Pull ups are an excellent exercise to build a stronger back. It’s a great test of strength by simply being able to pull your entire body up. As you get stronger doing pull ups a good progression is getting into weighted pull ups.
What is a weighted pull up?
Pull ups differ from chin-ups because with chin-ups you grab the bar with your palms facing you.
A weighted pull up is simply a pull up with some sort of additional resistance to make it harder. So instead of only pulling only your body weight you’re also pulling additional weight. As you get stronger you’re going to be able to do a lot of body weight pull ups. You might be able to do 15, 25, 50 pull ups using your bodyweight. In order to make it harder you’re going to need that external weight.
What can you use to do weighted pull ups?
There are different types of weights you can use to perform weighted pull ups. Two of the most common ones are weighted vests, and weighted dip belts.
A weighted vest is a vest you put on your upper body just like you would a normal vest. The vest itself is weighted with metal iron ore or sandbags. The weight is spread throughout the vests over your shoulders and upper body. The great thing about a weighted vest is it naturally lets you perform the pull up unlike a weight belt. Because the vest fits your body naturally it’s the most natural way to do a weighted pull up.
The vests are usually adjustable where you can add and remove weight to it. A typical vest can weigh upto 20-50 lbs. The only drawback with the vest is most don’t go heavier than that so there is a limit.
A weight belt that however allows you to add bumper plates and weights as much as you can handle. Check out the articles below to learn more about these equipment.
If you want to use plates using a dip belt for your weighted pull ups would be a good option. If you’re not familiar with what a dip belt is it’s a weight belt that has a plate hanging from it with a chain. While you’re doing your pull ups the weight plate hangs between your legs. You can add as much weight as you and the belt can handle. A kettlebell can also be used to tie with your belt.
Most gyms have dip belts and you can use it there. Using a dip belt for weighted pull ups is fine but it does have a major drawback. Because of the plate pulling on the belt you’re overextending your lower back.
Another way you can do a weighted pull up is using a dumbbell between your feet. It’s the same concept as using the dip belt. Because the weight is in between your feet it forces you to keep your body vertical which also makes the exercise more difficult because you can’t cheat.
You won’t be able to use anywhere close to the weight you’re doing with this version compared to the dip belt. It can also be a bit tough to get the dumbbell between your feet if the bar is too high above you. But the biggest advantage of using a dumbbell is you don’t have the over extension on your lower back.
All things considered, the weighted vest is the best way to perform your weighted pull ups. Mostly because it’s a more natural movement where you don’t have to over extend your back. Yes there’s a limit to how much weight you can add to the belt but you can always do different versions of pull ups to make it more difficult.
What are all the benefits of weighted pull ups?
If you’re able to do 12-15 pull ups in a row in good form you should consider incorporating weighted pull ups into your routine. Doing 20+ bodyweight pull ups might increase your muscle endurance but it won’t be as effective in building muscle or increasing strength. You’ll be able to tax your muscles more and get more of a workout by adding the extra resistance.
The main muscles a pull up works is your back muscles. Your lats (large upper back muscles going from the mid-back to under the armpit and shoulder blade). Traps (muscles from your neck to shoulders). Thoracic erector spinae (the three muscles that run along your thoracic spine). Infraspinatus (muscle on the shoulder blade helping with shoulder extension).
Most back exercises have a pulling motion which works your biceps. Same with the pull ups you’re also working your biceps. Pull ups are also great for grip strength as you need to carry and pull your entire body up and down. As well as shoulder mobility because you need to be able to rotate your shoulder and have your hands directly overhead to perform a pull up.
Everyone who has the ability to do weighted pull ups should do them. Most people are chest/front dominant meaning they’re chest is tight and their backs are weak. This is due to the fact our hands are usually in front of us and our shoulders are rolled forward.
When you’re driving, when you’re at work at your desk, when you’re checking your phone, etc. For many guys at the gym it worsens even more because they want to get a big chest and they do all these chest exercises like the bench press, push ups, chest flys, etc.
Too many people neglect the back. In order to balance it all out you need to strengthen the back. And pull ups are one of the best exercises to work your back muscles.
Two additional benefits of weighted pull ups include it being a compound exercise, and it’s ease for progression. Compound exercises are big movement exercises working multiple muscle groups. They also trigger growth hormone release because of the load you’re moving in the movement. Pull ups are considered the squat of the upper body. Just like how you would progress from bodyweight to weighted pull ups you can progress with the amount of weight you use in your vest as many of these vests are adjustable.
If you’re strong enough to do weighted pull ups you should already know the basics of how to perform them. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing them in great form. As you go from any bodyweight exercise into a weighted exercise the risk of injury increases so it’s important to perform the exercise properly.
Here are a few do’s and don'ts
Do’s - imagine you have an object in between your armpits. Focus on trying to squeeze the object as you pull. This will help in making sure you’re contracting the proper muscles.
Do’s - always perform pull ups with the bar in front of you. In order to do it properly you need to have your elbows by your side or slightly in front of you.
Do’s - focus on breathing in through your nose and breathing out through your mouth. As you pull breathe out and as you lower breathe in.
Don'ts - at the bottom of the movement don’t unpack your shoulders. Being in this position puts your shoulder in a vulnerable position. Instead, you can still go all the way to the bottom but pack your shoulders by moving your biceps away from your ears.
Don'ts - avoid having your grip being too narrow where it works more of your biceps, or too wide. Your hands should be about shoulder width apart.
Don'ts - avoid having your legs hanging behind you. Bending your legs behind you makes the exercise easier but it also makes your body too loose and you leak energy. You want to keep your body tight and rigid when doing pull ups. Instead put your feet in front of you.
Do your weighted pull ups once or twice a week. If you’re looking to build muscle do 8-12 reps for 3 sets. If you’re looking for muscle endurance do 13-15 reps. For strength, weighted pull ups might not be the best exercise because of the vulnerability your shoulders would be in if you were to go real heavy. There are other back exercises such as rows that would be better suited to strengthen your back.
You can perform your weighted pull ups anywhere with a horizontal bar that can hold your weight. A local gym, your home gym, outdoors at a playground. If you do it at home you can go with a simple pull up bar that you mount in between a door or get a full out power tower.
Final thoughts / conclusion
As you can see there are many benefits and ways to perform weighted pull ups. Whichever way you do them always remember to use proper form because of the additional weight you’re adding. Now go out there and see how many weighted pull ups you can do in 12 hrs.