There I was at the gym when my buddy comes up and asks, “ever done weighted pull ups?” I looked at him and saw some chains in his left hand. My friend Art is no one to mess with. Let’s just say he had practiced bodyweight workouts wearing a pin striped suit in the past…
“No man, I’ve never done them, why?” I replied.
He asked me what I was working on that day and it just so happened to be a day I was working on my back. We are to this day one of the hand full of guys who do unassisted pull ups from a pull up bar at this gym and it is something we are proud of. In fact, I love working on my back days because of the fact that I know I complete some pull ups- one of my favorite exercises.
“Come on let’s do some weighted pull ups with this chain I bought.”
Building A Foundation Before Attempting Weighted Pull Ups
When my buddy had asked me if I wanted to join him and do some pull ups with these chains it was fun but a bit intimidating. I had only attempted pull-ups using my own bodyweight but never tried other variations. Attempting anything different seemed like a challenge but one that was worth taking.
I decided to take on the challenge because I knew that I had done all the right things in my back workouts. I had done pull ups, chin ups, rowing and low rows. I had basically set up the foundation for a strong back. One thing that I had learned was that by training my back I had in essence been building overall upper body strength. My typical back workout had consisted of the following sequence:
- Pull Ups: 4 sets to failure
- Rows: 4 sets of 10- I tried different variations to switch things up like dumbbell rows, cable rows and hammer strength rows
- Pull Downs: 4 sets of 10
- Low Rows: 4 sets of 10
This type of workout for back muscles is solid and targets every area of the back, from the lats, upper back, middle back and lower lats. It is complete and one that is highly athletic, as it uses multi joint movements and stimulates muscle growth. These are the types of exercises you would see a rower, swimmer or gymnast train for.
I would not advocate anyone trying weighted pull ups if they are beginners. This type of exercise is really for a moderate to advanced person. It is necessary to develop strength in the biceps and back in order to handle the demands that are placed by doing this exercise.
How To Build Back Strength Only Using Your Bodyweight
I emphasized in the past how great bodyweight workout routines are for developing a fit body. Assuming you do not have access to rowing machines or a pull down machine you can still build back strength by doing an all pull up workout.
Sample Pull Up Workout
- Wide Grip Pull Ups: 4 sets to failure
- Shoulder Wide Pull Ups: This is the traditional way of doing pull ups. 4 sets to failure
- Chin Ups: 3 to sets to failure (you can learn about the difference between pull ups and chin ups in a previous post about Chin Ups vs Pull Ups)
- Close Grip Pull Ups: 3 sets to failure (really targets the lower lats)
By using the all bodyweight type workout you can still train your back and get it strong for doing weighted variations in no time.
(Here is a picture of my back a couple of years ago. I’m too shy to show my face.)
Weighted Pull Ups- Why You Should Try Them
The first time my buddy and I attempted these it was much different than what I what we had expected. More fibers in our back were being called in to action. This was true “muscle confusion.” Our bodies had never been used to being placed under such demands but we knew that this was getting the job done. The weighted variation was providing the following:
- Shocking the lats and overall back
- Forcing the muscles to contract with more intensity
- Forcing back muscles to grow
- Making us focus on form and how to contract the muscles correctly.
What To Focus On When Doing Weighted Pull Ups
(Example of Weighted Pull Ups)
The important thing to remember is to always focus on proper form. It is easy to swing the body in an upward motion but this can only cause injury. It is best to use a slow controlled motion. A second recommendation is to use your back muscles and lifting yourself. DO NOT USE YOUR ELBOWS OR BICEPS. If you do you will lose the benefit of working on your back. Instead you are just making your biceps the focus on the workout. Don’t worry the side effect of a good pull up is stronger biceps.
It is also important to start your workout with lightweight in order to prep your back for heavier weight later. When we first started we tried the 25 pound plate the first set, 35 pound plate the second set and up to a 45 pound plate. The great thing about using these belts/chains is you can start off with very lightweight and build up from there.
Weighted Pull Up Workout
Here is the workout we used and you can tailor it according to your level.
- Set 1: Bodyweight Pull Ups for 8 reps as a warm up
- Set 2: Weighted Version, 10 reps with a 25 pound plate
- Set 3: 8 reps using a 35 pound plate
- Set 4: 5 reps using a 45 pound plate
- Set 5: 3 reps with 70 pounds
We did not do pull downs after this point. Two more sets of rows and we were done.
This type of workout is one that I would not recommend doing too often due to the heavy weight you will be pulling. Once every two weeks or a month is perfectly fine. Do a typical back workout the other weeks in between. For my back workouts I only work on this muscle group once a week.
Try doing weighted pull ups and I can’t promise you will become the gym STRONG MAN but you will definitely take your back workouts to a new level.