At a certain point during your workout journey you may feel that you have hit a ceiling in terms of the sheer difficulty of doing sets of pull-ups. In such cases, it may be a good idea to consider doing more advanced pull-up exercises such as weighted pull-ups. Not only are these more challenging than regular pull-ups but they certainly have a lot of benefits when it comes to muscle gain and overall strength increase in your upper-body. Weighted pull-ups are been around for the longest are always incorporated in the best pull-up workout plans. Before we get into the top benefits of doing weighted pull-ups however, let us look into what weighted pull-ups are first.
What is a weighted pull-up?
In simple terms, weighted pull-ups are a pull-up variation exercise that involves the usage of weights as part of the workout. This exercise can be performed by adding weight plates to your body, which can be done using a weight belt or vest. If you are doing pull-ups on a pull-up bar, it will make things much more challenging in terms of pulling yourself up due to the added weight of the vest or weight belt around your waist. A weighted pull-up is a very known exercise used by a lot of people and is very known among weightlifters. It is a relatively easy exercise to adopt as you can always adjust the weight being added to your level of performance, which decreases the risk of injury or straining yourself.
Of course, it is always important to know your own limits by doing regular pull-ups prior to taking things to a next level with weighted pull-ups. The heaviest weighted pull-up ever is 104.55kg, which is a Guinness record held by David Marchante! So it’s safe to say that you should not try starting anywhere near that number in terms of added weight if you are just starting out with weighted pull-ups. Doing a couple of pull-ups is ok, but what you would want to aim for is being able to do several reps using a good posture on the bar. In doing so, you get used to doing perfect pull-ups which is essential for doing pull-up variations such as weighted pull-ups later on.
How exactly do you perform a weighted pull-up?
To perform weighted pull-ups, start by adding the appropriate weight to your body as a first step. If you are using a weight belt, avoid having a bad experience by placing the weight belt around your waist as a first step and looping the belt chain through the weight as a second step (e.g. using a kettlebell). If you don’t have weight belt you can try gripping a dumbbell between your legs and pull-up on the bar in this position. Make sure that it is not too taxing on your body for safety purposes.
Another ingenious alternative is to simply putt the additional weight into a backpack and put this one as you do the pull-ups. It is a great substitute in case you don’t have any professional equipment lying around or if you don’t have weighted plates, dumbbells etc. In such a case you can simply fill the backpack with all kinds of heavy things such as that big old book you never read or water bottles etc. a last option is a chain which you can place around your neck. It is always recommended to start low, do some reps first and then add more weight as you move on. Once, you have put on the weight simply do a set of regular pull-up workout on a pull-up bar.
Now that you know what weighted pull-ups are and how to perform them during your workout sessions, let us take a look at the top 10 benefits of doing these.
Benefit One: Upper Body Pulling Strength
If building upper body strength is your main goal when doing pull-ups during your workouts, then you should certainly start thinking about doing weighted pull-ups next time you train. Whether you are a weightlifter or just someone looking to build some serious upper-body muscle, weighted pull-ups can be the missing link to building more strength and endurance. One can start by loading weights of 5 kg to 10+ for example by using the weighted belts as described previously. The main pull-up muscles targeted during weighted pull-ups include the lattimus dorsi, which is your back muscles stretching from your waist to your armpit, along with your rhomboids and trapezius which are muscles in the middle of your upper-back.
Benefit Two: A stronger grip
By adding more weights to you pull-up workout you are also building more grip strength when you are holding onto the pull-up bar. Grip strength is often times overlooked as a benefit but it can be of great added-value in terms of overall pulling strength. This is possible as weighted pull-ups increase strength in several muscle areas such as your forearms, back and biceps.
Benefit Three: Overall muscle strength
Doing weighted pull-ups during your workouts means that you are gaining more muscle in terms of size and strength. This can be attributed to the fact that weighted pull-ups makes your upper-body muscles work much harder compared to regular pull-ups that are based on your own natural weight. As such, adding more weight means that you will be gaining more strength and muscle as a result of your pull-up training. Moreover, the more weight you add the more challenging the exercise becomes which makes for more strength as a result.
Benefit Four: Preparing you for more advanced techniques
One of the often overlooked benefits of doing weighted pull-ups is that it gives you a more solid preparation for very advanced exercises. Dong pull-ups alone may not be enough for taking on advanced exercises that require your upper-body. Weighted pull-ups however, can make a big difference in increasing your endurance and performance level.
Benefit Five: Eliminating Leg Drive
One of the common cheats people use when doing pull-ups is leg drive, also known as hip flexion. It tends to differ per person but in general one would contract the hip flexors to reach the top position on the bar. The issue with this is that hip flexing causes the spine alignment along with your posture to be disrupted. What’s more, too much leg drive which is often seen in exercises such as kipping pull-ups can lead to back arch and a hyperextension of the cervical and lumbar spine. This may even affect your shoulders. These effects are definitely undesirable and can create long-term issues which are not obvious early-on. In using weighted pull-ups however, you essential eliminate the ability to flex your hips as the added weight keeps your legs in line with your upper-body. As such you are certain to be training using an optimal posture.
Benefit Six: Promotes posture alignment
A key benefit of doing weighted pull-ups is that they induce postural alignment due to stretching. This is especially true when your legs are kept straight, in line with your upper-body. Such a posture helps in creating a proper posture and spinal alignment. When your lower body is somewhat stretched your body’s natural arch and spine is reinforced, giving you a proper posture over time. So if posture is something you have been concerned about then doing weighted pull-ups can be a great way to help you gain your natural posture again.
Benefit Seven: Greater lats
Given that weighted pull-ups improve your posture to a more upright position, your lats are also better activated as a result. The more upright you are when doing pull-ups the greater the influence on your lats. Such a position isolates the lat muscles more as the pull-up movement can be seen as a pulling motion in a vertical way, which activates the lats considerably more.
Benefit Eight: Added mobility
In general, the more horizontal an exercise is in terms of pulling and/or pushing motions the shorter your range of motion will be. Conversely, vertical exercises such as weighted pull-ups allow for a greater range of motion. In fact, doing weighted pull-ups not only leads to great strength as discussed before but it can also improve your overall shoulder mobility, which can be very important if you are someone that practices any kind of sport that requires your shoulders a lot.
Benefit Nine: Full-body tension
A downside of doing regular pull-ups is the lack of tension on the scale of your whole body. In using weights, especially at your feet, you essentially produce a full-body tension when working out. The activation required to hold the weights on your feet or between your legs generally promotes more concentration and activation. This means that you are essentially activating parts of the body that usually lay dormant. Think about your hands, feet, face and neck for example. All of this in turn activates your motor control more and increases your ability to produce force, which is a big help when doing other advanced exercises later on.
Benefit Ten: Advanced exercises
Doing weighted pull-ups helps your body to prepare for doing even more advanced and challenging exercises. If you intend to include exercise such as drop set, weighted negatives, giant sets or muscle-ups, then starting off with weighted pull-ups is definitely the way to go in terms of body preparation, muscle gain and strength improvement. All of these benefits help you realize these more advanced exercises safely without much risk of injuring yourself. A common problem for people who just started training is the drive to try out everything, which can be dangerous in some cases.
In closing, weighted pull-ups can be very beneficial in terms of overall upper-body development. We have seen that it is a great exercise that has a myriad of benefits. However, it is important to use weighted pull-ups carefully in order to decrease the risks of injuring yourself. Remember, you are still adding additional weight to your body which can be taxing on your joints and overall body structure. What’s more, the heavier your weight belt or vest is the greater the risks you are taking. However, if you start by mastering how to do perfect pull-ups first where you get a good grip on the right posture and then start adding weight slowly you will be better suited to adapt and improve in a safer way without straining your body too much.
There are some things you should always keep in mind. For starters, always warm up prior to doing weighted pull-ups. This means that you ought to work your way up to pulling heavier weights, i.e. adopting a gradual approach. Second, it is key to progress gradually and increase the weight you are pulling up along with the amount of reps and sets you do per workout session. Never try to mimic superman! Instead work your way up to heavier weights and more intensive workouts with more reps. With these tips in mind you are playing it safe ensuring that you work with your body and its capabilities and not against it.
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