

  • Primary Target Muscle: Biceps
  • Secondary Muscles Worked: Back and Abs
  • Equipment Needed: Chin-up Bar
  • Mechanics: Compound Movement
  • Benefits: Chin-up helps you build rounded biceps, enhance pulling strength, and improve torso definition.

Steps to Perform:

  1. Grab the bar with an underhand grip, palms facing you. Let your body hang by extending your arms straight; your arms must be hip-to-shoulder-width apart. That’s the start.
  2. Pull yourself up until your chin is just above the bar. When you reach the top position, your biceps muscles will contract.
  3. Pause for a moment and then slowly return your body to the start. This is your one rep.

Exercise Tips:

  • Before pulling yourself up, engage your shoulder blades by pulling them down and back. This helps activate the upper back muscles.
  • Lower yourself until your arms are fully extended, then pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar. The complete range of motion helps contract muscles more efficiently.
  • Keep your core muscles engaged throughout the movement so you can pull your body deliberately.

2. Inverted Row

Bodyweight Inverted Row

The inverted row activates several upper body muscles at once, including the back, biceps, and rear delt. It’s an excellent exercise for developing a well-shaped back and improving pulling strength without stressing the lower back.

About Chin-up:

  • Primary Target Muscle: Trapezius
  • Secondary Muscles Worked: Posterior Delt, Abs, and Biceps
  • Equipment Needed: Dip Stand/Table
  • Mechanics: Isolation Exercise
  • Benefits: The inverted row reinforces the upper back muscles, improves posture, and builds a firm upper body.

Steps to Perform:

  1. Set up the bar at an appropriate height and lay down on your back just underneath.
  2. Grab the bar with an overhand grip; your hands are shoulder-width apart.
  3. Place your feet firmly on the ground and keep your arms straight so your body hangs below the machine.
  4. Pull your torso toward the bar until your chest is close to it.
  5. Hold briefly, then lower your body in a controlled fashion to the start.

Exercise Tips:

  • Keep your body straight from head to heels and hold your abdominal muscles engaged so you can effectively contract the muscle.
  • Pull your trunk towards the bar by retracting your shoulder blades and squeezing your back muscles. This will elicit higher muscle contraction.
  • Lower yourself back down until your arms are fully extended, allowing your shoulders to stretch for maximum muscle contraction.

3. Negative Pull-up

The negative pull-up involves only the lowering (descent) phase, which is done deliberately at a slow pace. Because of the limited movement, it is also called a half-pull-up.

About Negative Pull-up:

  • Primary Target Muscle: Arms and Abs
  • Secondary Muscles Worked: Back, Hamstrings, and Glutes
  • Equipment Needed: Dip Station
  • Mechanics: Compound Movement
  • Benefits: The negative pull-up simultaneously bolsters arms and back, improves balance and muscle coordination, and enhances athleticism.

Steps to Perform:

  1. Use a platform to grab the pull-up bar with your hands a bit wider than shoulder-width apart and your thumbs over the bar.
  2. Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.
  3. Engage your entire upper body muscles, including your back and core. That’s the start.
  4. Lower your body as slowly as possible until your arms are fully straight. That’s one rep.

Exercise Tips:

  • Resist gravity while lowering yourself down, taking as much time as possible to reach the bottom position.
  • Keep your body upright and hold your core tight for fluid movement.
  • Once you reach the bottom position, either jump back to grab the bar or use a supporting object to reset and repeat the negative pull-up.

4. Superman Row

Superman Pull to Bolster Lower Back Muscles

The Superman row is a bodyweight pull exercise that involves lying on your stomach and driving your elbows toward your chest. It primarily targets the latissimus dorsi and helps improve upper body functionality without equipment.

From beginners to advanced, anyone can include Superman row on their calisthenics pull day to activate their back muscles effectively.

About Negative Pull-up:

  • Primary Target Muscle: Back
  • Secondary Muscles Worked: Shoulder
  • Equipment Needed: Yoga Mat (Optional)
  • Mechanics: Isolation Exercise
  • Benefits: The Superman Pull is an easy and effective way to work on your lats, traps, and lower back, correct posture, and make your upper body flexible.

Steps to Perform:

  1. Lie prone on the floor with your face down and arms straight in front of your head.
  2. Lift your arms and feet off the floor and pull your elbows in until your back muscles are entirely engaged.
  3. Pause for a moment and extend your arms to the start.

Exercise Tips:

  • Squeeze your shoulder blades and engage your upper back muscles while driving your elbows toward your chest.
  • Aim for a full range of motion by extending your arms fully to provide decent stretch to your back muscles.

5. Bodyweight Curl

Calisthenics Bodyweight Curl

The bodyweight curl is the best exercise you can do to bolster your biceps without weights. It involves getting under a bar or dip station, grabbing it with an underhand grip, and then pulling your body upward. It engages the biceps long head effectively and helps build strong arms.

About Bodyweight Curl:

  • Primary Target Muscle: Biceps
  • Secondary Muscles Worked: Upper Back
  • Equipment Needed: Dip Station
  • Mechanics: Isolation Exercise
  • Benefits: The bodyweight curl highly engages the biceps brachii and helps build aesthetic upper arms. It also improves wrist mobility and strengthens forearms.

Steps to Perform:

  1. Get under the bar and grab it with your hands, palms facing up.
  2. Walk your feet out, extend your arms, and keep your body straight from head to toe.
  3. Use your hands to pull your torso toward the bar until your biceps are fully engaged.
  4. Return to the start and go for the next repetition.

Exercise Tips:

  • Focus on squeezing your biceps while pulling your body toward the bar.
  • Keep your core engaged throughout the movement so your body stays steady and you can concentrate on your biceps brachii.

6. Neutral Grip Chin-up

The neutral grip chin-up, also known as hammer chin-up, involves gripping the bar in a way so your palms face each other. It is another excellent pull exercise that strengthens the biceps and forearms.

About Bodyweight Curl:

  • Primary Target Muscle: Biceps
  • Secondary Muscles Worked: Forearms, Abs, and Back
  • Equipment Needed: Pull-up Bar
  • Mechanics: Isolation Exercise
  • Benefits: The neutral grip chin-up targets the biceps from a different angle and helps build strength, size, and definition. It also prepares you for advanced calisthenics pull exercises, such as L pull-ups, Jackknife pull-ups, muscle-ups, and ring rows.

Steps to Perform:

  1. Grab the handles with a neutral grip (palms facing each other) and keep your arms straight.
  2. Brace your core and maintain a long spine. That’s the start.
  3. Focusing on contracting your biceps, pull yourself until your chin passes the bar.
  4. Feel the work in your biceps for a few seconds, then return to the start.

Exercise Tips:

  • I recommend focusing on pulling with your back muscles while keeping your chest up and core tight.
  • Go as high as possible, or at least until your biceps are entirely engaged.

Advanced Calisthenics Pull Exercises to Get Strong and Flexible

  1. Ring Row
  2. Pull-up
  3. Muscles Up
  4. L-Pull-Up
  5. Jackknife Pull-up
  6. Archer Pull-Up

7. Ring Row

Calisthenics Upper Body Pull Exercise

The ring row is slightly more challenging than the Australian pull-up. It involves maintaining a steady body and consciously pulling oneself upward.

The position of this exercise targets the traps and posterior delt and makes your trunk firm and aesthetic.

About Ring Row:

  • Primary Target Muscle: Upper Back
  • Secondary Muscles Worked: Abs, Biceps, and Shoulders
  • Equipment Needed: Gymnastic Ring
  • Mechanics: Compound Movement
  • Benefits: The ring row is a bodyweight calisthenics exercise that bolsters traps and shoulders and builds a solid torso. It also enhances grip strength, which is required in your day-to-day activities.

Steps to Perform:

  1. Set up the rings to your chest height and stand upright with your feet underneath the Rings.
  2. Grab the rings with a neutral grip and lean backward until your arms are fully straight. Your feet must be grounded on the floor below the rings.
  3. Engage your core and keep your back straight. That’s the start.
  4. Driving your elbows backward, pull yourself up until your chest is a few inches above the rings.
  5. Pause for a moment at the top and then slowly return to the start. This is your one rep.

Exercise Tips:

  • Maintain a straight body by lifting your chest up and keeping your core tight throughout the movement.
  • I recommend performing each rep with a full range of motion by fully extending your arms and pulling yourself upward until your back muscles are fully engaged.

8. Pullup

A man doing pullups, a Calisthenics back exercise

The pull-up is a traditional bodyweight exercise that bolsters back and grip strength and improves functional fitness.

About Pull-up:

  • Primary Target Muscle: Back
  • Secondary Muscles Worked: Biceps and Abs
  • Equipment Needed: Pull-up Bar
  • Mechanics: Compound Movement
  • Benefits: The Pull-up primarily works on back muscles and helps build stronger and wider lats. It also engages your abs, biceps, and various upper body muscles, making it an effective muscle-building and functional exercise.

Steps to Perform:

  1. Grab the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, hands two times wider than hip-width apart. Then, hang onto it by keeping your arms straight.
  2. Keep your core tight and bend your knees slightly if you want. This is your starting position.
  3. Pull your body up with your full strength as high as you can hold for a moment at the top, and then return your body to the starting position in a controlled fashion. This is your one repetition.

Exercise Tips:

  • Pull-ups involve lifting the entire body weight against gravity, so keeping your core and glutes tight will help you pull yourself up purposefully and effectively.
  • I also recommend extending your arms during the descent phase to stretch your lats out and elicit maximum contraction.

9. Muscle up

Muscle Up is an advanced calisthenics exercise that involves both pull and push movements and helps improve strength, explosiveness, and mobility.

To perform muscles up, you need to be as fast as possible during the exercise so you can generate swings and perform efficiently.

About Pull-up:

  • Primary Target Muscle: Back, Arms, Abs, and Shoulder
  • Secondary Muscles Worked: Chest, Hamstrings, and Glutes
  • Equipment Needed: Pull-up Bar
  • Mechanics: Compound Movement
  • Benefits: Muscle-ups help increase grip strength, build arm strength, torch significant calories, work out your glute and back muscles, and promote athleticism.

Steps to Perform:

Stand a couple of steps away from the pull-up bar, as it will allow you to generate swinging movement when you grip the bar.

  1. So, standing two or three steps away from the bar, walk and quickly grab the pull-up bar with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Make sure your thumbs are on the bar with your other fingers instead of under it. And your arms should be extended.
  3. Pull your chest toward the bar until your chin crosses it, and pushing through your hands, extend your arms until your body is upright.

Exercise Tips:

  • Keeping your core tight, swing your legs to generate movement, and reach above the bar.
  • Since you’re focusing on enhancing your pulling strength, I suggest skipping the dip part of this exercise.

10. L Pull Up

pull up bar abs workout

The L pull-up is a challenging but effective exercise. It involves lifting your legs and keeping them parallel to the ground, then doing pull-ups.

This exercise combines both isometric and isotonic movements and helps level up athletic and functional fitness.

About L Pull-up:

  • Primary Target Muscle: Back, Arms, Abs, and Shoulder
  • Secondary Muscles Worked: Legs and Chest
  • Equipment Needed: Pull-up Bar
  • Mechanics: Compound Movement
  • Benefits: The L pull-ups bolster the abdominals, back, and arms and improve upper body strength definition, as well as overall balance.

Steps to Perform:

  1. Hang onto the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing downward.
  2. Raise your legs up until your body forms an “L” shape.
  3. Keep your abdominal muscles tight and your entire body engaged. That’s the start.
  4. Pull yourself as high as possible, hold for a moment at the top, and then lower your body to the start.
  5. Staying in the same shape, do as many repetitions as you can.

Exercise Tips:

  • Keep your midsection, glutes, and legs as tight as possible throughout the movement.
  • Inhale before you pull yourself up, pause at the top, and exhale once you are lower in a starting position.

11. Jackknife Pull-up

The Jackknife pull-up, also known as feet elevated inverted row, is a compound exercise that involves keeping your legs straight and feet elevated on a flat bench. It engages multiple upper body muscles, including the back and biceps.

About Jackknife Pull-up:

  • Primary Target Muscle: Back, Biceps, and Core
  • Secondary Muscles Worked: Shoulder and Chest
  • Equipment Needed: Pull-up Bar/Dip Station and a Bench
  • Mechanics: Compound Movement
  • Benefits: The jackknife pull-up provides more stretch to the lats, strengthens the core, reinforces the biceps brachii, and enhances pulling strength.

Steps to Perform:

  1. Set the bar at an appropriate height and position a bench/box against it.
  2. Get under the bar and grab it using a pronated grip, your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. Extend your legs forward and place your feet on that bench. That’s the start.
  4. Pull your chest toward the bar until your back is fully engaged.
  5. Hold briefly, then lower your body in a controlled fashion.

Exercise Tips:

  • Lower yourself until your arms are fully extended, and pull yourself up until your chest comes close to the bar. This will ensure proper muscle activation and stimulate muscle growth.
  • Focus on your back muscles during the pull movement, especially at the top.
  • It is best to keep your shoulders back and down throughout the movement.

12. Archer Pull-Up

Archer pull-ups are mostly unilateral exercises that involve pulling your body one side of your shoulder at a time. They are great for those who want to excel at single-arm pull-ups and improve their arm strength imbalance.

About Archer Pull-up:

  • Primary Target Muscle: Back, Biceps, Abs, and Shoulder
  • Secondary Muscles Worked: Chest
  • Equipment Needed: Pull-up Bar
  • Mechanics: Compound Movement
  • Benefits: The archer pull-up improves strength imbalance and muscle symmetry, scales your strength for a one-arm pull-up, and enhances your overall athleticism.

Steps to Perform:

  1. Grab the bar with a pronated grip with your hands two times wider than hip-width.
  2. Keep your arms and body straight and core tight. That’s the start.
  3. Pull your body upward to the right side of the bar while extending your left arm fully.
  4. Pause for a moment, lower your body to the start, and repeat on the opposite side.

Exercise Tips:

  • Focus on performing the movement using your back and one arm. Your non-pulling arm should only act as a guide rather than a primary muscle.
  • I recommend using a resistance band or supportive platform if you’re going to do it for the first time.

30-Minute Calisthenics Pull Workout Samples

Here’s how a calisthenics pull day may look like according to experienced level:

Beginners:

  • Superman Row (4 sets of 15 reps)
  • Inverted Row (3 sets of 15 reps)
  • Chin-ups (3 sets of 6-10 reps)
  • Bodyweight Curl (3 sets of 8-12 reps)

Intermediate:

  • Jackknife Pull-up (3 sets of 15 reps)
  • Chin-ups (3 sets of 8-12 reps)
  • Pull-ups (3 sets of 8-12 reps)
  • Ring Row (3 sets of 10-15 reps)
  • Bodyweight Curl (3 sets of 10-15 reps)

Advanced:

  • Archer Pull-Up (3 sets of 5 reps per side)
  • Ring Row (3 sets of 8-12 reps)
  • Muscle up (3 sets of 6-10 reps)
  • Bodyweight Curl (3 sets of 10-15 reps)
  • L Pull Up (3 sets of 8-10 reps)
  • Neutral Grip Chin-up (3 sets of 6-10 reps)

Wrapping It Up

Calisthenics pull exercises help strengthen your upper body, especially your arms, back, shoulders, and core.

For example, chin-ups and bodyweight curls primarily work the biceps, inverted rows target the upper back and rear shoulders, and pull-ups strengthen and widen the lats.

Combining different pull movements makes you strong, flexible, and aesthetic and takes your fitness to the next level.

I’ve shared all the effective exercises from beginner to advanced; now, add them to your program and scale your fitness level.

References

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Author
Murshid Akram
I'm an online personal trainer, fitness blogger, and fitness enthusiast. I love researching and writing about exercise and nutrition. I share science-based, practical, and logical information that can help you achieve your desired fitness goal.

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