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Military Pull Up Exercise: Muscles Worked, Benefits & Alternatives 2024

Pull-ups are one of the most difficult and effective exercises for the upper body. These exercises are great for shaping and strengthening the upper body.

To ensure proper recovery after intense workouts like pull-ups, consider incorporating a recovery tool from Roflex Recovery into your routine.

In this article, I’ll tell you how to learn pull-ups, what muscles pull-ups work, and what will happen if you pull up every day. 

So please read this article till the end; it will be interesting. 

  • Pull-ups are great for strengthening the muscles in your arms and shoulders.
  • By regularly performing pull-ups, you can qualitatively work out the forearms and the shoulders. 
  • Pull-ups effectively develop upper body strength and help improve grip strength. 
  • This is very important when doing weight-lifting exercises. 
  • A strong grip is also important in other sports, such as rock climbing. 
  • Pull-ups are an important part of strength training, which develops muscles and maintains healthy bones and the cardiovascular system when properly planned and performed. 

Army Pull up Climbing Drill Exercise

Military Army Pull Up
Military Army Pull Up

The Military pull-up is the third exercise in Army Climbing Drills 1 and 2. This exercise develops the ability to pull the body upward while hanging (without using the legs).

Here is a breakdown of the exercise, which would be conducted in formation with the aid of two spotters:



Starting Position

  • The starting position for the pull-up is the extended arm hang using the closed overhand grip.

Spotter Placement

  •  Unless the soldier asserts that they do not require spotters, one spotter stands in front of the exerciser while the other stands at the back. 
  • The front spotter’s role is to ensure the exerciser’s safety by keeping their palms towards the exerciser at chest height, ready to support them if their grip fails. 
  • The rear spotter assists the movement by holding the exerciser’s feet against their thighs or abdomen.


  1. On Command “Up”:  Upon receiving this command, the soldier will flex their elbows, lifting their body in a straight line until their head is above the bar.
  2. On Comman “Down”: The soldier returns to the starting position in response to this command.

Check Points

  • Throughout the exercise, keep the feet together.
  • The arms are shoulder-width apart throughout the exercise, palms facing away from the body, with thumbs around the bar.

What Muscles Do Pull-Ups Work?

The pull-up is a functional exercise that engages a large group of muscles in the upper body. 

  • Latissimus Muscle: The latissimus is the largest muscle in the upper back, and its function is to bring the shoulder to the body, pull the arms back, and also rotate them inward.
  • Trapezius Muscle: The next muscle is the trapezius. The task of these muscles is to move the shoulder blade and support the arm.
  • Erector Spinae Muscle: The erector spinae muscle is divided into three muscles that run along the thoracic spine.
  • Infraspinatus muscle: The infraspinatus muscle helps with shoulder extension and is located on the shoulder blade.
  • Secondary Muscles: Pull-ups, indirectly or depending on the grip and form of the exercise, also engage the following secondary muscles:
    • Tricep
    • Deltoid muscle
    • Teres major muscle
    • Brachioradialis muscle
    • Biceps
    • Major pectoral skin
LatissimusBrings the shoulder to the body, pulls the arms back, and rotates them inward.
TrapeziusMoves the shoulder blade and supports the arm
Erector SpinaeRuns along the thoracic spine.
InfraspinatusHelps with extension of the shoulder

How to do Pull-Ups Properly

Before starting the exercise, it’s necessary to thoroughly stretch the muscles of the upper body as well as all tendons and joints.

  1. Grasp the bar with the classic overhand grip and hang from the bar with your arms fully extended and about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Raise your chin to the bar by bending your arms. Ideally, you need to touch the crossbar with the upper part of your chest.
  3. Keep this position for one to one and a half seconds and slowly lower the body down, controlling it. The body shouldn’t twitch, squirm, help, or interfere with the exercise.

The steps above cover how to do a basic pull-up, the Perfect Pull Up article for more advanced pull-up techniques.

Advice for Beginners

  • Pull-up movements should be slow and controlled.
  • Keep your body tensed throughout the exercise. 
  • Minimize kinking and rocking your torso. 
  • Don’t start the next rep until your arms are fully extended. 
  • With the right approach, each person can prepare their body for pull-ups.

Preparing for Pull-Ups

Before starting any workout, make sure that you have no health limitations or hidden injuries that can only harm you when doing pull-ups. 

If you are a beginner at pull-ups, you can work on the basics to prepare for a full pull-up. For example, try just hanging on the bar for a certain time, starting from 10 seconds. 

Gradually increase the time so you can strengthen the muscles in the arms and back needed to perform the classic pull-up. 

If you work out in a gym, find an assisted pull-up machine or use assistive equipment. 

A great way to prepare for basic pull-ups is to use a sports or gymnastic elastic band. This will pull the body up with less load. 

Also, classic pull-ups can be replaced with pull-ups on a low bar with legs resting on a horizontal surface. During this, in addition to the back muscles, the biceps, delts, forearm muscles, and psoas muscles are also loaded.

Benefits of Pull-Ups

A pull-up is an advanced upper-body strength training exercise that stands out from many other back or bicep exercises. 

Despite being considered a challenging exercise for both men and women, pull-ups are worth adding to our weekly strength training routine. This guide presents the seven benefits of pull-ups. 

Multi-Joint and Muscle Impact

  • Doing pull-ups every day impacts multiple joints and muscle groups simultaneously. 
  • As a compound exercise, a pull-up does the job of many exercises through one single movement by involving many joints and muscles at the same time. 
  • Every pull-up requires you to lift your whole body weight using the muscles in your upper body, making it one of the perfect exercises for those who always dream of a shredded upper body. 
  • Besides, by working out the biceps, triceps, forearms, wrist, grip strength, lats, shoulders, and core in one single movement, pull-ups enable you to build muscle efficiently and save you time on training these muscles individually. 
  • As a compound exercise, a pull-up does the job of many exercises through one single movement by involving many joints and muscles at the same time.
Muscles Worked Out in Pull-ups
Grip strength

Variations Galore

  • Pull-ups have many variations. Another great benefit of pull-ups is that there are many variations, and you can do them with the same equipment. 
  • Each variation of pull-ups can enable you to focus on different parts of your body and change how this exercise affects your body.
  • Many variations involve changing the grips, leg position, or width between your hands on the bar. 
  • For example, if you want to target your midsection and lower back more, keep your legs extended while pulling up. 
  • Or if your target is the outer lats or biceps, then a narrow grip will be more suitable.

Progress is Possible

  • Pull-ups are easy to make progress with. Pull-ups are the ideal exercise for you if you are the type of person who always desires to move forward with your training. 
  • By doing pull-ups regularly, you will constantly enhance your strength and endurance. 
  • Unlike deadlifts, which are difficult to go any further once you hit a natural plateau and weight, pull-ups are much easier to break through a plateau and make progress. 
  • You may struggle to do one or two pull-ups at first, but soon you will find yourself doing ten or more reps easily.

Improved Physique

  • Pull-up workouts help improve your physique. 
  • Pull-ups are the perfect choice for those dreaming of a V-shaped figure. 
  • By engaging multiple muscles in one movement, especially the latissimus dorsi, biceps, and core, pull-ups make your shoulder look broader and your waist smaller over time, giving your body an attractive V-shaped physique.
  • Not to mention, it also enables you to build your back strength, which not only decreases the risk of back pain but also improves your posture.

Building a Strong Grip

  • Pull-ups help build a strong grip.
  • Grip strength is crucial in your training exercises like deadlifts and mountain climbing and in your daily activities like holding your baby, carrying groceries, or even opening jars, all of which make pull-ups a great exercise. 
  • You need a strong grip to do a single pull-up, as your hands and fingers have to lift your entire body. 
  • But conversely, pull-ups are a fantastic way to strengthen your grip, too. 
  • Start doing a few pull-ups now if you have difficulty opening a jar. 

Decreased Risk of Joint or Tendon Injuries

  • Pull-ups decrease the risk of joint or tendon injuries.
  • Pull-ups can be considered joint-friendly, unlike many high-impact exercises, such as back squats, that can be tough on your joints and tendons.
  • As the movement is performed using your upper body muscles, your joints can all be pulled apart during the exercise. 
  • Therefore, doing pull-ups does not result in any joint compression; at the same time, no pressure is put on your knees, lower back, or hips.


  • Pull-ups are convenient.
  • As difficult as it might be, pull-ups are still regarded as one of the most convenient exercises to do. 
  • Unlike many popular exercises that require specific equipment such as barbells, racks, and more, you only need a single bar. 
  • You can use the pull-up bar at the gym, or with only a few dollars; you can buy one and do pull-ups from the convenience of your own home. 
  • You can even do some pull-ups on the monkey bars at kids’ playgrounds or in many parks.

Are you currently doing pull-ups? Do you know any other benefits of doing pull-ups every day?

4 Things You Didn’t Know About Pull-Ups!

If you think you already know everything about pull-ups, take a seat and let me convince you of the opposite. The first thing that may surprise you is the grip width.

Grip Width and Optimal Activation

  • A lot of people think that a wide pull-p grip enhances latissimus activation, but this is not the case.
  • But the truth is that a very wide grip does not increase your latissimus activation at all. 
  • The optimal width is a shoulder-width grip or a little more than a shoulder-wide grip. 
  • Going beyond this width decreases the range of motion and increases the stress on the shoulder capsules to the point that high repetitive loads may cause damage. 
  • Now, what about those angled bars you can find in gyms? Well, the angle of your shoulder and arm doesn’t really change, but the benefit is that you can pull your elbows a little bit better towards the torso and have a more wrist-friendly position than on a straight bar. 

The Narrow Grip Effect

  • All right, so too wide is bad in most cases, but what about narrow grips? 
  • Well, if you use a very narrow grip, you are more likely to pull your elbows in front of your body. And with that, emphasize your forearms, brachialis, brachioradialis, and biceps instead of your back.
  • Don’t get me wrong; some slightly closer grips can still work quite well for back activation. 
  • But for that, you should be able to move the elbows next to and, if possible, even behind your torso. Focus more on shoulder movement instead of elbow flexion in the first place.

Neck Pull-Up and Rings

  • The next thing you probably didn’t know is about neck pull-ups. 
  • When doing behind-the-neck pull-ups, you put your shoulder into an extreme external rotation and abduction. 
  • The interesting thing is that this position can be good or bad, depending on the load. 
  • Pulling your own body weight into this position requires an exceptional amount of shoulder mobility and stability to do it safely. 
  • Most people don’t have this shoulder mobility and stability, so they’re stressing their tendons, ligaments, bursa, and the whole structure of their shoulder complex way too much. 
  • To benefit from the stability and mobility components, we suggest doing neck pull-ups on rings with your feet on the ground. 
  • Here, you can easily increase or decrease the load by supporting your own body weight more or less with your feet. 
  • In comparison to the pull-up bar, you also don’t have to adjust your neck into an uncomfortable position and are able to keep it neutral.
  • Another benefit is that rings are not fixed, so you can rotate them into a more shoulder- and elbow-friendly position. 
  • If you don’t have rings but a resistance band, you could do the behind-the-neck swimmer or band-resisted behind-the-neck pull-downs. 
  • Long story short, the risk-reward ratio is simply not worth it. 
  • But we still suggest using behind-the-neck movements as a shoulder mobilizer and stabilizer with the right amount of load.

Grip Types and Joint Health

  • The last eye-opener is about the grip itself. As you probably already know, the underhand grip involves the biceps the most. 
  • The overhand grip has a strong focus on your brachialis, and the neutral grip is a good all-rounder. 
  • What you may not know is that your grip can also have an impact on your shoulder and elbow health. 
  • The overhand grip, especially the wider one, can be uncomfortable for these joints. 
  • A more joint-friendly position, at least for most people, is somewhere around a neutral grip. 
  • You can also easily test the most comfortable joint position for yourself by trying them on rings. 
  • If you don’t focus on a specific way to pull up, the rings will automatically adapt to the shoulder and elbow positions that feel best for you.
  • This gets even more important when we take a look at advanced pull-up variations like typewriter or archer pull-ups
  • It not only feels way better to turn the rings to the most joint-friendly position, but it’s also the best way to minimize short- and long-term injury potential without having any downsides.

Pull-up Alternatives

Here’s a table that outlines some pull-up alternatives:

Pull-Up AlternativeMain Muscles WorkedEquipment Required
Inverted RowUpper back, bicepsBarbell and squat rack, TRX
Lat PulldownLats, upper back, bicepsLat pulldown machine, resistance bands
Assisted Pull-UpLats, biceps, upper backAssisted pull-up machine, resistance bands
Bent Over RowLats, rhomboids, trapsBarbell, dumbbells
Renegade RowLats, deltoids, biceps, triceps, coreDumbbells, kettlebells
Dead HangGrip strength, shoulder stabilityPull-up bar
Chin-UpBiceps, back musclesPull-up bar
Single-Arm Dumbbell RowLats, upper back, bicepsDumbbells
Seated Cable RowLats, upper back, bicepsCable machine
Australian Pull-UpUpper back, bicepsLower pull-up bar or Smith machine


When you get the hang of doing different variations of pull-ups, you can experience the various physical benefits of a strong upper body. 

The muscles developed during pull-ups will help you gain confidence when performing other difficult weight exercises. 

George N.