Whether you’re following the push/pull/legs workout or doing any other kind of training split, it’s usually best to do the same number of pulling and pushing exercises. This will ensure that both sides of your body and all the associated muscle groups are developed equally.
Doing the same amount of pushing and pulling could also help prevent injuries by ensuring that there are no muscle imbalances. Pulling exercises are also generally good for your posture.
A lot of bodybuilders are guilty of overemphasizing their chest and shoulders and not spending enough time on their backs. This is the result of doing more pushing than pulling.
Balance your workouts and your development by doing equal amounts of pulling and pushing. Better yet, if you have been neglecting your back lately, do more pulling than pushing to restore muscular balance.
In this article, we reveal 13 of the best (and our favorite!) pulling exercises.
The 13 Best Pull Exercises
Need to do more pulling exercises? These are some of the best pull exercises around!
Deadlifts are at the top of our pull exercise for a reason – they’re the best! The mighty deadlift works every muscle on the back of your body and is the ultimate pulling exercise. They also teach you the safest, most effective way to lift a heavy object off the floor, i.e., using your legs and back and without rounding your lumbar spine.
It really doesn’t matter what you are training for; deadlifts should be part of your workouts.
2. Pull-ups and Chin-ups
When it comes to low-tech but high-effect pulling exercises, pull-ups and chin-ups are the undisputed kings. You can do pull-ups and chin-ups anywhere you can find something to hang from – the gym, a tree branch, a garage roof rafter, a doorframe. Better yet, get yourself a power tower so you can do pull-ups at home.
Regardless of whether you do pull-ups (pronated grip) or chin-ups (supinated grip), these two exercises provide your upper back and biceps with a great workout.
3. Lat Pulldown
Whether you are not quite strong enough to do pull-ups/chin-ups or want to vary the weight more easily, lat pulldowns are a great choice. They work your lats and biceps, and there are several handles and variations you can use to make your workouts varied and interesting.
Most gyms have a lat pulldown machine, and this exercise in all its forms is very popular. That’s because it works! Follow the links to learn how to do these lat pulldown variations:
- Wide grip lat pulldown
- Medium grip lat pulldown
- Close grip lat pulldown
- Reverse grip lat pulldown
- One-arm lat pulldown
4. Barbell Bent-Over Row
Bodybuilders have a saying; if you want to grow, you gotta row! Rows give your back thickness, while lat pulldowns, pull-ups, and chin-ups, tend to develop back width. There are several rowing exercises that you can use to build a bigger back. Still, the barbell bent-over row is an old-school favorite. Not only does it work your upper back, but it’ll develop your lower back too.
The barbell bent-over row is a somewhat controversial exercise because there is a tendency to round your lower back, which could cause injury. But, done correctly, it’s one of the best back builders around.
5. T-Bar Row
T-bar rows are slightly more lower-back friendly than regular barbell bent-over rows. You can also adjust your grip to target different parts of your back. As such, they’re an immensely popular upper back exercise.
No T-bar machine at your gym? No problem! You can also do T-bar rows using a device called a landmine or just by wedging the end of a barbell into a corner.
6. Pendlay Row
Also known as dead-stop rows, Pendlay rows were invented by and named after legendary American weightlifting and powerlifting coach Glen Pendlay.
Each rep starts with the barbell resting on the ground, which gives your grip and your lower back a short break so you can use more weight or crank out more reps. Pendlay rows can also be done using dumbbells or kettlebells and using one arm at a time.
7. Yates Row
Named after bodybuilder Dorian Yates, six-times Mr. Olympia winner, the Yates row is a
variation of the barbell bent-over row. It’s done using a shoulder-width, underhand grip. However, the main difference between Yates rows and other rowing variations like Pendlay rows and T-bar rows is the angle of the torso.
Instead of bending over until your upper body is parallel to the floor, with Yates rows, you only lean forward about 45-degrees. This takes stress off your lower back and also allows you to lift more weight.
Dorian Yates had one of the best backs in the history of bodybuilding. While you may never match “The Shadow” for his back thickness and width, this exercise should still help you build the back of your dreams.
To do the Yates row:
- Hold a barbell with a supinated (underhand) shoulder-width grip. Use lifting straps if you are going really heavy. You can deadlift the bar from the floor to get into position or, a better choice, place the bar in a power rack or on blocks and lift it from mid-thigh height.
- Pull your shoulders down and back, brace your core, stand with your feet roughly hip-width apart, and bend your knees slightly.
- Without rounding your lower back, hinge forward from the hips. Lean forward until your torso is angled to around 45-degrees. The bar should be just above knee height.
- Bend your arms and pull the bar up and into your upper abdomen/sternum. Tuck your elbows in as you pull.
- Squeeze your shoulders back and together briefly and then lower the bar, maintaining your core tension and neutral spine.
- Pause at the bottom of the rep to briefly stretch your upper back and then repeat.
8. Chest-Supported Incline Row
Many pulling exercises work your upper back and lower back at the same time. While that may be useful for training efficiency, it could be a problem if you want to do several similar exercises in the same workout. Once your lower back starts to fatigue, you could find it beginning to round, which could cause low back pain and even injury.
This exercise takes all the stress off your lower back, leaving you free to focus on training your main pulling muscles. You can do chest-supported rows using dumbbells or a barbell as preferred.
9. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
Single-arm dumbbell rows allow you to focus on working one side of your body at a time. This is useful for strengthening the mind-muscle connection and ensuring that both sides of your body are developed equally. Best of all, doing one-arm rows means you’ve got an arm free to support and take stress off your lower back.
10. Cable Face Pull
If you do a lot of bench presses, you should also do plenty of face pulls. This exercise works the opposite muscles to the bench press, making them the ideal counterpart for the world’s move favorite chest exercise! So try doing a set of face pulls between sets of bench press to improve upper back stability for a bigger, safer bench press.
Most pulling exercises are compound in nature, meaning that they involve multiple muscles and joints working together. Shrugs are slightly different because they involve fewer muscles and just one joint. This makes them an isolation exercise.
Shrugs work your upper traps, which is another important pulling muscle. You can do shrugs with a barbell, dumbbells, or a trap bar.
12. Body Rows
Also known as Australian pull-ups, body rows are a great exercise when you need a pulling workout but don’t have access to any training equipment. Working your upper back and biceps, you can do body rows using a TRX or similar suspension, trainer, or in a Smith machine or power rack set to about waist height.
This exercise is perfect for anyone who’s not quite strong enough to do pull-ups or who simply wants to do a horizontal row using just bodyweight for resistance.
13. Biceps Curls
No discussion on pulling exercises would be complete without mentioning biceps curls. After all, every type of biceps curl can be classed as a pull. That said, it’s very unlikely that you aren’t doing plenty of curls in your arm-building workouts!
There are so many curl variations to choose from that your arm workouts never need be repetitive or boring.
Just a few of your options include:
- Dumbbell curls
- Barbell curls
- EZ bar curl
- Hammer curls
- Incline curls
- Concentration curls
- Preacher curls
- Cable curls
Pull Exercises – Wrapping Up
There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing lots of pushing exercises for your chest, shoulders, and triceps. But, you mustn’t neglect your back and biceps by doing too few pulling exercises.
Maintain muscular balance by doing a pull exercise for every pushing exercise in your training program.
You can do this by doing push/pull supersets, e.g., overhead presses followed by lat pulldowns, or by doing a push workout followed by a pull workout that contains the same number of exercises and sets.
However you do it, doing as much pulling as pushing will help you sculpt a better physique, improve your posture, increase athletic performance, and ward of injuries.
Get the best from your back and biceps workouts with these 13 best pull exercises.