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The Best Pull Day Workouts for Building Your Back and Biceps

01dragonslayer

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What Is a Pull Workout?

A pull workout trains all the main muscle groups that are involved in pulling things off the floor or toward your torso.

Specifically, pull day exercises train your . . .

. . . and smaller muscle groups like your core and forearms, too.

Here’s how those muscles look on your body (sans the biceps, core, and forearms):

Back-Muscles-v2




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Benefits of Pull Workouts

1. They help you avoid muscle imbalances.

Many weightlifters spend more time training the muscles they can see in the mirror, such as the pecs, shoulders, and abs, than they do training the muscle groups on the back side of their body, like the traps, lats, and rhomboids.

Over time this can cause size and strength imbalances between the muscles on the front and back of your body, which spoils your “aesthetics,” and may increase your risk of injury.

Adding good pull day workouts to your routine helps you avoid muscle imbalances by ensuring you spend time training your “pulling” muscles each week, so they never lag too far behind your “pushing” muscles.

If you want a workout routine with the perfect mix of pushing and pulling exercises to build full-body muscle, check out my fitness programs for men and women, Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger.

2. They improve your performance on other key exercises.

Having a strong back is essential if you want to press, squat, and pull heavy weights: it provides the base for your bench and overhead press, it’s what supports the bar in the squat, and it’s the prime mover in the deadlift.

Thus, one of the best ways to improve your performance on these exercises is to strengthen your back. And one of the best ways to strengthen your back is to follow a good pull day workout routine.

3. They’re time efficient.

Some people train their back on one day per week and their biceps on another.

Others complicate things further by training their rear delts and traps on their “shoulder day,” the remaining back muscles on their “back day,” and their biceps on a separate “arm day.”

While all of these approaches can work, they’re not the most time-efficient.

A better solution is to do one or two upper body pull workouts per week that allow you to train all of your back muscles and your biceps in a single session.

The Best Pull Workout Exercises

1. Barbell Deadlift

Barbell Deadlift


The deadlift is hands down the best all-around pulling exercise for your pull day workouts because it trains every muscle in your posterior chain (the muscles on the back side of your body). It also allows you to use some of the heaviest weights in any of your workouts, which is ideal for gaining strength and muscle.

How To:

  1. Position your feet so they’re a bit less than shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly out. Move a loaded barbell over your midfoot so it’s about an inch from your shins.
  2. Move down toward the bar by pushing your hips back and grip the bar just outside your shins.
  3. Take a deep breath of air into your belly, flatten your back by pushing your hips up slightly, and then drive your body upward and slightly back by pushing through your heels until you’re standing up straight.
  4. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

2. Pull-up

Pull-up


The pull-up is an excellent addition to any pull day workout routine because it trains every muscle in your back, particularly your lats and traps. What’s more, it also trains your biceps, abs, and chest muscles to a lesser extent, and improves your whole-body coordination.

How to:

  1. Grab a pull-up bar slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with your palms facing away from you.
  2. Lift your feet so that you’re hanging with your arms straight. You can cross your feet over each other if you prefer.
  3. Without swinging your feet or knees, pull your body up until your chin is above the bar.
  4. Once your chin has passed the bar, lower yourself under control to the starting position in a reverse motion. Keep lowering yourself until your arms are straightened and feel a deep stretch in your lats.
(Tip: a helpful cue for this exercise is to imagine pulling your elbows into the floor).

3. Chin-up

Chin-up


Like the pull-up, the chin-up is one of the best exercises you can do in a pull muscles workout. The main difference between the two exercises is that the chin-up trains your biceps slightly more than the pull-up, whereas the pull-up trains your lower-traps a little more than the chin-up.

How to:

  1. Grab a pull-up bar with your hands around shoulder-width apart and your palms facing toward you.
  2. Lift your feet so that you’re hanging with your arms straight. You can cross your feet over each other if you prefer.
  3. Without swinging your feet or knees, pull your body up until your chin is above the bar.
  4. Once your chin has passed the bar, lower yourself under control to the starting position. Keep lowering yourself until your arms are straightened and feel a deep stretch in your lats.

4. Barbell Row

Barbell Row


The barbell row should be included in any pull workout for mass because it trains every muscle in your back, as well as your biceps, forearms, and hamstrings. What’s more, you can generally lift more weight with the barbell row than you can with other back exercises, which means it’s ideal for building muscle and gaining strength.

How to:

  1. Position your feet under a loaded barbell about shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed slightly outward
  2. Bend over and grab the bar with a slightly wider than shoulder-width grip and with your palms facing toward you.
  3. Straighten your back and raise your hips until your back is roughly parallel to the floor.
  4. Initiate the movement by driving through your legs, then, using the momentum generated by your lower body, pull the barbell to your upper body, touching it anywhere between your lower chest and belly button.
  5. Once the bar touches your body, reverse the movement to return it to the starting position.

5. One-Arm Dumbbell Row

One-Arm Dumbbell Row


The one-arm dumbbell row is a great addition to a dumbbell pull workout because it trains each side of your body independently. This allows you to lift more weight per side than what would be possible during a barbell row, which is generally better for muscle growth

How to:

  1. Hold a dumbbell in your right hand.
  2. Plant your left knee and arm firmly on a bench, your right foot on the floor a foot or two from the bench, and let your right arm (the one holding the dumbbell) hang straight down toward the floor).
  3. Keeping your back straight, pull the dumbbell upward until it touches your torso, and then return the dumbbell to the starting position.
  4. Once you’ve completed the desired number of reps, repeat the process with your left arm.

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6. Lat Pulldown

Lat Pulldown


The lat pulldown is one of the best pull workout machines and is an excellent exercise for training your lats, biceps, and traps. It is especially useful for beginners who struggle to do bodyweight chin-ups and pull-ups.

How to:

  1. Adjust the thigh pad so that it locks your lower body in place.
  2. Stand up and grab the bar. While keeping your grip on the bar and your arms straight, sit down, allowing your body weight to pull the bar down with you. Nudge your thighs under the pads and plant your feet on the floor.
  3. Pull the bar toward your chest.
  4. Once the bar is underneath your chin (or touches your chest, if you want to make the exercise harder), reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

7. Cable Row

Cable Row


Unlike traditional free-weights, the cable row provides consistent tension on the back and biceps throughout the entire movement. This taxes your muscles slightly differently than standard barbell and dumbbell exercises.

How to:

  1. Sit down and place your feet on the foot-rest while maintaining slightly bent knees.
  2. Lean forward and grab the handle, then lean back with your arms stretched in front of you.
  3. Straighten your back and pull the cable toward your stomach.
  4. Once your hands touch your torso, reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

8. Dumbbell Pullover

Dumbbell Pullover


The dumbbell pullover trains your lats through a full range of motion and in a stretched position, which is important for muscle growth. It also requires very little equipment, which means it’s a good option if you work out at home.

How to:

  1. While lying on a flat bench with your feet on the floor, hold a dumbbell at one end with both hands and rest it on your chest. Make sure your head is as close to the end of the bench as possible.
  2. Press the dumbbell over your chest until your elbows are almost completely locked out.
  3. While maintaining a slight bend in your elbows, lower the dumbbell in an arc over your head until your biceps are next to your ears.
  4. Reverse the movement to return to the starting position.

9. Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise

Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise


The dumbbell rear lateral raise is a great exercise for training your rear delts, which are small, stubborn muscles that often need a bit of extra attention if you want them to grow as quickly as your other shoulder muscles.

How to:

  1. Whether standing or seated, bend at the hips so that your upper body is as close to parallel to the ground as possible.
  2. Hold a dumbbell in each hand, and while keeping your back flat, lift the dumbbells out to the side until your upper arm is parallel to the ground. You don’t have to keep your arms perfectly straight—having a slight bend in your elbows is normally more comfortable.
  3. Reverse the movement and return to the starting position.

10. Alternating Dumbbell Curl

Alternating Dumbbell Curl


Alternating dumbbell curls are an effective biceps exercise that allow you to train each arm independently, which helps prevent one arm from getting bigger or stronger than the other

How to:

  1. Stand up straight holding a dumbbell in each hand, with your palms facing each other and your arms hanging straight at your sides.
  2. Keeping your left arm at your side, flex your right arm and curl the dumbbell up until it’s in front of your right shoulder.
  3. As you lift the dumbbell, rotate your wrist so that your palm is facing toward your shoulder at the top of the rep.
  4. Lower the dumbbell to the starting position and repeat with your left arm.

The Best Pull Day Workout Routine for Gaining Muscle and Strength

The best pull day workout routines for increasing muscle and strength include pull exercises that . . .

  • Allow you to lift heavy weights safely
  • Are easy to add weight so you can achieve progressive overload
  • Train all of your pulling muscles, including your lats, rhomboids, traps, erector spinae, and biceps.
With that in mind, here’s the best pull workout routine:

  • Barbell Deadlift: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Row: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
  • Pull-up: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
  • Alternating Dumbbell Curl: 3 sets of 6-to-8 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
And if you like the look of this workout but want even more options, check out my fitness plans for men and women Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger.

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The Best Dumbbell Pull Workout at Home

If you don’t have access to barbells (due to training at a home gym or hotel gyms, for instance), you can still do a solid back pull workout with only dumbbells.

Here’s how:

  • One-Arm Dumbbell Row: 3 sets of 4-to-6 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
  • Dumbbell Pullover: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
  • Dumbbell Rear Lateral Raise: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
  • Alternating Biceps Curl: 3 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

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The Best Calisthenics Pull Workout

Calisthenics exercises are exercises that use your body weight for resistance rather than barbells, dumbbells, resistance bands, or machines. This calisthenics workout requires minimal equipment (just a pull-up bar) which makes it an ideal at-home pull workout:

  • Pull-up: 4 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
  • Chin-up: 4 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest
  • Inverted Row: 4 sets of 8-to-10 reps with 2-to-3 min rest

3 Tips for More Effective Pull Workouts

1. End every set 1-to-3 reps shy of muscle failure.

In order to maximize muscle and strength gains, you need to take most of your sets close (but not all the way) to muscle failure, which is the point at which you can’t complete a rep despite giving maximum effort.

To ensure you’re taking your sets close enough to failure, ask yourself this question at the end of each set, just before re-racking the weight: “If I absolutely had to, how many more reps could I get with good form?”

If the answer is more than two, then you should increase the weight or reps to make your next set more challenging. This ensures you’re including the right balance of volume and intensity in your pull workouts.

2. Once you hit the top of your rep range for a set, move up in weight.

For instance, let’s say your workout calls for 4-to-6 reps of the deadlift (as this one does). If you get 6 reps on one set, add 5 pounds to each side of the bar (10 pounds total) for your next set and work with that weight until you can (eventually) pull it for 6 reps, and so forth.

If you get 3 or fewer reps with your new (higher) weight on your next sets, reduce the weight by 5 pounds to ensure you can stay within your target rep range (4-to-6) for all sets.

Follow this same pattern of trying to add reps or weight to every exercise in every workout. This method is known as double progression, and it’s a highly effective way to get fitter and stronger.

3. Take the right supplements

 
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