6 Undeniable Benefits of Weighted Pull ups
Adding weight to pull ups combines the best upper body calisthenics exercise with the scalable benefits of weight lifting. Weighted Pull ups are a particularly effective way to developing strength and muscle mass because you can increase the intensity of each rep to maintain a progressive overload.
They are also the best exercise for developing grip strength which in turn improves other lifts in the gym such as dead lifts as well as being a key attribute for calisthenics, climbing, rowing and many others. This article discusses all the key benefits of weighted pull ups and why using a dipping belt is the best way to add weight.
The key benefits of weighted pull ups:
Weighted pull ups increase muscle mass in the upper body
One of the best exercises for developing lats, biceps and 6 pack abs
Develops a more proportional physique then isolation exercises
Weighted pull ups are the best exercise for developing a stronger grip
You progressively increase the resistance for greater strength gains
Very cost effective, all you need is a bar, dipping belt and weight plates
Weighted Pull ups for Muscle Mass
One of the key benefits of adding weight to your pull ups is that you can continue gaining muscle mass. Pull ups are the ultimate upper body pulling movement that targets muscle groups in the back, core, biceps and shoulders.
Compound exercises such as pull ups, that recruit muscle groups to contribute to the exercise are always better for building muscle the isolation exercises.
This is not only because the more muscles worked, the more muscle fibres are damaged, so they can be repaired and become bigger and stronger, but also, working so many muscles together simulates the body to produce more testosterone and growth hormone to repair and recover from you workouts
So combine the best compound calisthenics exercise with the scalable advantages of weight lifting and you the ultimate recipe for building muscle in your upper body. (photo of pull ups and weight plates or barbell)
If you can do 6-12 pull ups for 3 sets then your body weight is still providing enough resistance for you to build muscle.
However if you can comfortable exceed 12 pull ups with room to spare, then it is time to start training weighted pull ups if you want to continue to add muscles mass.
8-12 reps is the optimal rep range for building muscle. If you are comfortably doing more then 12 pull ups, then you will hit a plateau in terms of adding muscle mass. The emphasis of your training will have shifted from muscle building to developing endurance strength.
To get you back down into the optimal rep range for muscle mass, you need to add enough weight to the exercise so that you are reaching failure by 8-12 reps.
Always start with a lower weight to begin with and the build up. Your body needs to take time to adjust to carrying additional external weight.
You should always increase the weight in increments of around 5 KG (11 lbs) till you find the ideal weight so that you avoid over exerting or injuring yourself.
The idea is to add weight to increase the intensity of each rep to stimulate an adaptive response from the body.
If you are comfortable doing 15+ pull ups every workout then the body has no reason to grow more muscle. You need to give the muscle enough tension by adding more weight, so it has a reason to increase your strength and muscle to cope with the more difficult workload.
If you are in the correct rep range, the result of the adaptive response is that you will build more muscle as well as gain strength.
By adding weight to your pull ups you can maintain a progressive overload, where you are consistently overloading the muscle with enough tension to progressively build muscle.
If you can do 15 reps of body weight pull ups, but then add +10 KG (22 lbs) and now can only do 8 per set then this is in the perfect range for building muscle.
Everyone’s capacity for recovery is different and it depends on many different factors (sleep, good nutrition, hormone levels etc.) but weighted pull ups are very demanding so I personally only train them once per week, to give myself enough time for the muscle to repair itself and avoid over training which will be counter productive to your gains.
Weighted pull ups for 6 pack abs
Pull ups activate muscles in the back, arms, core, chest and shoulders to contribute to the exercise, but after every workout with weighted pull ups I always feel the delay onset muscle soreness (doms) most in my biceps, lats and abs.
The primary movers of pull ups are the biceps and lats but the tension on your abs when you add weight with a dipping belt increases significantly. The core has to work overtime, to not only stabilise your body but to stabilise the weight plates suspended from the dipping belt that’s around your hips.
If you are trying to build muscle and exercising in the 8-12 rep range, then that’s potentially 12 times your core has to keep the weight stable whilst you execute a dynamic upper body movement. I cannot emphasise enough how much the core has to work when performing weight pull ups.
Not only that but when you pull up to the top of the bar your body naturally wants to adopt a more hollow body position to help get your chin up and over the bar. Having a weight on suspended from your hips resists this hollow body position and negates any leg drive which keeps the tension on your abs and your reps more honest.
Because of this, weight pull ups are the exercise I credit most for developing six pack abs.
Adds Muscle Mass to your Lats and Biceps
Whether or not your pull ups put the focus on your biceps or lats (latissimus dorsi) is determined by how you grip the bar.
If you grip the bar with a underhand (chin up) grip with your hands close together (less then shoulder width apart) then the tension will be on your biceps as the primary mover.
If you adopt an overhand (pull up) grip with you hands further apart (wider then your shoulders) then you will feel the exercise more in your lats.
With weighted pull ups you are able to scale up this calisthenics movement by adding more resistance to the exercise as you get bigger and stronger.
The advantage of weighted pull ups for biceps is that they are a compound exercise which is more effective then bicep isolation exercises such as bicep curls for stimulating muscle growth.
Pull ups work multiple muscle groups together so that your body triggers the release of more hormones to help with recovery and repair so that you will add mass to your biceps.
With compound movements, there are more muscles contributing to the exercise you can handle larger amounts of weight then isolating exercises so that your biceps are under greater tension.
This makes weighted pull ups one of the most effective bicep exercises when performed in the right way. Check out: How to Optimise your Pull ups for Bigger Biceps for the perfect recipe to increase bicep size with pull ups.
Add mass to your Lats:
The same principle can be applied to grow your lats for a broader V-shaped muscular back. The wide the grip on the bar means that your arms will be out to the side of your body (instead of in front as with a chin up). The wide grip puts your lats at a mechanical advantage to be the primary mover for the exercise.
Wide grip weighted pull ups are a superior exercise for developing bigger lats and a stronger back then the lat pull down machine.
Both have the option to scale up in weight which is useful for maintaining that all important progressive overload. But the lat pull down machine takes away the element of stability from the exercise, as you are sat down, rather then carrying and coordinating your body weight, so less muscle is recruited per rep.
Weighted pull ups promotes a more proportional development of your physique, compared with isolation exercises, because of there is a greater range of muscle groups that have to contribute to the exercise. Therefore you can avoid muscle and strength imbalances that can occur with isolation and machine exercises.
Stronger Grip (Improve Your Dead lifts)
Weighted pull ups are one of the best exercises for developing a stronger grip. Pull ups really emphasise forearm strength, because the forearms are not only responsible for the strength of holding onto the bar and supporting your entire body weight + any additional weight, but also the forearms have to contribute to the pulling motion of the exercise too.
Bent arm exercises (such as pull ups, rows and bicep curls) always recruit the forearms more in an exercise (because of their involvement in pulling) then straight arm exercises such as dead lifts where the forearm plays more of an isometric role.
So when dead lifting if your forearms always burn out first and your grip goes then you should incorporate some weight pull ups into your regime to equalise the strength imbalance between your forearms and the primary movers of the dead lift (back, legs, core, glutes etc).
There are also a wide array of sports where grip strength is crucial to success. Rock climbing and rowing in particular are two sports that weighted pull ups can benefit very specifically.
If you include weighted pull ups into your training then level of tension on the forearm muscles used for grip, can be far greater then the level of grip strength required for performing the sport.
If you can adapt to the higher tension that weighted pull ups have to offer then you will develop a level of grip strength that is capable of handling anything your chosen sport has to offer.
If you want to increase grip strength then think of how you would increase strength in any other part of the body; by keeping the weight high and the reps low:
The ideal rep range for strength training is 3-6 reps for 3-5 sets. You want those reps to be high in intensity, so find a weight you can add to your pull ups that will lower the number of reps you can do and keep within the ideal rep range.
Once you have adapted to being able to handle a particular level of resistance then you need to to keep upping the weight to maintain a progressive overload to consistently build strength.
All variations of pull ups and chin ups will develop grip strength. But if you really want to concentrate the effort on your forearms and grip strength, you need to focus on a specific grip. An overhand, pronated (pull up) grip with your hands placed close together really hits the forearms more then any other variation of pull up.
A closer grip (less then shoulder width apart) means that your arms will be out in front of your body rather then out to the side with a wider grip pull up. This puts the forearms and biceps at a mechanical advantage to do most of the lifting and therefore handle more tension.
Wide grip pull ups puts the majority of the tension on your lats therefore its likely the lats burn out before you have a chance to test your grip.
I personally train all variations of pull ups, but close grip weighted pull ups took my grip strength to another level. My dead lift grip is now rock solid and weighted pull ups helped me break through plateaus not only for a one rep maximum lift but also for the number of reps with a given weight. I frequently use rowing machines for cardio and whilst I still feel it in my forearms, my grip is never the limiting factor, even at high endurance.
Switch up your grip when doing weighted pull ups to reap the benefits of the different variations, and don’t ever let grip be the limiting factor with any exercise or in your chosen sport by including close grip weighted pull ups in your training.
Add Weight to Pull ups for Greater Strength
One of the primary benefits of weighted pull ups is that it allows you to develop more overall pulling strength compared to exercising with body weight reps.
Adding weight to pull ups combines the strength building potential of scalable weight training with the benefits of a calisthenics compound exercise that recruits a large number of muscle groups to work together.
As with building muscle, the benefit of adding weight to pull ups is that you can maintain a progressive overload, where your body has to adapt to the increase in tension by progressively getting stronger.
In order to gain strength, your body needs a sufficiently intense level of exercise to stimulate an adaptive response from the body. If the level of resistance is too low, your level of strength will stay on the same level and you won’t progress hence why progressively adding more weight is so important.
The most effective rep range for building strength is between 1-6 reps for 3-5 sets. If you are doing more reps then this the focus of your training will have shifted away from maximal strength towards increasing muscle size (hypertrophy). Developing higher maximal strength requires a lower rep range then a muscle building workout.
You will still of course build muscle by training weighted pull ups in a lower rep range, but the focus of the exercises will be geared more towards increasing strength.
You need to find a level of resistance where you cannot complete more then 6 reps in a set.
With all heavy lifting, there is a chance of injury if you do not prepare yourself properly. So if you haven’t attempted weighted pull ups within a strength building context then start slow and build your way up.
I always recommend you only add 5 KG (11 lbs) on your first weighted pull up workout so that your body becomes accustomed to the extra resistance.
If you can do more then 6 reps with 5 KG (11 lbs) then you need to up the ante but only 5 KG (approx 11 lbs) at a time to proactively avoid potential injury. You need to experiment and find a weight that keeps you in that sweet spot of just 1-6 reps per set.
As you body adjusts to handling a particular weight and you can hot more then 6 reps its time to increase the resistance again so that you remain in state of progressively overloading the muscles with tension and you continue to build strength.
I personally follow this exact recipe of progressive overload for strength gain with weighted pull ups by starting small and working my way up to achieve a one rep max of my body weight (92 KG) and +70 Kilos of weight plates using a dipping belt, as well as +50 KG for 5 reps which you can check out on my Instagram.
The world record, according to Guinness for heaviest weighted pull ups is 104.55 KG (230 lbs) by David Marchante which is an exceptional feat of strength and gives you and idea of the scope of strength development you can achieve with weighted pull ups!
Why you Should use a Dipping Belt and not a Weight Vest
For weighted pull ups (and dips) I always favour the dipping belt over the weight vest. The advantages of the belt are:
It is far easier to add weight to a dipping belt. It’s just a case of looping the chain through some weight plates.
There is an unlimited capacity with the dipping belt whereas the vest is usually limited to around 30 KG (66 lbs)
The dipping belt sits comfortably around the hips and the weight is not on the body like it is with the vest, which can get uncomfortable during upper body exercises like pull ups and dips
Belts are far easier to put on and take off between sets whereas the vest has a dead weight feel like a sand bag that makes it more inconvenient
Dipping belts are typically less expensive then weight vests
The two most important aspects of choosing the right dipping belt are how comfortable and safe it is.
This is my favourite dipping belt on the market (link to amazon) because the carabina is the most robust I have ever used, which is important when you are using heavy weights (cheap belts with weaker carabinas can break, which risks a weight plate landing on your foot). It also distributes the weight more comfortably around the hips, without digging in as some of the smaller belts can.
The weight vest is good for exercises like box jumps, push ups and resistance cardio and can be used for dips and pull ups but the dipping belt is a more specialised tool for dips and pull ups and is overall a far better experience then the vest. For weight pull ups it is undeniably best way of adding weight.
Weighted pull ups along with weighted dips are the two most comprehensive upper body exercises for building strength and muscle.
Calisthenics exercises typically develop more body control, coordination and functional strength so weighted pull ups offer a perfect way to scale up these benefits whilst developing more power and muscle.
Not only that but grip strength is often the limiting factor for many people in both lifting and in sports.
Weighted pull ups develops forearm strength better then any other exercise because your grip is being tested (by holding up your body weight + the weight on your dipping belt) isometrically at the dead hang of a pull up, and whilst it contributes to the pulling motion of the exercise.
Due to the fact you are testing your grip whilst in motion, the grip strength acquired will have a superior athletic cross-over then conventional grip training exercises.
Switch up your weighted pull ups with wide and narrow grips to hit more muscle groups for the ultimate compound pulling exercise.