The pull-up holds the calisthenics crown as the world’s most popular pulling exercise. The pull-up engages many muscles in the upper body and is key to developing a wide back and unlocking functional pulling strength. 

One of the key factors that contribute to the versatility of pull-ups is the many grip positions available that change the muscles targeted during the pull-up. By changing your grip, you can target different muscles and change how your body weight is distributed. 

In this article, we will go over all of the common pull up grips, including the chin up, the muscles they work, and which pull up variations can be done at each grip. Whether you are a beginner in the world of calisthenics or an experienced athlete, learning the many pull up grips can take your pulling strength to the next level and help you reach your fitness goals.

The Different Pull Up Grips

Here are the different pull up grips:

  • Standard Overhand (Pronated) Grip
  • Supinated Grip (Also known as the chin up)
  • Neutral Grip
  • Close Grip
  • Wide Grip
  • Mixed Grip
  • Towel Grip
  • False Grip
  • One Arm
  • Behind The Neck Grip

Do note that different pull up variations can be done with the same grip. For this reason, we have not included grips like the type-writer grip as this pull up variation can be done with a wide grip.

Overhand Grip / Pronated Pull Up Grip

The standard pull-up grip involves your arms being just past shoulder width apart with your palms facing away from you. This grip is most common when doing pull ups and is the foundation for all other pull up grips. Pull ups using this grip typically target the upper back muscles, particularly the lats. The lats are the large muscles on the sides of your back that produce an upside down triangle shape. The pronated grip also targets muscles in the forearms, and shoulders.

This is also the typical grip used in deadhang exercises to improve posture and overall grip strength. 

We recommend beginners learn to do pull ups with the standard overhand grip before attempting other grip types.

Supinated Grip / Chin Up Grip

The supinated grip, also known as the underhand grip or chin-up grip, is a pull-up grip variation where your palms face toward your body. This is the same grip used during weighted curling exercises like bicep and dumbbell curls. 

Just like the standard overhand grip your arms should be just past shoulder width apart when using a chin up grip. Many beginners find this grip to be easier due to the having the added muscular support from the biceps,and abdominals.

The chin up grip primarily targets the bicep much more than the overhand grip but also forces engagement of the core to stabilize yourself and prevent swinging. While this grip emphasizes the biceps, it does to a lesser extent also hit the muscles in the upper back.

Neutral Grip Pull Ups

The neutral grip, also known as the parallel grip or commando grip, is a pull-up grip variation where your palms face each other. When done right your palms will both be facing inward and each pull will place heavy emphasis on the lats and biceps. 

A neutral grip will not place as much emphasis on the biceps as a chin up grip but instead adds more resistance against the lats while being friendlier on the shoulders. A neutral grip is beneficial for those looking for a pull up grip that does not strain the shoulders. 

Another advantage of the neutral grip is it’s dependance on forearm strength and having a strong grip. Training pull-ups using a neutral grip also engages the core to maintain stability making it great grip when you want to avoid straining your shoulders but still want to target your biceps and lats.

Close Grip Pull Ups

As the name explains, close grip pull ups require your hands to be close together. A close grip can be categorized as any grip where your hands are less than shoulder width apart. The close pull up grip places more emphasis on the arms than other grip variations and also allows the chest to core to become active during the pull up. 

It also is great for learning isometric movements. Many intermediate and advanced calisthenic skills become much easier when using a close grip making it a very useful grip to train. Mastering the close grip pull up can unlock many skills and we consider it to be a useful stepping stone when learning the muscle up due to the way it activates your core when executed with proper form.

Wide Grip Pull Ups

Wide grip pull ups involve your hands being far beyond shoulder width apart and has the biggest emphasis on the lats than other grip types. If your goal is solely to build a wide and strong back, wide grip pull ups are the way to go. The wide grip is also used in many advanced pull up variations like the archer pull up, type writer pull up, and other dynamic movements.

The wider the grip, the more emphasis is placed on the back muscles. 

In addition to focusing more on the back, wide grip pull ups also train shoulder stability and engage the surrounding shoulder joints. 

Mixed Grip Pull Ups

The mixed grip, also known as the alternate grip involves 1 hand using a pronated grip while the other supinated. This grip isn’t common in beginner and intermediate calisthenics but becomes essential for dynamic movements and dismounts for advanced calisthenics athletes. This is the most common grip for heavy lifting as it prevents the bar from rotation in your hand.

Like the other pull up grip types, the mixed pull up grip targets the upper back, biceps and forearms while providing a very stable grip on the bar. The biggest strength of this grip is the added stability and capability to hold a heavier load. If you plan to train weighted deadhangs, this grip may be perfect for you. 

In fact, the mixed grip is so good at preventing rotation and enhancing your grip it is banned in most carnival hang for 100 seconds challenges.

Towel Grip

The towel grip is a very special pull up grip that involves the use of a towel draped over the bar. By grabbing each end of the towel with your palms facing each other, the goal is to hang and do a pull up. 

The towel grip places tremendous strain on your forearms, wrist and overall grip making it one of the hardest pull up grips. That being said, the towel grip is extremely rewarding for those that can train using it. Often people find that even their fingers become significantly stronger after using the towel grip for several weeks.

Just make sure you have a towel that can support your weight.

False Grip

The false grip is typically done on gymnastics rings but can also be done at a higher difficulty on a bar. The false grip involves placing the wrists over the top of the rings or bar instead of wrapping them around. The false grip is known for its difficulty and requires practice to develop the necessary strength and technique and is often a very painful grip for beginners learning it.

The biggest advantage of the false grip is that it is mandatory to learn the gymnastics ring muscle up. It also places a large strain on the forearms, biceps, and triceps. There are many calisthenics skills on gymnastics rings that require the false grip making it a key stepping stone on your calisthenics journey. 

One Arm

Another pull up grip variation with a name that perfectly explains what it is. The one-arm grip uses 1 arm to pull yourself up and is considered the hardest pull up grip to execute. This grip places an extreme load on the entire upper body and requires months if not years of training.

Behind The Neck Grip

The final pull up grip variation on our list is the behind the neck grip. This variation requires your hands to be just past shoulder width apart holding a pronated grip. However, during the pulling motion, your hands will be inline with or behind your head to have your neck in front of the bar. 

This grip requires high levels of flexibility and places a lot of strain on the shoulders while also requiring a high degree of shoulder mobility. Everyone’s body type and flexibility are different. Some may find this grip to be comfortable and others will experience pain when attempting to use this grip. It is essential to approach the behind-the-neck grip with caution and prioritize proper form.

In conclusion, understanding and incorporating various grip types in your pull-up routine can significantly enhance your upper body strength, muscle development, and overall performance. Each grip variation targets specific muscles and places unique demands on your body, allowing for a diverse range of training stimuli. Whether you prefer the traditional overhand grip, the challenging false grip, or the intense one-arm grip, incorporating different grip types can add variety, challenge your muscles in new ways, and help you break through plateaus. Experiment with different grips, find what works best for you, and enjoy the journey of mastering the art of pull-ups with diverse grip options.

To learn more about the different pull up grips and other calisthenics exercises check out our blog or training programs.