How To Build Total-Body Muscle With Just A Pull-Up Bar

When winter arrives, your willpower plummets. Swapping sofa for squat rack is tough; doing it in the dark and cold is nigh on impossible. But that doesn’t mean you have to let that beach body slide. Or fill your spare room with heavy metal. “Most people tend to think kitting yourself out with a plush gym at home is only reserved for the elite,” says Dylan Jones, PT and founder of P4 Body. “Wrong. Most efficient training regimes now are usually done at home with very minimal equipment needed.” In fact, the only kit you need is your body, a pull-up bar (£32.74,, and enough willpower to crank out a few reps every time you go into your hallway. The pull-up hits almost every muscle in your upper body, particularly your back, which is why it’s also such an effective calorie torcher. But by changing your grip or the angles you work, or even just where you position the bar, you can also target those muscles the standard pull-up misses. For proof that bodyweight training can build as much muscle as the gym, just take a look at the physiques of Olympic gymnasts. Then work through these moves to get your own gold medal-worthy body.

Key Pull-Up Bar Exercises

Either perform these exercises individually or bolt them together into a home workout. To burn fat, drop your rest times. To build muscle, give yourself three minutes to recover between sets and work to failure each time.

Conventional Pull-Up

Grab your pull-up bar, hands more than shoulder-width apart and palms facing away from you. Squeeze your lats to lift yourself up until your chest meets the bar. Pause, then slowly lower to a dead hang – your elbows should be straight – before repeating. If your doorway isn’t tall enough, bend your knees to give yourself clearance.

Close-Grip Pull-Up

Set up as above, but with your hands closer together, palms facing towards you. This works your biceps harder (and offers more real-world strength than curls). From a dead hang, pull yourself up until your chest is level with your hands, making sure to keep your body vertical – if you lean back then your back does the work, not your arms. Slowly lower to a dead hang and repeat.

Towel Pull-Up

Sling a towel over your pull-up bar and grab each end. From a dead hang, pull up until your chest is above your hands. This exercise improves your grip strength, working your forearms as well as your back and biceps, which means you’ll be able to hold heavier weights for longer when you get back in the gym.

Leg Raises

Grab the pull-up bar with an overhand grip and hang with your arms straight. Keeping your legs straight, raise them in front of you until they’re parallel with the floor. Pause, then slowly lower. This tests your grip as it blasts your abs. To make it easier, bend your knees. To make it harder, lift your legs higher and move them to each side when your reach the top.

Horizontal Row

Set the bar up at waist height. Grab it with an overhand grip and hang beneath it, with your heels on the floor and body straight. Pull yourself up to the bar, pause, then slowly lower. This rowing motion hits your back and arms in a different plane of movement, working the muscles in new ways for more overall growth.

Pull-Up Curls

Grab the bar with an underhand grip and either lift yourself so your chest is near the bar, or stand on your heels so most of your weight is supported by your arms. Without moving your elbow, lower your body, then curl your biceps to lift yourself back up.

Tricep Dips

Set the pull-up bar to waist height then hold yourself with your hands behind you, palms facing downwards and legs outstretched. Sink into a dip, then drive yourself back up explosively. Put your feet on a chair to make it harder, then rest weight on your lap to work your arms even more.

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