Workout Of The Month: The Pull Up
It’s about that time again for the workout of the month. Each month we take a look at a different exercise and break it down by movement, how to do it, and discuss some of the positive vs. negative impact that it can have to you and your level of fitness. For this month’s exercise we take a look at the difference between close grip and wide grip pull ups.
Wide Grip Vs. Close Grip Pull Ups
I’ve been going to the gym a number of years and I’ve seen people do all sorts of pull ups. More specifically, there’s the people that love to do wide grip pull ups and then there’s those others that consistently do pull ups in a close grip fashion.
What’s the difference between close grip and wide grip pull ups?
Well it’s just like it sounds. You grab on to bar with both hands and pull your body weight up. The difference is in the hand placement – one wider and one more neutral (about shoulder width apart. If you regularly go to a gym you know that gyms are full of urban legends in the form of fitness advice. When it comes to pull ups you’ve got some common phrases such as wide for wide, in for in, out for out. Etc etc. If you’ve never heard of them before, they’re all pertaining to arm placement and how they’ll work your lats.
What Do The Lats Do?
What the heck are lats? The lats are short for your latissimus dorsi. They’re the muscles that give someone’s back a defined V look. Chicks also dig them. Which is a plus if you’re a guy. But on a more serious note, the lats are responsible for a few different movements but for this article we’re going to be focusing on two primary movements:
1. Bringing your scapula back and and downward towards the center of your spine (adduction)
2. Arm flexion from an extended position (such as the pull up)
So, to keep it simple, your lats help to extend your arms up over your head, while also working to pull flex your arms from an extended position such as a pull up or chin up by moving your scapula down and inward.
What Kind Of Pull Ups Are Better – Wide Grip Or Close, Narrow, Or Neutral Grip?
Let’s look at what we know: with a wide grip, the position puts the lats into what’s called a transverse extension position. This just so happens to be one of the weakest points for the lats (1,2). It also compromises shoulder stability which can lead to shoulder injury. For moving heavy weights, having joints in the strongest positions is optimal. Moving heavy weight with an unstable, weak joint causes far greater potential for injury.
On a a side note about joints there’s a general rule of thumb: The more flexible a joint can be the more unstable it is. Hence, placing your hands further out puts more stress on the shoulder joint.
The Journal Of Strength and Conditioning recently looked into the issue of wide or close grip pull ups using electromyographic studies to measure the force of contraction of the lats when using the movement. What they found is what we already assumed – doing a pull up with a narrow grip was the best way to maximally recruit the latissimus dorsi muscle (2).
Reasons for this a close grip pull up is more effective:
1. Wide grip pull ups don’t get the most strength out of your lats
2. With wide grip pull ups your elbows can’t come as close to your body when doing a pull up. This causes decreased range of motion. The best way to maximize muscle movements is to use the complete range of motion.
3. Age related considerations: joint flexibility decreases with age. Why stress your shoulder joint and risk injury if you don’t have to?
So Are Wide Grip Pull Ups A Bad Exercise?
Not necessarily – but if you’re looking to develop pure optimum lat strength, they may not be the best hand position. If you’re trying to recruit other muscles of the back and shoulders, then by all means, go for it. Just take into consideration your shoulder joint. You might eventually have to bring in your grip anyway.
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