The 7 Best Upper Body Pulling Exercises
You need to push yourself every day at the gym, but you’ll need to pull yourself, too. And working those pull muscles is one of the best ways to tone your overall physique and get better at the exercises you love.
So let’s get your back and biceps in the bulkiest shape of your life. Here are our favorite upper body pull-day exercises.
1. Bent-Over Row
Rowing is good for a lot more than getting your canoe to shore. In fact, rowing movements are some of the best exercises for your entire body, let alone your back and biceps. Believe it or not, using a rowing machine works over 80% of all the muscles in your body.
But with a weighted bent-over row, we’re targeting the back muscles specifically. Be prepared for your latissimus dorsi (lats), traps, and rhomboids (center of your back) to be sore in the morning.
Here’s how to do a bent-over row with a barbell:
- Hold the barbell with palms facing you.
- Hinge back at the hips, slightly bending your knees until your spine is about parallel to the floor.
- Keeping your spine neutral, tuck your elbows in and pull them towards the ceiling, driving the bar towards your stomach.
- Hold at the top, squeezing your shoulder blades before slowly returning to the start.
Bent-over rows are infinitely variable, too. You can swap the barbell out for some dumbbells and do this movement one arm at a time. Or, you can flip your palms over to a supine position to give your biceps a little more love.
You can even do this movement while laying on a low incline bench to isolate the muscles of the back and prevent you from using momentum to drive that weight up.
If it’s got “pull” in the name, it’s probably a great pull day exercise. Pull-ups are one of the most loved (or hated) exercises in the book, but they’re one of the best for making your lats (the wing-like muscles in your back) get huge.
You’ll need a pull-up bar to do this move. To get started:
- Grab the bar overhead with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width.
- Bending the knees if needed, pull your chest towards the top of the bar until your chin is higher than the bar itself.
- Hold for a moment, then slowly lower back to the starting position.
The wider the grip in a pull-up, the more you’ll target those lats (and the harder the movement will be). Then start it out, try gripping the bar with your palms facing each other to let your biceps do more of the talking. You can even hang a resistance band from the bar to give yourself extra support if you’re learning how to do pull-ups for the first time.
Lat pulldowns will also help you gain the strength you need to start upping your pull-up game. We’ll talk about those in a bit.
3. Bicep Curl
When you think of someone who’s in great shape, you probably envision giant biceps poking through their sleeves. And the bicep curl is perhaps the greatest exercise to make that happen.
To do a bicep curl with dumbbells:
- Hold the dumbbells at your waist with palms facing away from you.
- Bring the dumbbells up towards your shoulder. (Pro tip: think about bringing your pinkies towards the outside of your elbow. This slight twist will activate your biceps even more).
- Slowly lower the weights back to the starting position.
Doing bicep curls with dumbbells is a classic, but did you know that you lose your muscle’s maximum contraction at the bottom and the top of the movement? This can make the movement a little bit less effective.
Speede uses the latest muscle science to give you the perfect amount of resistance at every point during your rep. Isotonic training lets you develop strength, power, and agility all in a fraction of the time as your typical training method.
The best way to see what we mean is to feel it yourself. Order your Speede Challenger or Speede Pro today to get even closer to your fitness goals.
4. Hammer Curl
Your bicep is actually composed of two muscles: a short head and a long head. That long head muscle, known as the brachialis, is often undertrained in traditional exercise routines. But there is an exercise that targets this muscle with ease.
The hammer curl is a bicep curl with one simple change: you’ll rotate your palms so that they face one another. But this simple variation targets a new part of the muscle to help you fill out your sleeves and look more jacked than ever before.
5. Lat Pulldown
During a pull-up, you're pulling your weight up towards the ceiling. But with a lat pulldown, you can think about drawing the weight down to you. While both movements target the same muscle groups, lat pulldowns give you more control over how much resistance you want to work with.
To do a lat pulldown:
- Sit with your spine neutral. Grip the bar above you with hands wider than shoulder width.
- Slowly bring the weight down towards your chest, keeping your elbows out to your sides.
- Slowly return the weight up to the starting position.
This is another move that targets the lats, those wing-like muscles in your back. Lat pulldowns are one of the most popular and effective exercises for working those muscles, and you can even do variations on cable machines with one hand to isolate one side of the back.
6. Rear Delt Fly
Rear delt flies target your rear deltoids, aka the back of your shoulders. You can also target muscles like your rhomboids and traps depending on how exactly you choose to do them.
The quintessential variation is a dumbbell rear delt fly:
- Hinge your hips back and hold the dumbbells, palms facing one another down by your knees.
- Squeezing your shoulder blades with a slight bend in the elbow, bring the weights straight out to the side. Think of a bird flapping its wings.
- Pause at the top for a breath, then slowly return to the starting position.
You can also do this movement against an incline bench to isolate the delts and prevent your body from using momentum to drive the weight up. Additionally, you can do this movement with a cable machine or a fly machine to target more of the rhomboids in the center of your back.
7. Renegade Row
While a renegade row won’t allow you to move as much weight as many other row variations, this is a great move to incorporate into your pull day because it also forces you to use some core stability.
To do a renegade row:
- Get into a high plank position with your hands underneath your shoulders, each gripping a dumbbell.
- In one hand, drive your elbow towards the ceiling, pulling the weight towards the side of your stomach.
- Slowly return the weight to the floor, then switch sides.
The key to this move is to keep your hips facing the floor. If you start to feel your hips twisting to one side or the other, widen your base by bringing your feet out a little wider. Keep that core nice and tight, and focus on driving that weight straight back.
This move targets the rear delts and the rhomboids, but we love it because you can use it as part of a compound movement. Add a push-up before your row to work those triceps and chest muscles, or throw in a pop-jack after you row to make this an exceptional full-body cardio exercise.
Pulling yourself out of bed and getting yourself to the gym is the hardest part of any upper body pull day. Once you get to the gym, do any of these seven exercises to get a serious pump that will have everyone in the place jealous.
Some of the best upper body pulling exercises include:
- Bent over row
- Pull up
- Bicep curl
- Hammer curl
- Lat pulldown
- Rear delt fly
- Renegade row
But if you feel like your training regimens aren’t giving you the results you’re hoping for, it might have nothing to do with your exercises. It’s probably because of how you’re doing them.
Speede uses the latest muscle technology and AI-driven data to give your muscles the perfect amount of resistance at every point in your rep. So you’ll be able to get the feeling of a 30-minute workout in a matter of 10. Book a demo today to feel why top athletes use Speede Fitness as a part of their training routine.
Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi - StatPearls | NCBI Bookshelf
Rhomboid Strain or Spasm | Tufts Medical Center Community Care.
Brachialis: What Is It, Location, Function, and More | Osmosis