Skip to content

What Muscles Do Pull-ups Work [Visual Guide]

Pull-ups muscles worked

What Muscles Do Pull-ups Work?

Pullups work your lats (latissimus dorsi), biceps (Biceps brachii), teres major, traps (trapezius), posterior deltoids, rhomboids (rhomboideus major and minor), scapular and shoulder stabilizers, forearms and abdominals.

Muscles that Pull-ups Work

Let’s dig in and look at the primary muscles worked in detail, focusing on the anatomy and muscles’ functions.

Lats (latissimus dorsi)

Latissimus dorsi

Latissimus dorsi is the broadest muscle in the human body. Lats cover most of the back on both sides of the spine. This triangle-shaped muscle comprises about half of your back. The muscles’ origin starts on the posterior part of the hip bone, back of the sacrum, and lower ribs. It also reaches up and inserts the teres major. The latissimus dorsi work along with other muscles to accomplish:

  • the arm’s extension
  • horizontal adduction
  • internal rotation

Well-developed latissimus dorsi gives your back wing shape form. 

Biceps (Biceps brachii)

Biceps brachii

Biceps brachii is a biarticular muscle that goes over two joints. Basically, it brings the humerus closer to the ribcage. Biceps affect both the shoulder and the elbow joint. The muscle:

  • performs forearm supination and elbow flexion
  • assists in shoulder reflection and adduction
  • accomplishes horizontal adduction

The biceps are in charge of movement and stabilize the joint, holding the humeral head inside it.

Teres Major

Teres major

Teres major is a thick muscle of the shoulder joint. It originates at the dorsal surface of the inferior angle and the lower part of the scapula’s medial border. Teres major is closely related to the latissimus dorsi. Teres major runs parallel to the lat fibers and inserts them together at the crest of the lesser tubercle of the humerus. Their motions in the shoulder joint are almost identical.

Teres major is used in three movements:

  • adduction;
  • retroversion;
  • rotation.

Posterior Deltoid

Posterior deltoid

The deltoid muscle covers the entire shoulder. When properly developed, it gives you a v-shaped upper body. Also, it aesthetically compliments the arms and back. Posterior deltoid originates in the spine. The crucial function of the deltoid’s muscle is to prevent dislocation of the humeral head from the shoulder joint.

Posterior deltoids perform:

  • extension of the shoulder
  • horizontal adduction
  • external rotation

Traps (Trapezius)


The trapezius muscle is divided into descending, transverse, and ascending sections. It is responsible for stabilizing and securing the shoulder blade in the thorax. It also turns the shoulder blade outward and moves it medially.

What else do you need to know about traps? The trapezius muscle:

  • controls lateral and dorsal flexion;
  • stabilizes and moves the scapula.



Rhomboids are made up of two muscles: rhomboid minor and rhomboid major. The first one’s origin is in the nuchal ligament and the spinous process of vertebrae c7 and t1. It also inserts into the scapula next to the medial border. The main origin of rhomboids is in the spinous processes of vertebrae t2 through t5. The muscle inserts on the scapula’s medial border, but it also inserts just within the scapular spine and all the way down to the scapula’s inferior angle.

Both minor and major muscles work together to:

  •  retract and rotate the scapula downwards;
  •  fix the scapula to the thoracic wall.


Forearm muscles

Forearms have a lot of muscles. They are placed on or near the humerus and include flexors and extensors of the wrist, flexors, and extensors of the digits, flexors of the elbow (brachioradialis), and pronators and supinators. Here are the main forearm muscles’ functions.

  • The radius and ulna are pronated and supinated by the intrinsic muscles.
  • Forearm extrinsic muscles flex and extend the hand’s fingers.
  • The brachioradialis, a muscle that runs the arm’s length from the elbow to the wrist, aids in elbow flexion.

Benefits Of Pull-ups 

Compound exercise

Pull-ups impact multiple joints and muscle groups simultaneously. It has the power to do the job of many exercises and save your time. Every movement makes you lift your whole body weight with the help of upper body muscles. By adding pull-ups to your training program, you will work on your biceps, lats, forearms, grip strength, shoulders, and core with one move. 

Pull-ups are the best choice for:

  • efficient muscle-building – compound exercises result in fast muscular growth because of many muscles involved in one movement;
  • testosterone release – this hormone is responsible for gaining mass, losing fat, and being in a good mood;
  • cardiovascular fitness improvement – it takes a lot of oxygen to practice the pull-up, so it’s good cardio;
  • weight loss – a pull-up burns much more calories compared to any isolated exercise.

Many variations to pick from

Each pull-up variation enables the athlete to focus on different body parts. The equipment remains the same. Alternative exercises involve changing the grip, leg position, or the hands’ width on the bar. For instance, keeping your legs extended will help you focus on the lower back midsection. 

If you are working the biceps and want to get the most stimulus you can, the chin-up is a superb option. It can typically be loaded with weight. But if you want a bigger back or bigger lats, focus on a pull-up. In the future, you can try things like the deadlift.

It’s suitable for beginners

Many experts say that pull-up is a challenging exercise. It’s true, but this exercise can also be inspiring. Pull-ups are pretty easy to make progress with. Pull-ups are the perfect choice if your workout purpose is moving forward with your training. Regular practice will make your upper body strong and hardy. The exercise is also deservedly regarded as a convenient one. It doesn’t require specific equipment. All you need is a single bar. 

It improves the physique

Engaging multiple muscles in one move, especially lats, biceps, and the core, pull-ups make the shoulders broader and waist smaller. In the end, you will get an attractive v-shaped upper body. Pull-ups also have the power to decrease back pain and improve your posture by strengthening back muscles.

Pull-ups develop a strong grip

As you’re hanging for the whole process, your forearms and hands are under significant strain, building grip strength. The grip strength is a crucial element in pull-ups and many other exercises and activities. Whether you are a sportsman or an office worker, this skill is vital for you. People who do pull-ups manage everyday tasks better. It goes for opening jars, holding a baby, or carrying heavy bags from a supermarket.

Joint-friendly exercise

Many people consider a pull-up a joint-friendly exercise. The movement is performed using the upper body muscles. You can pull the joints apart while exercising. Therefore, practicing pull-ups don’t result in any joint compression. Also, any pressure isn’t put on your knees, lower back, and hips.

Differences Between Pullups And Chinups

The main difference between the pull-up and the chin-up is your hand positioning. In the chin-up, the palm is going to be facing you. And in the pull-up, the palm is facing away. An excellent way to perform it is to think about how you would scratch your chin. It’s possible to do it only by having the palm facing you. 

While the hand position is different in each movement, the technique is pretty much identical. Check out our step-by-step guide to exercise correctly. 

While pull-ups and chin-ups are performed similarly, there is one more difference besides the grip. The chin-up is better for working the bicep brachii and the pectoralis major. And the pull-up is slightly better for working the lower trapezius and the lats.

How To Perform A Pullup

Step 1. Get into the starting position

Ensure your bar hangs high enough. To begin the pull-up in the chin, you should be in a dead hang on the bar. Grab the bar a little bit of outside shoulder width. Before starting the first pull, think about putting the scapula backward. This is going to engage the lats and the upper back muscles.

Step 2. Pull yourself up

Bring your chest as high as you can. It’s ok if you can’t bring your chest all the way up to the bar. Initiate the pull, driving elbows to the floor. This tip helps you keep a cleaner path by pulling yourself up and maintaining the tightness. Try not to swing side to side or forward. Staying in a straight line is a goal here.

Step 3. Go down

Once you’ve reached the movement’s peak and your chin is above the bar, don’t loosen up on the tightness, then start descending movement. Try to maintain the exact tightness you began with as you go down. To maximize the efficiency, you need to fully disengage from the exercise for a second when you go down. This position is called “a dead hang.” It helps to stretch and flex the lats before a new powerful rep. 

If you waver at all going forward or backward, that’s a reminder that you are losing tightness. In this case, your moves can become disengaged, which might take you away from the correct technique. One more helpful tip is to flex your lower body and core to avoid power leaks.


A pullup is a great compound back exercise that works most of the upper body muscles at once. It should be a foundational exercise in your workout plan if you really want to grow bigger muscles and have an impressive technique.

Additional Resources