Back Exercises

Build a Bigger Back With Pullups

For our five-part series, we delve into this back-building move.

Build a Bigger Back With Pullups

Many people view the pullup as the “king” of back exercises. It’s usually done with body weight, and the rules seem simple: Hold on tight, and pull your head over the bar. The truth is, there’s plenty of technique involved to making sure you hit your back muscles. If you just perform blind pulls, you’re probably going to sport a nice looking pair of biceps, and not much more.  Needless to say, it’s worth a closer look when it comes time to perfect technique.

SEE ALSOThe Complete 5-Move Guide for a Bigger Back


A true pullup comes with the palms facing away from the body. A palms-in variation is actually called a chin up. Using a grip that’s at least shoulder width apart will probably make for the easiest learning curve and most force production.

The First Move

Your body should travel up towards the ceiling – that goes without saying. But the first move should actually create that illusion before the elbows bend.  Simply put, the ribcage should raise itself towards the roof, your neck should get long, and your shoulders should depress. All three of these cues mean the same thing – the scapulae are being set down the back in order to engage the lat and upper back muscles to do the work for the rest of the pull. It requires freedom of mobility at the scapulae to have control over this skill, however, and most who aren’t used to initiating the movement this way will have trouble pulling it off at first.  Instead of continually practicing the entire movement, break things down into segments, and do sets of scapular initiations to get your back moving the right way.  Check out my explanation in the video:

Remember: If you don’t activate your back by setting the scapulae first, you’re not going to train the target muscles a pullup was meant to hit. Take the time to learn!