The human body is an amazing machine, capable of incredible feats of strength and endurance. However, in today's sedentary world, most don't use their muscles to their full potential. Resultantly, we can end up feeling weak and sluggish.
If you want to build muscle and strength, you need to start incorporating some pulling exercises into your routine. Pulling exercises are any movements that involve pulling weight toward your body. It could be using a rowing machine, doing pull-ups, or even doing simple resistance band exercises.
There are countless benefits to incorporating pulling exercises into your workout routine. They help build functional strength, improve posture, and can even help reduce back pain. Plus, they are plain old fun to do!
So what are the best pulling exercises for building muscle and strength? Well, you’ll have to read till the end!
What is a Pulling Exercise?
In the world of exercise, there are two types of movements: pulling and pushing. As their names suggest, these exercises involve pulling or pushing weights to work specific muscles. While both exercise types have benefits, pulling exercises are often considered more effective in muscle growth.
It is because they typically involve more muscle groups than pushing exercises and place less strain on the joints. As a result, pull exercises are often the preferred choice for strength training. They come under strength training movements, involving a concentric contraction — muscle shortening while moving two connection points closer together. Some common pulling exercises include pull-ups, rows, and deadlifts.
So next time you're looking to bulk up, focus on those all-important pulling exercises.
What Muscles are Used During Pull Exercises?
A lot of muscles get worked when you do pull exercises. Let's take a look at some of the key players. First, there's the latissimus dorsi or 'lats.' These are the big muscles on the sides of your back and are responsible for moving your arms backward.
Then there's the trapezius or 'traps.' These muscles run from the base of your skull down to your shoulders. They help stabilize your shoulder blades and allow you to shrug your shoulders. And last but not least, the biceps. These are the muscles on the upper arms' front, and they're responsible for bending your elbows.
The Top 10 Pulling Exercises You Need to Do
With so many different pulling exercises, it can be hard to know which ones are the best for you. To help you, we've compiled a list of the 10 best-pulling exercises you need to add to your workout routine.
1. Lat Pulldown
Lat pulldowns are an excellent way to build muscle and strength in your upper body. They are beneficial for building muscle because they allow you to target specific muscles in your back, like the latissimus dorsi, or “lats.” In addition, the exercise can be performed with heavy weights, which helps build strength.
Moreover, lat pulldowns are relatively easy to perform and can be done without a spotter, making them a great option for those new to weightlifting. Ultimately, lat pulldowns are an effective and safe way to build muscle and strength in your upper body.
Steps to Follow
- Attach a lat pulldown and a wide grip handle to your machine.
- Start by taking a pronated hold on the handle (double-overhand). The shoulder should then be extended while the shoulder blade is depressed.
- Bring the handle closer to your body so that your elbows and torso are in contact. After that, gradually lower it back to its starting position.
- Continue until you have completed the required amount of reps.
There's no exercise more fundamental than the deadlift. It is simply picking a weight up off the ground and standing up with it. That's it. No fancy machines or equipment are required, just you and the weight. And yet, this basic movement is incredibly effective for building muscle and strength.
The deadlift recruits all of the major muscles in the body, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and core. It makes it an excellent exercise for overall muscular development. But the deadlift isn't just about building bigger muscles. It's also incredibly effective for building strength.
The deadlift is often considered the quintessential test of strength. You're strong if you can pick a heavy weight up off the ground and stand up with it. Period.
Steps to Follow
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and put the bar over your shoelaces.
- Push your hips back and bend forward as your torso approaches parallel to the floor.
- Reach down and take the bar with a double overhand grip at shoulder width.
- Take a deep breath, pull up on the bar just a little, and let your hips drop in a seesaw motion.
- Drive through the entire foot and concentrate on removing the floor.
- As you stretch your knees and hips, ensure the bar tracks straight.
- After locking out your hips, you can reverse the motion by pushing your hips back and hinging forward.
- After the appropriate number of repetitions, lower the bar back to the floor, start over, and repeat.
It's the age-old query: is it better to do pull-ups or chin-ups? The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind. Or, more accurately, it's hidden in the anatomy of your shoulder girdle.
See, the short head of your biceps inserts on the coracoid process, which is a small, blade-like protrusion off the front of your scapula. The long head of your biceps attaches to the glenoid fossa - aka the socket - of your shoulder joint. So, when you do a chin-up, your biceps are in a shortened position and can't generate as much force.
It limits how much weight you can move and, ultimately, how much muscle you can build. But when you do a pull-up, your biceps are in a lengthened position and can generate more force. It enables you to move more weight and build more muscle. So there you have it: pull-ups are the best pulling exercise for building muscle and strength.
Steps to Follow
- Position yourself beneath a pull-up bar. Hold it firmly with an overhand grip. The distance between your hands and shoulder breadth should be a little wider.
- Hang with your arms fully extended from the bar.
- If your legs are still on the ground, fold them.
- Hold the motion for a minimum of ten seconds.
- Now, flex your elbows while pulling your body upward while maintaining a strong core and back.
- Slowly raise the bar when your chin is above it.
- Now lower yourself while maintaining your breath.
4. T-Bar Row
Let's face it: nobody ever rows their way to a better body. It's the squatting, the deadlifting, the overhead pressing - those are the exercises that build serious muscle and strength. So why bother with the T-bar row? Because sometimes, you must mix things up.
The T-bar row is a pulling exercise that targets the muscles in your back, including the lats, traps, and rhomboids. Unlike other exercises that require you to pull the weight up to your chest, the T-bar row allows you to keep your back in a neutral position, which can help prevent injury.
Plus, the fact that you're standing up during the exercise helps engage your core muscles and improve your balance. So, give the T-bar row a try the next time you're looking for a way to mix things up in your workout routine. You might be surprised at how challenging (and effective) it can be.
Steps to Follow
- Put the empty end of a barbell into the room's corner.
- Place a hefty dumbbell or other weight plates on it to secure it.
- Straddle the bar after packing the opposite end with weights.
- As you make a 45-degree angle at the hips, your arms should be in front of you.
- Place a V-grip handle under the bar and hold it with both hands. You can find them at cable stations.
- Pull the bar until the plates touch your chest while maintaining the natural arch of your lower back.
- Slowly descend to the starting position and then repeat.
5. Barbell Bent-Over Row
The barbell bent-over row is a pull exercise that targets the back muscles, including the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and rhomboids. It is often used as a strength-building exercise for athletes who participate in sports that require pulling motions, such as football, rugby, and rowing.
The bent-over row can also be used as a muscle-building exercise for bodybuilders. When performing the exercise, the lifter bends at the waist and lowers the barbell to just below knee level. From this position, the lifter explosively pulls the barbell up to chest level while keeping the back straight.
The bent-over row is undoubtedly a highly effective exercise for building strength and muscle mass in the back and should be included in any well-rounded strength training program.
Steps to Follow
- Hold the bar with a double overhand grip while standing.
- As you stoop forward, your upper body should be parallel to the floor.
- Push the elbows behind the body while retracting the shoulder blades.
- Slowly raise the bar toward your lower abdomen before returning it to the starting position.
- Repeat as many times as necessary.
6. Pendlay Row
For anyone who's ever tried to build muscle, the thought of rowing exercises conjures up visions of long, tedious hours spent on a rowing machine. However, the Pendlay row is a different animal altogether.
This exercise is not only one of the most effective pulling exercises for muscle growth, but it's also incredibly simple to perform. The row variation gets its name from Olympic weightlifter Glenn Pendlay, who created the exercise to improve his lifting performance.
The beauty of the Pendlay row is that it allows you to use heavy weights while maintaining good form. It makes it an ideal exercise for building both strength and size. So if you're looking for a better way to build muscle, give it a try. It just might be the exercise you've been searching for.
Steps to Follow
- Set up the barbell on a platform made of plates or the floor.
- Use a broad grip, like you would while bench pressing.
- Keep the barbell a few inches from your shins in the starting position.
- Maintain a tiny bend in your knees, a straight back, and a tight core.
- If you can't bring the bar to your sternum, the load is too heavy, so try rowing it there.
- Keep your body steady as you row the barbell.
- Return the barbell to the floor, stop completely, and then repeat.
7. Barbell Shrugs
Very few exercises are as effective as the barbell shrug for building muscle and strength. This pulling exercise works the upper back, traps, and shoulders, making it a great choice for those looking to add mass to these areas.
The key to getting the most out of this exercise is to use a heavy weight and perform slow, controlled reps. It will help break down the muscle tissue and stimulate growth. Another important tip is to keep the abs and glutes engaged throughout the movement.
It will help protect the lower back and ensure you use the proper form. If you're looking for an effective exercise for building muscle and strength, look no further than the barbell shrug.
Steps to Follow
- Place the safeties in a rack at a height about below your waist.
- Position yourself, so the bar is in front of your body while standing.
- Swing your hips forward, take a deep breath, and grab the bar with both hands.
- Ensure your spine is in a neutral position when you stand tall.
- To raise the shoulders, tighten the traps. At the apex, squeeze firmly before slowly lowering the bar to the initial position.
8. Yates Row
This exercise targets the lats, traps, and other key muscles in the back, like other pulling exercises, making it a perfect choice for those seeking to build a strong and powerful upper body. Additionally, Yates row is a relatively simple exercise to perform, making it a great option for beginners as well as experienced lifters.
It is especially a great exercise for developing explosiveness and power. By moving the weight quickly and with explosive force, you can help develop the muscles and tendons needed for sports and other activities that require quick movements.
Steps to Follow
- Hold a barbell with a supinated (underhand) shoulder-width grip.
- Stand with your feet roughly hip-width apart, and bend your knees slightly and brace your core.
- Without rounding your lower back, hinge at the hips. Lean forward until your torso is angled to around 45-degrees. The bar should be just above knee-height.
- Pull the bar up and into your upper abdomen. Keep your elbows tight to your body.
- Lower the weight to starting position with control.
9. Chest-Supported Incline Row
A strong back maintains good posture and counteracts regular activities that can weaken the muscles and cause stiffness, including sitting in front of a computer. However, the dumbbell row and its variations all work the back muscles.
The chest-supported variant eliminates the stability issue while also assisting novice rowers in learning good form. You can isolate the back muscles by placing your chest against a bench and avoid using momentum to lift the weight.
Steps to Follow
- Place a bench at a 45-degree angle.
- Lean onto the bench as you approach it with your chest toward the inclined pad and a pair of dumbbells in hand. Let your arms dangle straight down, palms facing one another as you firmly place your feet on the ground.
- Bring the dumbbells to your ribs by squeezing your shoulder blades together and raising your elbows toward the ceiling.
- Repeat the action a few times in the reverse direction.
10. Single-Arm Dumbbell Row
The single-arm dumbbell row is a great pulling exercise that can be performed with a moderate to heavy weight. It works the back muscles, specifically the lats, rhomboids, and traps.
Steps to Follow
- Assume a standing position and grasp a dumbbell with a neutral grip in one hand.
- The movement is started by driving the elbow slightly behind the body and retracting the shoulder blade after you have hinged forward until your torso is nearly parallel to the floor (or just above).
- To return to the beginning position under control, slowly drop the dumbbell back toward your body until the elbow is at (or just past) the midline.
- Repeat on both sides.
1. What exercises are supposed to be done for pull day?
Depending on your goals and preferences, many exercises can be done on pull day. Some popular options include rowing movements, such as a barbell, dumbbell, cable, and inverted rows.
You can include vertical pulling movements, such as pull-ups and chin-ups; horizontal pulling movements, such as seated cable rows or banded pull-aparts; and any number of other exercises that target the back musculature.
2. How can I make my pulled muscles stronger?
There are a few different strategies that you can use to make your pulled muscles stronger. One effective approach is to focus on strengthening the muscles in your core, including your back and abdominal muscles.
Additionally, regular stretches and exercises that focus on improving flexibility and mobility can help improve the strength and resilience of your pulled muscles over time. Finally, adding some targeted strengthening exercises for the specific muscle groups affected by your injury can also help get your pulled muscles back to full strength.
Whether through stretching, core work, or targeted strengthening exercises, there are many methods you can try to strengthen your pulled muscles and reduce the risk of future injuries.
3. How many pull exercises should I do?
You can perform 5 to 8 movements for a successful pull day. It requires many motions to work both the upper and lower body adequately. Remember that hitting all necessary body parts is more important than the total amount of exercise.
4. How should I warm up for a pull day?
When preparing for a pull day, starting with a proper warm-up routine is important. It can include a light dynamic stretching routine, such as arm circles, leg swings, and trunk rotations. You should also focus on activating your muscles with light rowing or pull-ups to prepare your body for more intense pulling movements.
Finally, end your warm-up session with mobility exercises using foam rollers or lacrosse ball massages to help release any tension in your back and shoulders and prepare you for the workout ahead.
Wrapping It Up!
So there you have it, the 10 best pulling exercises for building muscle and strength. Now get out there and start working on those muscles! Remember to focus on good form and technique; don't be afraid to add a little weight as you get stronger.
You'll be surprised at how quickly you'll see results with consistency and effort. And who knows, maybe one day you'll be able to pull off that chin-up or pull-up that's been eluding you for so long. So what are you waiting for? Get to work!
- Jeno, Susan H., and Matthew Varacallo. “Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2022. PubMed, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448120/.
- Ourieff, Jared, et al. “Anatomy, Back, Trapezius.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2022. PubMed, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK518994/.
- Padulo, Johnny, et al. “Concentric and Eccentric: Muscle Contraction or Exercise?” Sports Health, vol. 5, no. 4, July 2013, p. 306. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738113491386.