Neutral Grip Pull Ups – Everything You Need to Know
Trying to find out just what a neutral grip pull up is and what makes it different from other styles of pull ups?
Well, you’ve made it to the right place.. Here I will tell you just what makes the neutral grip pull up different from other variations, what the benefits are, what muscles it works, and just how to do one correctly.
The pull up is one of those exercises that you can either do or you can’t.
Depending on which side you are on, it will either be your favorite lat exercise or the one you hate the most.
Even if you can perform it with reasonably good form, there’s still the eternal conundrum that seems to have no definite answer.
Which variation of pull ups works best?
Is it the good ol’ Australian pull-up? The wide grip pull up? Is it the overhand pull up or the pronated grip or maybe even the upside down pull up? Is it the underhand one or the supinated grip, also called the chin up?
Wait, isn’t the chin up predominantly for the biceps? What about neutral grip pull ups then?
Aren’t those easier than the rest? Which muscle groups do neutral grip pull ups work?
Don’t sweat it. Today, we will demystify the pull up and introduce you to one of the easiest and safest pull up moves, the neutral grip pull up.
What are Neutral Grip Pull Ups?
Neutral grip pull ups are performed on parallel handles/bars that typically jut outwards from the main pull up bar.
As you grip these handles, your palms face each other as opposed to facing away (pronated) from you or towards you (supinated).
Everything else remains the same. You pull up your body until your chin is above the bar. It’s simple.
Neutral Grip Pull Ups vs Regular Pull Ups
Before we jump into which pull-up variation is better than the other one, let’s take a moment to understand the different muscle groups of the upper body and their synergistic role in the pull up.
There are the pectorals or the chest on the front, the scapulae or the shoulders, the rhomboids, the trapezius and the teres major on the back.
Wondering what to work after chest day?
You might have heard that working the shoulders after chest day could be overkill, or that working arms after chest day is not quite ideal.
But hey, if you know what you’re doing, you won’t have to worry about any of that – you can these both muscle groups in one go.
All these muscles come together to help you pull your body upwards towards the bar.
But the primary pulling muscle here is the latissimus dorsi, known commonly as the Lats.
That’s the reason why the pull up is known mainly as a lat exercise.
According to a clinical study performed in the ‘School of Sport and Exercise, Massey University’ in New Zealand and UK, peak muscle activation is almost identical irrespective of which pull-up variation you perform.
This means that when it comes to activating your lats, there is very little to choose between the neutral grip pull up and an overhand grip pull up.
However, there’s a lot more to performing pull ups repeatedly than peak muscle activation.
In another clinical study, the same pull-up variations were analyzed for their potential to cause injury.
If you look at an athlete performing a pull up from the back, you’d notice that there’s very little space between the shoulder blade and the upper arm bone, which is called the humerus.
Sandwiched in between these two are rotator cuff tendons.
When you perform a wide-grip and an underhand pull up movement, these rotator cuff tendons get squashed. When this happens consistently over a period of time, it becomes a recipe for injury.
However, when the grip is changed to a front pull up or a neutral pull up, the risk of impingement of the shoulders is the least.
Depending on how wide the parallel handles are, the neutral grip pull up is also a great way to keep the upper arms at a comfortable angle to the rest of the body.
In simple terms, if you have an injured shoulder, a neutral grip pull up will be a much safer bet.
Neutral Grip Pull Ups Vs Chin Ups? How Are They Different?
Grip and hand position. The grip and hand position of the neutral grip pull up is different than that of the chin up.
When doing a neutral grip pull up your your palms are facing each other, as pictured above.
When you are doing a chin up your palms are facing towards you. Your goal when performing a chin up is to get your chin above the bar, when you are performing a neutral grip pull up, you are just trying to get eye level with the top of the bar.
What Muscles do Neutral Grip Pull Ups Work?
Neutral grip pull ups are an essential workout if you are looking to develop a wide, strong back and equally wide shoulders.
Here are the muscles that are activated when you perform the pull up movement.
This is the flat, triangle-shaped muscle on your back that gives you the famed V-taper, often grouped as upper and lower lats. Thick lats are considered to be a key for an aesthetic physique as you’d know.
So if you are lacking in the lats department, you know exactly what movement to add to your routine. By the way, the neutral grip pull up will activate your lats as much as 117-130%.
Other exercises that you can do to work the latissimus dorsi are lat pulldowns or seated rows, ring rows and its alternative exercises.
The second most critical muscle that’s involved in the pull up is the bicep, which works in conjunction with the lats to pull the body up towards the bar.
Every time you do a pull up, the biceps brachii is activated 78-96%. It also activates the brachialis muscle and the forearm muscles, which help improve arm strength. These are mostly the muscles used in arm wrestling. So if you plan on taking your buddy on a table duel, consider giving it a thought.
Other exercises that work the biceps are the underhand dumbbell row, the dumbbell floor press, the high pulls or upright rows.
These exercises work both the biceps and triceps that way you can get bigger, stronger arms.
The Teres Major, minor and the Infraspinatus are three small muscles that are equally important for a balanced back. These are activated 71-79% when you do a pull up movement and these assist the lat in allowing you to complete the movement.
Lower & Upper trapezius
After the lats, the trapezius muscle takes the bulk of the load when you pull your body up vertically.
Who would have thought that you’d be using your chest muscle to complete a pull up? Isn’t that mainly used for pushing movements?
Well, yeah, you get to work chest muscles with pushing moves like push-ups – doesn’t matter whether you’re doing 500 push ups or 1000 push-ups a day, the concept is the same.
Muscles such as The pectoralis major works in synergy with the lats and the coracobrachialis in helping you complete the pull up.
Your pecs are activated 44-57% with every rep of the pull up. Other exercises that are great at hitting the pecs are the hammer strength chest press, chest press and bench press.
By the way, if done right, dips also work pec muscles and others like the triceps.
How To Perform a Neutral Grip Pull Up
As easy as it may seem there a couple important things to remember when performing a neutral grip chin up.
Watch the video below to learn how to do it correctly
Tips to Help You Perform your Neutral Grip Pull Up
All said and done, if you are struggling to get that chest to the bar, then here are a few tips that will help you enhance muscle growth and develop the strength needed to perform neutral grip pull ups.
Start with Negative Pull Ups
Start by using your feet to push yourself above the bar, to the final position and then lower yourself slowly. Negatives help you develop back strength as your muscles stay constantly in tension.
Use bands for Assisted Pull Ups
Rubber bands can be used to do assisted pull ups, which are like half-pull-ups Do these until you can complete one full rep.
Related Reading; Why Are My Arms So Skinny?
Develop your Grip Strength
Many a time, a weak grip is what causes you to leave the bar prematurely. Work on it by performing wrist curls or use a grip strengthener. Use these to not only improve your grip but also to make your hands bigger.
Train your back
Develop a strong back by performing bent-over rows, dumbbell pullover, inverted rows and deadlifts – smith machine deadlifts in particular work great for rookies. These will help you greatly when you are performing negatives.
3 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid When Performing Neutral Grip Pull Ups
And while you are at it, here are some mistakes to avoid as you get going with pull ups.
Stay away from Variations
Stick to doing negatives and assisted pull ups and then progress to chin ups and then neutral grip ups. Do not try the pronated grip until you can do at least 5 of these comfortably. Then neutral grip pull ups.
Do the full range of motion
Pull yourself up completely and extend low until your arms are straight and your body is straight. Don’t do a half-rep pull up. This is a rookie mistake that most beginners make when they are first trying to learn how to do neutral grip pull ups. They will go half up and half down. This doesn’t even look cool and it is not helping you get stronger.
Swing Pull Up – Big No No
Time and again we see first timers push themselves off the chair using force to push their chin above the bar. Never, ever do it. A pull up is a slow, methodical move. If you are kipping and convulsing at the bar, it’s not a pull up.
Now you know all about neutral grip pull ups and just how to do one. It’s now your turn to get to the gym and start practicing your neutral grip ups and see just how far you can get and if you can do them just how many you can do.
Neutral grip pull ups are the best style of pull up for most beginners to start out doing and later move on to chin ups and then to wide grip as you become more advanced.
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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.
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