ELECTROMYOGRAPHIC COMPARISON OF
The pull-up is a closed kinetic chain exercise that is aimed to increase muscular strength and endurance
in the upper extremities and torso. Therefore, this exercise may be beneficial for improving functions of
daily living, aiding in the transfer of power in throwing movements, and preventing injuries of the
shoulder joint complex. There is limited literature comparing the electromyographical (EMG) differences
in agonist activity among the various types of pull-ups.PURPOSE: The purpose of this investigation was
to compare the electromyographical (EMG) activity of the latissimus dorsi (LD), posterior deltoid (PD),
middle trapezius (MT), and biceps brachii (BB) while performing multiple variations of the traditional pull-
up.METHODS: Apparently healthy, resistance-trained men (n = 9, age =25.56 ±7.47)and women (n =
2, age =23 ±2.83) volunteered to participate in this study. All participants performed a traditional pull-up
(PU) and three popular variations as follows: suspension device pull-up (SP), towel pull-up (TP), and
kipping pull-up (KP). Each pull-up was performed for three repetitions with grip width of 1.5 times the
biacromial width for each participant. Normalized (%MVC) EMG values were recorded for each muscle
group during each of the four pull-up variations. RESULTS: Results are provided within Table 1. The KP
provided significantly less values for the LD and BB compared to the remaining exercises. For the MT,
KP and TP demonstrated significantly lower values compared to the SP and PU. Lastly, no differences
existed between any of the exercises for the PD.CONCLUSIONS: The KP provided significantly lower
muscular activation in the LD, BB, and MT compared to other pull-up variations. These results indicate
that the usage of the lower body and hips during the KP may put a decreased emphasis on upper body
musculature to complete the movement; thereby eliciting significantly less %MVC values. PRACTICAL
APPLICATIONS: Practitioners should take note that exercises designed to increase strength and
endurance in the shoulder complex are essential to maintain upper body strength balances. While, the
KP produced lower muscular activation values than the other PU variations, it may provide a useful
means to increase the number of repetitions performed through the usage of lower body power.
However, if a greater pull-up challenge is warranted then individuals should choose variations of the pull-
up which may provide a greater muscular demand (i.e., PU, SP, or TP).
Ronald L. Snarr, Ashleigh V. Hallmark, Jason C. Casey, Brett S. Nickerson,and Michael R. Esco
Department of Kinesiology, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
•Recreationally trained men (n=9, mean age =25.56 ±7.47, height = 175.85 ±8.04 cm,
weight = 80.42 ±10.40 kg) and women (n=2, mean age = 23 ±22.83, height = 163.83 ±1.8
cm, weight = 61.35 ±6.44 kg) volunteered to participate in this study.
•Subjects performed three repetitions of each variation (pictured below) where the order of
the exercises was randomized.
•Normalized (%MVC) EMG values were recorded and analyzed for each muscle group
tested during all five movements.
1. Lehman, GJ, Buchan, DD, Lundy, A, Myers, N, and Nalborczyk, A. Variations in muscle activation levels during
traditional latissimus dorsi weight training exercises: an experimental study. Dyn Med 3:4, 2004.
2. Lusk, SJ, Hale, BD, and Russell, DM. Grip width and forearm orientation effects on muscle activity during the
lat pull-down. J Strength Cond Res 24:1895-1900, 2010.
3. Signorile, JF, Zink, AJ, and Szwed, SP. A comparative electromyographical investigation of muscle utilization
patterns using various hand positions during the lat pull-down.J Strength Cond Res 16(4):539-546,2002.
•Latissimus Dorsi (LD): Kipping Pull-up elicited significantly lower muscular activation
compared to all other variations.
•Biceps Brachii (BB): Kipping Pull-up provided the significantly lowest values, while no
other differences existed between PU, SP, or TP.
•Middle Trapezius (MT): Kipping and Towel pull-up demonstrated significantly lower
values compared to the Suspension and regular Pull-up
•Posterior Deltoid (PD): No differences exist between any of the exercises
Maximal Voluntary Contraction (%MVC)
83.55 ± 23.14
43.66 ± 15.16
57.67 ± 14.14
112.25 ± 80.47
88.21 ± 18.33
44.85 ± 16.93
55.59 ± 14.87
108.32 ± 70.91
73.27 ± 24.99*
35.31 ± 12.48†
44.69 ± 15.4†
100. 89 ± 77.47
87.48 ± 21.37
39.48 ± 17.29
48.63 ± 14.13†
103.74 ± 71.04
(PU) Kipping Pull-up
Table 1. Comparison of the normalized (%MVC) EMG of the selected musculature
between the different exercises.
PU = Traditional pull-up, SP = Suspension device pull-up, KP = Kipping pull-up, TP = Towel pull-
up, LD = Latissimus Dorsi, BB = Biceps Brachii, MT = Mid-Trapezius, PD = Posterior Deltoid
*Significantly lower than PU, SPU, and TP (p < 0.05)
†Significantly lower than PU, and SPU (p < 0.05)
Intro & Purpose
•Although most sports or activities of daily movement do not require an overhead pulling movement,
strengthening of the LD and glenohumeral joint supporting musculature may enhance an individuals’
ability to transfer power between the upper and lower extremities during movements, such as
swinging, throwing, and even sprinting.
•Exercises designed to increase the strength and stability of the shoulder girdle musculature are
warranted due to the freely movable glenohumeral joint.
•Most research pertaining to pulling movements of the upper torso entail either hand-grip or grip-
width variations of the PU or lat pull-down (1-3) .
•The purpose of this investigation was to compare the EMG activity of the LD.BB, MT, and PD
during commonly performed pull-up variations.
•These results indicate that the usage of the lower body and hips during the KP may put a
decreased emphasis on upper body musculature to complete the movement; thereby eliciting
significantly less %MVC values.
•The only difference to exist between the remaining variations (i.e., PU, SP, and TP) was a
significantly lower MT activation during the TP.
•No additional benefits or muscular activation seem present from performing other PU variations
(i.e., SP or TP); however, they still may be suitable alternatives for the PU.
•While the KP produced significantly lower muscular activation values than the other PU
variations, it may provide a useful means to increase the number of repetitions performed through
the usage of lower body power.
•However, if a greater pull-up challenge is warranted then individuals should choose variations of
the pull-up which may provide a greater muscular demand (i.e., PU, SP, or TP).