Wide Grip Pull Ups vs Close Grip – Which is Best For You?

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between wide grip pull ups and close grip pull ups. We’ll also discuss the different muscles used during both pull up variations and what advantages and disadvantages each variation offers.

Wide Grip Pull Ups vs Close Grip Pull Ups

The main difference between wide grip pull ups and close grip pull ups is the distance between your hands on the pull up bar.

In the close grip pull ups, your hands are placed shoulder-width apart with your palms facing away from you on the bar, whereas in the wide grip pull ups, your hands are placed more than shoulder width apart on the bar with your palms facing away from you.

Wide grip pull ups vs regular vs close grip

The wide grip pull up, regular pull up and closed grip pull up are all upper body vertical pulling exercises. The main difference between the three pull ups, is the width of your hand placement on the bar, which can alter the difficulty of the exercise. 

We can view the hand placement and difficult on a continuum with the close grip pull up having the narrowest grip (shoulder width apart) and what we would consider “entry level” in terms of difficulty and the wide grip pull up (more than shoulder width apart) on the opposite end of the continuum of difficulty with being “advanced”.

The regular pull up would be placed in the middle of that continuum with the width of hand placement and level of difficulty. 

Difficulty of pull up variations on a continuum
Difficulty of pull up variations on a continuum

Joints worked and ranges of motion

To understand the difference, firstly we must understand what joints and muscles are being used.

JointWide Grip Pull Ups ROMClose Grip Pull Ups ROM
ShoulderLargeModerate
ElbowSmall to moderate Moderate to large
WristSmallSmall
Joints worked and range of motion during variations of pull ups

Wide Pull Ups Muscles Worked

The main muscles worked during the wide grip pull up include: 

  • Latissimus Dorsi: this is the prime mover during the wide pull up. It’s used during shoulder adduction, extension and internal rotation. Fun Fact: Greatest activation seen in this muscle compared to the others (hence why it’s the primary mover)!
  • Trapezium: assists with shoulder elevation.
  • Erector Spinae: assists with back extension.
  • Infraspinatus: assists with shoulder extension.
  • Teres Minor: assists with shoulder flexion and external rotation. 
  • External Obliques: assists with stabilisation of the core and abdomen during shoulder flexion. 

Close Grip Pull Ups muscles worked

The main muscles worked during the closed grip pull are the lattisimus dorsi (lats), biceps, trapezius, pectorals, traps, infraspinatus, teres minor and abdominals. 

The lattisimus dorsi (lats) is the primary muscles working however, when shoulder extension happens during the concentric portion of pull up (lifting portion), assistance from the chest occurs. This is a result of the arms moving directly behind the body instead of into the side of the body.

The biceps, upper back (traps, infraspinatus and teres minor) and forearms are utilised as when the hand width comes closer together it helps bend the elbow to a greater degree which recruits the bicep.

Which type of pull up is best for athletes?

Arguably, closed grip pull ups and wide grip pull ups could be performed by athletes during a training cycle as they are both upper body pulling based exercise.

As a coach I would program close grip pull ups before wide grip pull ups as they place the shoulders and elbows in a more biomechanical advantageous position. This basically means that the pecs and biceps can help assist throughout a rep resulting in more repetitions being performed! 

Pull ups can be a difficult exercise to master due to the large requirement of upper body strength needed to perform a single repetition – some studies have suggested you must lift around 90% of your own body weight during each repetition.

If you’re unable to perform a single pull up, then, lat pulldowns, TRX horizontal rows, eccentric pull ups and banded assistance pull ups are all great alnernatives that you could use to work towards achieving your first pull up! 

Are wide grip pull ups harder?

The wide grip pull up is harder to perform than the close grip pull up. The close grip places the shoulders and elbows in a more efficient position, making the movement more smooth thus less stress on the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles.

Due to the hands being positioned closer together during a close grip pull up, it increases the assistance of the biceps and pecs.The contribution of the bicep and pecs along with the lats and upper back muscles help make the lifting portion of the pull up easier.

When the hands are placed in a wider position, greater emphasis is placed on the lats and other back muscles and not the biceps or pecs, which makes it the more challenging of the two variations as less muscles are being used. 

Which pull-up is best for biceps?

The close grip pull up is reported to be the best pull variation when compared to a wide grip pull up because more emphasis is placed on the bicep during a close grip pull. 

Many people’s bicep work is purely isolation based such as bicep curls or hammer curls. However, pull ups could be utilised as a compound bicep exercise if they are active throughout like during the close grip variation. 

It’s important that we highlight that out of all pull up variations (not just between the close grip or wide grip pull up), the underhand grip pull up, also commonly known as the chin up, is the best as this is the variation where the most emphasis is placed on the bicep when compared to the others.

Are pull-ups good for hypertrophy?

Yes! Focusing on progressively overloading the exercise week by week by increasing repetitions or increasing the weight using a weight belt will provide just as big of a stimulus on the biceps compared to a bicep curl or hammer curl. Plus you’ll gain a great amount of muscle mass and strength in the posterior chain (lats & back muscles). 

Summary

Both wide grip and close grip pull ups are both upper body pulling based exercises. They have similar advantages to why they would be utilised in a training program, which includes increased upper body strength and muscle mass, increased strength in posterior chain muscles, improved posture and grip strength.

Trialling with different variations and hand width positions can allow you to see which version works best for you and your shoulder health.

If you struggle on performing one single repetition, focusing on improving upper body pulling strength by using exercises like lat pulldowns or with the assistance of a resistance band is a great starting point, then slowly over time increase the amount of reps or load. 

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