What Muscles Do Pull Up Exercises Work – Including Squats, Pushups, Deadlifts

Have you ever wondered which muscle groups are worked during different exercises? In the weight room, this question is always in the back of my mind. Here we will be starting with, What Muscles Do Pull Up Exercises Work.

After that, we will move on to other muscle group relationships in reference to which exercises benefit which muscles. It’s critical to know how the body works to be able to put together an effective exercise and weightlifting program.

Pull-ups, push-ups, barbell rows, bench press, squats, deadlifts, are movements that the majority of gym-goers and amateur athletes have performed throughout their life. Because this is so important to your workouts, I’m going to do my best to show you exactly which muscle groups each of these exercises stress.

What Are The Best Exercises For Each Muscle Group?

Which muscle group is used with which exercise? Here is my exercise muscle guide on which exercises work each muscle; for more than just pull-ups. There are many relationships between exercises and muscle groups that we should get to know. Unfortunately, we can only brush the surface in this article.

Because of this, I chose some of the most popular and best exercises coupled with the largest muscle groups. If you would like to know more about which muscles to workout, I have an example of one of my full exercise programs. Check out my Best 5 Day Bodybuilding Workout Routine – A 12 Week Customized Plan.

Crossfit workout routines - Man doing Crossfit pull up

What Muscles Do Pull Up Exercises Work?

A pullup is a compound, closed-chain exercise that targets the latissimus dorsi muscles (your lats) of the back(It stresses your upper back, mid-back, and lower back, although the former two on a lesser extend.)

Synergist muscles and stabilizers take part in this compound movement. It works your biceps and forearms since they’re attached to this muscle group.

On a general note, any movement that requires you to pull works your back, traps, rear deltoid muscles, biceps and forearm. There are different types of pull-ups, and they engage different muscles on your back. So, let’s find the most suitable option for your needs.

If you don’t have a pull up bar at home, see my Best Pull Up Bar For The Doorway review.

Classic Chin-Ups

The classic chin-up is one of the easiest forms of pull-ups to get a jacked back. In order to perform one, you need to grab a bar with your palms facing your face (underhand, supinated grip), shoulder-width apart, and simply pull until your chin reaches the bar.

Most of the load is on your biceps while the back muscles are mainly stretched. This form of pull-up relieves some of the pressure from your back and allows you to capitalize on your biceps.

Classic Pull-Up

The classic pull-up is similar to the chin-up, but you need to keep your palms facing away from you (overhand, pronated grip) and will engage more of your back muscles.

If you compare the pull-up with the chin-up, the first one targets your traps and lats much more, this makes classic pull-ups a harder challenge for beginners.

Wide-Grip Pull-Up

Another form of pull-up that requires a wider grip on the bar and engages mainly the latissimus dorsi muscle (lats).

Wide Grip Pull-ups are one of the harder versions. While completely hanging on the bar, the first muscles engage the movement upward the biceps, which are very weak at a hanging point. Then, after the biceps are engaged, the majority of the weight falls entirely on your lats, and your inner back muscles are neglected, making the movement even further.

This movement is often combined with some form of rows, deadlift, or the good morning exercise for a complete back workout. 

Wide Grip Pull-ups are very good for back development, but they should not be done with weight (see weighted vests) until a person has developed more strength in their arms, as the majority of shoulder injuries are caused while performing wide grip pull-ups.

Pull-ups with Hammer Grip (The Most Injury-free Pull-up)

Hammer grip pull-ups or parallel grip pull-ups require your palms to face each other in a grip. Of course, you would need two bars or handles to perform hammer pull-ups.

This version is much harder than a chin-up, but it is still easier than a pull-up for most. It is the safest and the most injury-free pull-up, as it is also the most natural for your body to perform. It puts much less stress on your joints than all other pull-ups and are hands down my favorite.

The neutral grip releases all the pressure from supporting muscles and puts the pressure on your inner back, lats and biceps.

Barbell Rows Will Help You Do More Pull Ups

Barbell or dumbbell rows are the perfect back exercise to do before attempting a pull-up, if you lack the strength, that is. It uses your lats, rhomboids, and traps for stability because you are bending over during this movement.

We can see that different exercises use completely different muscle groups in our body. And barbell rows hit your back where pull-ups don’t, but it still uses the remaining muscles on your back as synergists. This eventually strengthens your back up to the extent where you would be able to perform pull-ups freely.

You can perform this exercise with a dumbbell, or hanging on a parallel bar while propping your feet on both sides. (Much harder than a pull-up.) One of my dumbbell recommendations is the Bowflex SelectTech 552 Dumbbells.

What Muscles Do Pull Up Exercises Work - Woman doing push ups

What Muscles Do Push Ups Work?

In a push-up, the anterior deltoid and triceps muscles of your upper arms are stressed. It also works your posterior neck stabilizers along with several other stabilizing muscle groups in the rest of your body.

The latissimus dorsi is used as well but to a much lesser extent than it would be during an actual pull-up, deadlift, or a traditional back exercise with dumbbell like dumbbell rows.

There are more than 20 types of push-up exercises. Aside from that, you can play with the incline to make things more intense, or easier, depending on your preference.

How does the incline affect push-ups?

For example, the more inclined you are, the harder the push-ups get since the pressure moves from your chest to your upper chest and shoulders, which are the weaker pushing muscles.

Whereas, if you put your hands on a bench, while your feet are on the ground, the decline would allow you to complete more repetitions. The movement gets easier.

Standard – Strict Military Push-up

In this position, you will mainly use your pectorals for pushing but also work anterior deltoids, triceps and some of the muscles responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint like rotator cuff muscles.

It stresses your chest but is also a good all-around exercise for the upper muscles. This movement is easy for a reason, it is so complex that it also uses the muscles on your back and it even engages your rear deltoid muscles for balance purposes.

Wide Push-ups

Wide Push-ups are slightly harder than military push-ups since they relieve some of the pressure from your shoulders and put them on your chest. They work your pectoral muscles and anterior deltoids.

These can also be performed on the knuckles of your fists, removing pressure from your wrists and hardening your knuckles. Be cautious when doing these if you have had any shoulder issues.

Diamond Push-Ups (Also called Triangle Push-Ups)

This exercise is mainly for the triceps since it’s difficult to do this movement with your arms strictly below your solar plexus. It also engages your chest and shoulders but can be done by anyone who has mastered military push-ups as an intermediary step between them and one-arm push-ups.

The main focus of diamond push-ups is the triceps. All other muscles are secondary in this movement.

How Are One-Arm Push-Ups More Effective?

Although one-arm push-ups put all the weight on one of your arms and double the stress, more stress often goes hand in hand with more danger. If you are going to perform one-arm push-ups, make sure to warm up very well.

What makes this difficult is that it targets different areas of your upper muscles entirely, in different parts of the motion. For example, while you are on the lowest point, your anterior delts are engaged and your and your posterior delts are relaxed. As you move to the top of each rep, the anterior muscles relax slightly and shift some of the tension to the posterior, which is stressed during your decline.

Also, one-arm push-ups greatly target all your core muscles to keep balance. The chest and triceps are the most engaged while you are in the middle of the movement.

What Muscles Do Dips Use?

Dips are a type of exercise where you rest your body weight on two bars and then move down towards the floor until your elbows bend to about 90 degrees.

This is one of the toughest chest exercises as it requires strength in both shoulders and triceps. Dips mainly target muscles like the pectoralis major muscle group, deltoids and triceps.

But what most bodybuilders would tell you is that dips allow for great separation between your lower chest and core muscles to form.

what is a squat exercise - woman doing front squats

What Muscles Are Used in Squats

The squat is one of the best exercises for stronger legs that also target different muscles – depending on the type of squat.

The most common squat variations are lunges or squats with a barbell held in your hands across your shoulders. This would work out the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus (buttocks) muscle groups.

In all types of squat movements,  adductors, calves, and hamstring muscles work as stabilizers and synergists in the movement. Meanwhile, the biceps femoris and other hip flexors work as antagonists at the bottom.

Squats are overall a very useful and important exercise, and anyone free of injury should perform at least one form of squats. For the best exercise equipment for squats, take a look at my 3 Best Squat Racks for a Home Gym and my Ethos Folding Squat Rack Review.

Bulgarian Split Squats

These are one of the most difficult yet effective squat options. You may see many complex variations of Bulgarian split squats. However, the basic movement is to perform with one leg only, while your other leg just works as support. The Bulgarian Split Squat mainly targets your calves, glutes, and quads.

Sumo Squats

Sumo squats are another excellent exercise that can be performed either with a barbell on your back or just by holding the bar in front of you. The Sumo Squat mainly targets your quads, hamstrings and glutes.

They relieve a good amount of pressure from your back since you do not need to arch forward while maintaining a large portion of the weight.

What Muscles Do Pull Up Exercises Work  - man doing deadlift

What Muscles Does The Deadlift Work?

Deadlifts are another excellent exercise that can be performed with either a barbell on your back or just by holding the bar in front of you. The deadlift mainly targets your hamstrings, glutes and quads, as well as your lower, mid-back, and lats.

It also benefits from focusing more on abdominal muscles than squats do since you need to keep them tight while lifting the weight.

The traditional deadlift can also be performed with a resistance band, instead of a barbell. The resistance band deadlifts are heavily focused on the lower back and hamstrings, but still, stimulate your quads to a degree.

A lighter resistance can also be used for this exercise. However, when using heavier weights it’s important not to compromise form or use the poor technique – otherwise, you will risk injury! This is the reason why it is considered one of the most advanced strength-building exercises.

There are different types of deadlift variations, some of which are based on a different grip and stance.

Wide deadlifts

Wide deadlifts work your hamstrings and glutes the most, as well as providing a great stretch for the spinal muscles.

Sumo Deadlift – (Narrow grip deadlift with wide legs stance)

Narrow deadlift variations provide more tension to activate your core in order to keep you stable during lifts that require support from stabilizing muscles such as the lower back, hamstrings and core.

Sumo deadlift variations work your glutes, hamstrings and core muscles.

They are a great choice for people who have knee issues or weak ankles because you can use the momentum of the hips to lift heavy weights without putting too much pressure on joints.

Romanian deadlift

Romanian deadlift variations provide focus on your hamstrings and glutes. It is often referred to as a stiff-legged or straight leg deadlift. Most other forms of deadlift focus on your back. During this movement, the back remains straight through its entirety.

Final Words on What Muscles Do Pull Up Exercises Work

At the end of the day, you need to know what you’re looking to get out of each exercise. Different movements work a variety of different muscle groups depending on what your goals are and where you need more attention. Having the knowledge of exactly which muscles help you with each movement gives you an edge and protects you from injuries.

Keep in mind that each exercise can be modified and changed. Knowing them all allows you to easily maneuver around exercises that make you uncomfortable or hurt some parts of your body.

If you have any comment or questions about what muscles are used for certain exercises, please leave a message below.

Leave a Comment