What Are Pull Exercises?

pull exercises

Understanding Pull Exercises

Pull exercises include chin ups, dumbbell curls, and bent over rows and make up one component of strength training. Let’s explore pull exercises, their physical benefits and the long-term value they bring to your exercise routines.

What You'll Learn:

What You'll Learn

What are Pull Exercises?

When you do a pull up, you are literally pulling your body up. When you are climbing stairs, you pull each leg up to place it on the step in front (and you push on that leg to climb onto that step). When cycling you go through pulling and pushing movements as you pedal. Pulling is a complex movement and requires various muscles. Co-ordination of these muscles is essential to pull exercise workout results.

Muscles Employed in a Pull Exercise

The muscles employed for pulling exercises are from the posterior chain. The posterior chain includes muscles running along the back from the neck down to the ankles., The primary muscles in this chain are –

Upper Back:

Lats, Traps, and Rhomboids (muscle connecting the shoulders to the rib cage that is located along the spine)

Lower Back:

Glutes, hamstrings, calves erector spinae (muscles along the spine) and the soleus in the lower body.

The strength of these back muscles is crucial for any and all pulling exercises.

posterior chain muscles

How do the Posterior Chain Muscles Help?

The muscles in the posterior chain form the “frame” for the body. They help you maintain the right posture, help you lift weights, provides stability, and helps you perform sudden movements. Extension of your legs, arms and torso works by utilizing these posterior chain muscles.

Dumbbell Exercises to help Strengthen the Posterior Chain Muscles

Even though the posterior chain muscles are crucial today’s environment and lifestyle are detrimental to maintaining posterior chain muscle strength. Sitting at a desk, for example, weakens the muscles in the lower body, tightening the hip flexors, the glutes and hamstrings. A sudden movement involving any of these results in discomfort and injury of one is not careful. Dedicated workouts can address and alleviate this issue. These workouts can be done with dumbbells, barbells, a sandbag workout or any other equipment

full body or lower body workout helps strengthen the posterior chain muscles. The key muscles to target are the lats, glutes, hamstrings and lower back.

Pull ups is a total body movement that engages all the muscles in the upper body. It also strengthens the lower back to help stabilize the body.

Dead lift engages all the posterior chain muscles from the neck all the way down to the ankles. Maintain a proper form to avoid any injuries.

Squats helps build strength in the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, soleus muscles and helps with ankle mobility as well.

Swings with either sandbags or kettlebells strengthens your core and glutes. This also help open up the hip flexors helping with mobility.

leg workouts

In addition strengthening specific posterior muscles can also be done with dumbbells or other similar weights.

Pull exercises that strengthen the Lats

Bent-over rows – holding a dumbbell in each hand. Bend at a 45 degree angle at the hips, with a slight bend at the knees. Pull the dumbbells up to your lower ribs. Hold for a couple of seconds, and return to the starting position.

Single arm dumbbell row – place your right hand, palms facing down, on a bench. Place your right knee on the bench as well, keeping your thighs perpendicular to the  bench and your back straight. With your left hand pull a dumbbell up as far as possible near your ribs. Hold for a couple of seconds and repeat.

Dumbbell Pull-over – lay face up on a bench, with the legs firmly on the floor. Hold a dumbbell with both hands behind your head. Slowly pull the dumbbell over your head and bring it straight up to your face. Hold for a couple of seconds and return back to starting position. Repeat for 5-10 reps for 3 sets.

Dumbbell Pullovers

Pull Exercises that Strengthen the Traps

Dumbbell shrugs – Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Slowly shrug your shoulder keeping the arms straight. Try to touch your ears with your shoulders. Hold at the highest point for a couple of seconds. Relax your shoulders and return to the starting position.

Dumbbell Farmers Carry – Hold a dumbbell in each hand. With your back and arms straight, walk to a pre-measured distance (50, 100, 200 m) and come back to the starting point. Repeat for 3-4 reps. Maintain a steady pace while walking.

Pull Exercises that Strengthen Legs and Lower Back

Dumbbell Squats – Hold a dumbbell in each hand. Bending at the hips and knees, and with a straight back and arms, lower into a squat, however low you can go. Hold for a second and come back to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 8-10 reps

Stretches to help Strengthen the Posterior Chain Muscles

Stretching also helps strengthen the posterior chain muscles. These can be done with little to no equipment.

Seated figure 4 stretch helps loosen the hip flexors, glutes and hamstrings. Place the ankle of one leg over the knees of the other leg. With a straight back bend forward at the hips and try to come as low as you can. You should feel a stretch in your glutes, lower back and hamstrings. Perform 5-10 repetitions. Hold for 5-10 seconds at the lowest bend.

Standing hamstrings stretches – perfumed standing up, extend one leg and place the heel in in front of you. Keeping the extended leg straight bend at the hips till you feel a stretch in your legs, glutes and lower back. Hold for 5 seconds and come back. Repeat for 5-10 reps with both legs.

Also take a look at these pre-workout stretches that can be done anywhere to help loosen some tight spots.



Strong posterior chain muscles are critical to maintain fitness and carry our daily tasks. Strengthening the chain muscles with pull exercises does not require elaborate prep or workouts. By following the guidance within this post, you’ll soon find you’re able to improve your pulls and achieve greater strength as you tailor your workouts to your body, and your training goals. 

Check my other workout posts for further training guidance!

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