While the bench press gets all the love, in my view the pull-up is the true key of upper body training. 

You can support overall shoulder health, manage common imbalances, get some build ‘ol lats, and target so many different muscles.

However, for the intermediate-advanced trainees, those who can bust out 15 pull-ups on their own, to keep progressing, you’ll need to do them weighted. 

Once you’ve figured this out, the training gets really fun. Just like a max bench press, you can do sets of 1-2 and test your strong. You can stay in the classic 8-12 rep hypertrophy range. Your options open up.

Oh look, a neat little table of contents.

Here Are The Most Practical Weighted Pull-Up Variations

With this, you should be all set to go. 

1) Using a Weight Belts With a Chain

Weight belts and chains are traditional methods for adding load to pull-ups. However this type of belt isn’t what you do heavy squats or deadlifts with. Rather, it’s so that you can wrap a plate around the chain and strap it to you comfortably. 

A weight belt wraps around the waist and allows for plates to be hung securely.

There are lots of benefits to this one.

This central placement of weight helps maintain balance and mimics the body’s natural center of gravity. It’s comfortable and easy to load.

It’s also easy to add weight and keep track of your progress. 

Many gyms will have these available. If you’re gym doesn’t have one, I recommend buying one. You can search around for “dip belts” or “belts with chains.” You can find them pretty cheap, they’re all pretty much the same, and they’re all easy to throw in your gym bag.

However if you’re like me and travel a lot, you’ll want to know the other option.

2) Dumbbell Between Feet

Every gym has dumbbells, so you can do these in any situation.

To hold the dumbbell between your 

For those seeking a no-equipment option, holding a dumbbell between the feet can serve as an effective method to add resistance. Balance and core stability are crucial here, as one must maintain a firm grip on the dumbbell throughout the motion to avoid dropping it.

First, you turn the dumbbell so it’s standing on its own.

This is in kilograms, so it’s actually a lot of weight. I got 4 reps this day.

Second, you put your hands on the pull-up bar.

Then as you pull up, you squeeze the dumbbell between your feet.

 

The annoying thing about this method is that you need to make sure the pull-up bar isn’t too high or too low.

Sometimes this will be out of your control. If it’s too high, you can either find a box or ask someone at the gym to raise the dumbbell up and put it between your feet.

If it’s too low, well, then it’s also a core exercise now, as you’ll have to keep your feet in front of you.

Alternative Loading Options

There are other advanced methods, like using chains and bands and other stuff. For 99% of people this isn’t necessary. Just stick with one of the main ones, keep getting more reps and a higher weight, and you’ll have a strong af upper body.

I love using a weighted vest for things like power and plyometric training, but for weighted pull-ups, I find they can just get in the way.

Plus, once you can easily rep out pull-ups with the vest, where do you turn? You wind up going to one of the two options above.

Proper Form and Technique

Nailing your form is crucial for weighted pull-ups. It maximizes the exercise’s effectiveness while keeping you safe from injury. The key is maintaining tension, stability, and coordinated movement of all the muscle groups involved.

Starting Position and Grip

A weighted pull-up begins with the correct starting position and grip. 

As we discuss in this article on doubling your max pull-ups, there are benefits to overhand, underhand, and neutral grip. I typically go for neutral grip as its the safest on the shoulders. 

Execution of the Pull-Up

As you do the pull-up, keep that core engaged and shoulders retracted for stability. Drive the movement with your lats and shoulder blades, maintaining constant tension throughout.

Engage that core: Maintain form, balance, and body control

Retract the shoulders: Provides stability and proper alignment

Full range of motion: Chin over the bar to fully activate those lats

AVOID Bringing Your Feet Behind You

A problem I have with lots of other ways to do weighed pull-ups is they require you to bring your feet behind you. Almost always, this will cause you to extend your lower back. Instead, try to keep your feet just slightly in front of you so your spine is in a neutral position. 

Breathing and Body Control

Breathing and body control are integral. Inhale as you lower down in a controlled motion, and exhale as you pull yourself up. Maintaining a hollow body position keeps you from swinging around and helps coordinate your breathing with the movement. This will also reinforce keeping that spine neutral.

Benefits of Weighted Pull-Ups

Weighted pull-ups are a beast for challenging your upper body strength, muscle size, and grip strength. It’s a proven way to take the classic pull-up to another level by adding resistance.

You Can Train Lower Rep Ranges

Adding weight lets you work those lower, strength-building rep ranges. This progressive overload by gradually increasing the weight is key for maximizing strength output – something strength athletes live for.

Overall Strength Development

This compound movement hits multiple muscle groups at once – back, arms, shoulders, you name it. Weighing it down really lights up the lats, biceps, and forearms for mega upper body strength gains.

Enhanced Muscle Hypertrophy

Increased intensity from the added weight leads to greater muscle growth (hypertrophy). The full range of motion hits the back muscles hard, especially those lats, while also punishing the arms. The result? Bigger, more proportional muscles.

Improved Grip Strength

Hanging on to that extra weight is a grip strength nightmare in the best way. Your forearms get toasted, leading to a stronger grip that carries over to all your other pulling and functional movements.

Programming for Progress

ESmart programming is essential for optimizing strength gains and hypertrophy from weighted pull-ups. Having a structured plan for increasing intensity, volume, and recovery is key.

Incorporating into Training Routines

Weighted pull-ups should be incorporated into one’s fitness program with consideration to current strength levels and calisthenic goals. They are advised to be done once a week for beginners to prevent overtraining, with the frequency increasing to 2-3 times a week for more advanced individuals.

Sample Weekly Schedule:

  • Monday: Weighted Pull-ups (Heavy Day)
  • Wednesday: Bodyweight Pull-ups (Volume Day)
  • Friday: Assisted Pull-ups (Recovery Day)

Sets, Repetitions and Rest

The specific number of sets and repetitions (reps) will depend on the individual’s strength and experience with the pulling movement. A common progression might begin with bodyweight pull-ups before adding weight.

Sample Progression:

  • Set 1 & 2: 5 reps (bodyweight)
  • Set 3: 3 reps (+5 kg / 10 lbs)
  • Set 4: Work Set – Aim for 5 reps with increased weight as strength allows

Rest periods between sets should last 2-3 minutes ensuring adequate recovery for maintaining proper form and intensity.

Progressive Overload Strategies

Progressive overload can be achieved by increasing the weight used, the volume (total number of reps), or the intensity of the workouts.

Strategies to Implement Overload:

Increase Weight: When able to perform all reps with ease, add weight in small increments.

Increase Volume: Add more reps or an extra set to the current weight before increasing the load.

Manipulate Rest: Decrease rest time between sets for increased intensity.

By methodically increasing the demands on the muscles, they induce adaptations in muscle strength and size.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When performing weighted pull-ups, certain mistakes can compromise the benefits of the exercise and increase the risk of injury. Attention to technique, form, and workout structure is essential for success.

Preventing Swinging and Momentum

In the quest to complete a challenging set of weighted pull-ups, athletes sometimes resort to body swinging to gain momentum. This compromises form and reduces the exercise’s effectiveness targeting the upper back muscles.

Mistake: Swinging the body or using a kipping motion.

Correction: Maintain strict control of movement, engaging core muscles to stabilize the body.

Avoiding Overtraining

Weighted pull-ups are intense and can quickly lead to overtraining if volume and intensity aren’t managed properly. Balance and rest are key in preventing this common pitfall.

Mistake: High intensity without adequate rest periods can lead to overtraining.

Correction: Implement a balanced regimen with rest days, appropriate sets and reps, and variations throughout training cycles.

Ensuring Full Range of Motion

Achieving the full range of motion ensures that all the targeted muscles are adequately engaged and developed uniformly.

Mistake: Pulling up only until the chin clears the bar or dropping from the top without a controlled descent.

Correction: Each pull-up should start from a full hang and end with the chin above the bar, ensuring control in both upward and downward phases.

Grip Position and Posture

Grip and posture are foundational elements that contribute to the overall effectiveness and safety of weighted pull-ups. A proper grip anchors the form, while correct posture ensures balance and alignment.

Mistake: Gripping the bar too loosely or setting the hands too wide can lead to imbalance and improper alignment.

Correction: Maintain a firm yet comfortable grip slightly wider than shoulder-width. Ensure shoulders are pulled down and back, and the spine remains neutral throughout the exercise.

Accessory Exercises and Alternatives

When it comes to enhancing pull-up performance and gaining muscle, incorporating accessory exercises and exploring alternative movements are key strategies. They facilitate targeted muscle recruitment and can contribute to a well-rounded training program.

Strengthening Supporting Muscles

Supporting muscles play a crucial role in executing weighted pull-ups effectively. Exercises such as deadlifts and inverted rows are fundamental for building strength in the back, particularly the lats, and improving stability during the movement. Deadlifts enhance overall muscle recruitment, while inverted rows focus on the horizontal pull, complementing the vertical motion of pull-ups.

Core exercises are equally important as they contribute to the overall stability needed for weighted pull-ups. Incorporating planks and hollow holds can condition the core, ensuring it provides the necessary support during the exercise.

Alternatives to Weighted Pull-Ups

For those seeking alternatives to weighted pull-ups, options range from bodyweight exercises to those involving additional equipment. A lat pulldown machine can simulate the pull-up motion, while bent-over rows promote strength in the upper back and muscle recruitment similar to pull-ups. I also like just going for a half-kneeling 1-arm pulldown, as if gives your shoulder room to swivel compared to a traditional lat pulldown.

About the Author

David William Rosales is a writer and strength coach. He’s the head trainer and editor at Roman Fitness Systems. In addition to helping run RFS, he’s also the head editor for
prohockeystrength.com., the official website of the Strength and Conditioning Association of Professional Hockey. You can also check out his Instagram, he’s pretty easy on the eyes.

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