Fitness Tips

Do Pull Ups Work Abs?

There’s no better bodyweight workout for upper body strength and hypertrophy, than the pull-up. 

It’s a compound exercise and if you can pull it off, then you should be including it in every upper body workout routine. 

While it really shines as a lat exercise, the pull-up also engages your shoulders, your pectorals, your arms and your abs, if you do it right.

Did you just mention ‘abs’?

Most people are unaware that the pull-up can also scorch your abs.

Will it give a 10 pack? No.. But it will contribute to helping you shred your abs up. 

But keep in mind not all variations will help add core-burn. In fact, if you try to engage your core too much during the pull up movement, you might end up not working out your back muscles, which is the whole point of the pull up exercise.

So, how do you get the best of both worlds while doing the pull up?

Let’s find out. 

How Effective are Pull Ups for Building Abs?

The pull up is a multi-muscle workout that engages almost every major muscle group in the upper body. Let’s take a quick look at them.

do pull ups work your abs 

Latissimus dorsi (Lats)

lat pull ups for abs

Also known as a the ‘V-Taper’ muscle, the latismus dorsi is associated with shoulder adduction or helping bring your arms to the sides of your body. It is the primary pulling muscle that helps bring your body up towards the bar when you pull up. 

Teres Major

pull ups muscles for abs

Latissimus’s little sibling that works in synergy with it to help complete the movement. 

Rear deltoid

rear delt pull ups for abs

Helps bring the upper arm from the front side of the body to the rear, as it extends completely. 

Pectoralis major

pull ups for building abs

The big chest muscle that is commonly known as a pushing muscle, also works with the latissimus dorsi to pull your body upwards. 

Trapezius

pullups for abs

Both lower and middle fibers of your traps kick in as stabilizers that help keep your shoulder girdle steady. 

Rotator cuff

All four muscles in the rotator cuff work in synergy as stabilizers to support the shoulder through out the entire range of the pull up.

Core

pull ups for core ab muscles

The entire core girdle works as a stabilizer with the oblique and the erector spinae working in synergy to keep your body from swinging. 

So, every time you do the pull up, you should brace your core and engage it as you pull your body towards the bar. 

While it isn’t an isolation movement for your abs, it definitely helps strengthen the core.

What’s more important though is that you can customize every pull up move to increase ab isolation. 

Do Different Pull Up Variations Work Abs Better?

pull up variations to work abs

According to a study that was published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning, pull-ups with a pronated (overhand grip) and chin-ups with a supinated grip recruited the maximum number of upper body muscle groups.

However, the chin up recruited muscles on the front of the body a lot more than a conventional pull up, which makes it a slightly better pick as compared to the pull up for ab work. 

This is primarily because of the center of gravity of the body and the recruitment of the biceps brachii, which shifts the focus away from your back towards the pectorals and the core. 

You can also do pull ups with a neutral grip to emphasize your oblique muscles more during the movement. 

The Best Pull Up Variations that Work Abs

Despite recruiting all four muscles of your abdomen, the pull up does not provide the kind of burn that you get with ab isolation exercises, even upside down pull ups, as hard as they are, do not engage your core like doing crunches or sit ups do.

Even if you do 100 reps of chin ups in a day, you aren’t going to “feel the burn”, as they say in your core the next day like you would if you did 100 crunches in a day.

However, it is possible to absolutely torch the ab muscles by making slight variations to common pull up moves. 

Hanging Knee raises

hanging knee raise pull ups to work abs

When you pull the body up towards the bar, bend your knees at the waist and bring them towards your chest. Lower them when you perform the eccentric move. All through the movement, ensure that you engage the core and keep the body stable. 

Hanging Leg raises

hanging leg raise pull ups to work abs

If you have mastered the knee raise, then take it to the next level with leg raises. During the concentric part of the pull up, bend your legs at the waist, keeping them straight all the time until they are at 90-degrees to your body. Hold for a second and lower them during the eccentric. 

Toes to bar

toes to bar pull ups to work abs

This crossfit move will increase your core strength and define them abs. Squeeze the glutes, engage the core and swing slightly to generate momentum to swing your legs upwards towards the bar. At first you might not be able to raise your legs beyond your face. But with practice, you’ll get there. 

L-Hang/Pull ups

l hang pull ups to work abs

Think Leg raises without the pull-up part of it. Just hang on the bar with your arms extended, bend your legs at the waist so that you form an L with your legs extended straight in front of you, and hold for a 10-15 count. Repeat.

If you are up to it, do pull ups with your legs held in front of you. 

L-Hang with siders

l hang pull ups with siders to work abs

Once you perfect the L-hang, move your legs from side to side without rotating or twisting your entire upper body. This will hit the obliques and those love handles. 

Around the worlds – Windshield Wipers Pull Ups


If you are able to do the toes to bar easily, it’s time for around the worlds.

Raise your legs in front until they are slightly above the level of the bar, rotate them in a semi-circle in one direction. Pause for one second and rotate in the other direction. This exercise may also be called ‘Windshield Wipers’

The Best 3 Pull Up Bars to Buy to Work Abs

The first step towards ridding of those skinny arms, building a strong upper body, and sculpting a well defined set of abs is to get a sturdy, reliable pull up bar that doesn’t wobble when you do the movement and offers enough grip variations that allow you to perform different types of pull ups. The pull up bar is one of the absolute best options for small home gym equipment because it is affordable and can be set up anywhere without any effort.

But with so many brands and models to choose from, it’s not easy to narrow down on the right one.

Here’s some help. 

#1 – Iron Age Smart Hook Bar – Best Doorway Mounted Pull Up Bar

best pull up bar to work abs

The Iron Age Doorway pull up bar is a fully expandable pull up bar that goes from 24″ to 36″ in the blink of an eye. This means that it can be installed in any standard doorway frame without the need for screws or hardware which makes it a perfect option for apartment home gyms or people who have small space.

It comes with industrial-grade ABS couplers that keep the bar rock steady. Also, we like the fact that it sits 1” above the door trim and 10” away from the wall. So you aren’t blocking the doorway during workout. It is crafted from heavy duty steel tubing and has a max load capacity of 300 lbs. Comes with ab straps and can be used for floor workouts too. 

You can check it out on amazon by clicking here

#2 – Ultimate Body Press – Best Ceiling Mounted Pull Up Bar that Works Abs

how do pull ups work abs

If you have the room and don’t mind drilling holes, then go for this ceiling mounted pull up bar from Ultimate body press. You can install it completely away from the wall for a full range of motion. Can be very useful if you are into TRX or crossfit. It features patented dual position risers that can be mounted under room joists as well as ceiling joists. The bar is ergonomically designed and features 4 grip positions with ample padding for comfortable pull ups. The only caveat is that you cant just remove it and use it for floor exercises. 

You can check it out on amazon by clicking here

#3 – Ultimate Body Press Wall Mount – Best Wall Mount Pull Up Bar

best pull up bar to work abs

This 42-inch-wide single-piece pull up bar is one of the sturdiest ones that we’ve seen. It sits on risers and offers you four padded grip positions for multiple pull-up variations. Depending on the grip position that you select, you can get from 14-21” of wall clearance, which is perfect for an unabridged range of motion. Installation is pretty simple and just like the other pull up bars from Ultimate Body Press, it is engineered to precision from heavy duty steel tubing. It has a max weight load of 300 lbs., which is perfect for home use. Comes with a 10-year warranty as well.

You can check it out on amazon by clicking here

#4 – Bonus Pick – Free standing Power tower with pull up dip station

best power tower with pull up bar for ab workouts

This power tower is a complete upper body workout machine for the entire family. It is somewhat like a power rack, only this one’s for bodyweight exercises. It has a reasonably compact footprint and is designed for easy assembly.

Firstly, it features a height adjustable pull up bar hat can go from 58.5 for kids to 89” for the tallest adult in the family. There’s no neutral grip bars though. In addition to this, it also features a dip station, which is height adjustable too. In fact, it also comes with a patented armrest that can be extended forward depending on the size of the person using it for leg raises.

The heavy duty steel construction gives it a maximum load bearing capacity of 330 lbs. If you have a home gym and have the room to spare, then this one’s better than any of the other pull up bars in this list.

You can check it out on amazon by clicking here

Related Reading

Sources

https://www.rubberbanditz.com/blog/muscles-worked-in-pull-ups-and-chin-ups/

Ben Mayz

Hi there! I'm Ben, main author and chief editor at Fitlifefanatics.com. I have been obsessed with Strength Training and Fitness for 16 years now. My passion for living a happy fit lifestyle is what made me realize that fitness is what I wanted for my future. I went on to earn my Masters in Sports Training & Biomechanics. My passion for Strength training & fitness and my love of helping others is what made me start Fitlifefanatics. Here, myself, and a team of specialist aim to provide the most accurate, and actionable information possible in hopes to help foster the fitness community forward. You can learn more about Fitlifefanatics on our About Page

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