Pull-up Exercise Variations: 6 Essential Exercises for a V-Shaped Body (Video)

The pull-up – an exercise that is possibly the most efficient in developing the back muscles for a v-shaped body. My fascination with chin-ups & pull-ups began when I was around 10 or so. There is a playground close to where I live and I would see the older boys train there, yet I couldn’t do a single chin-up.

Even worse, on my first PT test as high school fresh man I still couldn’t do a single pull-up or chin-up. This was one of the reasons I started working out (managed 10+ chin-ups at the end of that freshman year). This, and the goal of getting a v-shaped back.

On a side note – Tony Jaa, pictured above, is an excellent example of an athlete with a great v-shaped body. He has a very wall percentage of body fat which accentuates the small waist. At the same time his back, the latissimus dorsi is very developed and creates the appealing v-shape.

Tony is a martial artist, stuntman and actor from Thailand who has starred in a few explosive action movies already. If you are going to see a film with him – check out Ong Bak. My friend Rusty Moore has gone into great detail in his article about him ==> Is Tony Jaa the Next Bruce Lee?

1. Close Grip Chin-Up

Grab the bar with your palms facing up. Either place your hands right next to each other or space them one fist apart. Just pick whatever feels most natural to your body – this rule of thumb will give you more strength and less injuries on any exercise you do.

Pull yourself up using your back and finish with a strong biceps contraction. Lower under control. Do not make the mistake of just letting your body drop. This is very taxing on your elbows and you may soon develop tendonitis (pain in the elbows that can only go away with rest).

2. Close Grip Pull-Up

Grab the bar with your palms facing down this time. Again – either place your hands right next to each other or space them one fist apart.

Pull yourself up using your back (armpit muscles) and finish with a strong a contraction of the muscles on top of your arm – the brachialis (the muscle beneath the biceps), the brachioradialis (the one that goes from your forearm to your upper arm as well as all the little extensor muscles on the back of your forearm.

3. Parallel Grip Pull-Up

This time your palms will be facing each other. This position is anatomically the easiest on the joints and also the most natural one for your shoulder, elbows and wrists.

The parallel grip pull-up is the best position to add additional resistance for weighted pull-ups & chin-ups.

4. Shoulder Width Grip Chin-Up

The shoulder width grip chin-up is fantastic for involvement of both your upper back and your arms. You can add a lot of resistance here too. Just be careful – the biceps is a relatively small and weak muscle compared to the latissimus dorsi (the upper back) and you should add resistance here gradually.

Sudden jumps in weight may find your arms unprepared and cause an unnecessary injury – such as the one I had a few years back when training for a maximum attempt on weighted chin-ups. I managed to chin myself up with 42.5 kg in addition to my 80. However I had to take a month or two off from the exercise after that because my biceps got a minor injury.

5. Shoulder Width Grip Pull-Up

Shoulder width grip pull-ups are the best overall position to train with. They are a natural position, allow you to feel the engagement of the upper back and allow additional weight without stressing the biceps too much.

As an added benefit – if your next goal after mastering pull-ups and chin-ups is the muscle-up, this position is the way to go. The muscle-up starts with the same movement as the shoulde width grip pull-up.

6. Wide Grip Pull-Up

The benefit of doing wide grip pull-ups is that they partially isolate the upper back. This way you can learn to contract the lats and initiate the pull-up with them. In fact this is how I started training them.

The disadvantages however are numerous. For one, there is a decreased range of motion. This means your muscles do less work. Second, you are limited in how much weight you can add. Again – less work.

Pull-up Exercise Variation Video and Action Plan

Whatever variation you choose, make sure to stay away from failure, vary your reps (low, high, medium) and switch things up every month or so. Mastering the pull-up is rewarding both as a goal and because it will give you a cobra-like v-shaped body.

Here is an older video we shot which shows six types of pull-ups and chin-ups. that you can use in your workout along with the main benefits or emphasis of each type that we just discussed.

Note: Make sure to balance pull-up training with an exercise that trains the opposite movement in order to avoid muscle imbalances and injuries. Good choices are the military press and the handstand pushup.

9 thoughts on “Pull-up Exercise Variations: 6 Essential Exercises for a V-Shaped Body (Video)”

  1. I love doing Parallel Grip Pullups – you are totally right they rock for adding weight to these – also I do L-Pullups with this grip, works well!

    Totally agree – Wide grip Pullups have some perks, but most people think those are the absolute best way of doing a Pullup and that’s all they use, whereas I like to supplement my Pullup regimen with it, not make it the basis.

    Usually I do pullups every time I hit the gym to super set everything else, and then on their own for Back days. You are rockin em in that video though – 16 man! Nice 🙂

    Nice video, love the beat although I have no idea what that’s from – sounds like some James Bondish or Mission Impossible like music 🙂 Oh and I need to build a bar like that in my apartment – so cool!

  2. Yavor,
    Awesome review of pullup variations. While they’re not necessarily part of the pullup family, if you can find space for muscle ups, I think those provide an amazing workout.
    On a side note, I keep waiting for Tony Jaa to replace Jackie Chan and Jet Li as the go-to actor for martial arts movies.

  3. Excellent write-up, Yavor. Parallel grip is by far my favorite position simply due to comfort.

    Your post has made me realize that I should probably start adding more wide grip and shoulder-width pullups, though, simply because of the increased work in the upper back.


  4. Ong Bak B grade movie but A+ for fighting …really like Tony Jaa an excellent Thai boxer.
    Love pull ups and chin ups lately I have been playing around with tempo fast and really slow (visual impact phase3) makes a huge difference for me.
    I think Pull ups is the best exercise to develop the back …. cool topic
    Always get interesting and quality posts when I visit here.

  5. Hey Yavor!

    Great post man!

    I am a huge advocate of bodyweight exercises, as you know, and feel that their is no better test of strength and athleticism than banging out some pull ups…

    Try this on for size:

    Clap Pull Ups!

    Insane…lemme know what you think!

  6. Craig,

    you’re a ninja man. Not wait – a Shaolin monk Lol. L-pullups are awesome actually – I know a guy in his 60’s here In the hood that does like 20 of them. Might actually shoot a video of them soon 🙂

    The music on the vid is from LTJ Bukem. Love this type of music…


    Muscle ups are on my list too man. Yup Tony Jaa is a supreme athlete/actor. Another dude like this is Scott Adkins btw.


    yeah man – those pull-ups will do you good. As ripped as you are, more back work will give you even more v-shape.


    I agree – the plots on Tony Jaa’s movies suck. But the stunts… Your tip about tempo is top-notch. Accentuating the negative is the way to go.


    first of all – your blog is awesome. Hilarious and bad ass at the same time – a perfect example is this post: http://mikearonefitness.com/2010/04/26/5-ways-to-motivate-yourself-for-the-gym/

    Love the clap pull-ups idea man. I will try them next time I’m at the playground. Btw –here’s
    my colleague and mentor Milko with 10 clappers:

    Great stuff guys – see you next post,


  7. Yavor, Awesome review of pullup variations. While they’re not necessarily part of the pullup family, if you can find space for muscle ups, I think those provide an amazing workout. On a side note, I keep waiting for Tony Jaa to replace Jackie Chan and Jet Li as the go-to actor for martial arts movies. Dave

  8. I agree with Dave – definitely should include muscle ups. I’ve been working on developing the ability to do a number of them in a row – it’s definitely going to take some work.

    Very cool overview of pull-up variations. You got a pretty cool pull-up station at your place!

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