Who’s asked, “How Far Apart Should Your Hands Be For Pull Ups?”
The pull up has to be up there for being one of the greatest exercises ever.
I mean, it offers just about everything you can think of.
You can build muscle, strength, mobility, flexibility, and there’s even a hint of conditioning and core work involved too.
However, it’s often difficult to gauge exactly where you should place your hands during pull ups.
So, allow me to reveal the “perfect” hand width for pull ups.
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How Far Apart Should Your Hands Be For Pull Ups?
Your hands should be approximately 1-2 inches wider than shoulder-width when performing standard pull ups. Your hand position is almost identical to that of the overhead press. There is no issue with altering the width or your hands, or indeed your grip, on the bar if you wish to work different muscles, or vary the intensity of your workout.
1. The Perfect Hand-Width For Pull Ups
If we’re talking about standard pull ups then you should place your hands slightly outside shoulder-width.
You should have your hands approximately an inch or two wider than your shoulders.
And if you want to get really specific, it’s your thumbs that should be this inch or two wider than your shoulders.
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Realistically your hands should be pretty much in the same position as they would be if you were performing an overhead press with a barbell.
There are actually many more muscles that you’d probably think that are activated during pull ups.
However, the main muscles worked are the lats, and also the biceps to a lesser degree.
As I say, there will be various other muscles worked, but your aim with pull ups should always be to work the lats.
So, by having your hands just slightly wider than your shoulders you can ensure that you work the lats (and the biceps) appropriately.
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With that being said, this is simply the hand position you would use for a conventional pull up, but there is nothing wrong with varying hand width to work other muscles harder.
2. What About a Wider Grip For Pull Ups?
You’ll often see people performing pull ups with a much wider grip.
The reason they’ll usually give for this is that the wider the grip, the better they can work the lats.
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However, I don’t actually agree with this.
Now, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with performing wide-grip pull ups.
If that’s what you want to do then please go ahead.
But, I’m really not a fan.
Okay, yes I’ll agree that the wider your grip, the wider the stretch there will be in your lats.
But, the wider your grip is during pull ups, the shorter the range of motion.
So, even though a wide-grip pull up may feel harder, you’re actually doing less work.
Therefore, using a standard grip is more likely to take your muscles through the full range of motion.
And it is this that will increase both the strength and the size of your back (I’m guessing this is the main reason that you perform pull ups).
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Furthermore, the wider your grip, the more stress you place on the shoulder joints.
And a wider grip may also see your elbows more likely to flare out to the side.
So, you could say that wide-grip pull ups increase the risk of injury.
Granted, any number of technique imperfections can cause an injury, but I would rather not place additional stress on the shoulders.
The pull up bar I have at home actually has extremely wide hand grips.
If I were to place my hands in the intended place my arms would approximately be at a 45 degree upward angle.
Okay, I’m not the tallest or widest person in the world, but I still think the width of the hand grips is too much for the vast majority of people.
Luckily, there is additional padding on the bar, so I can have my hands the “perfect” width apart.
Once again, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be doing wide-grip pull ups, but just be wary of the factors I’ve just mentioned.
Are Wide or Narrow Pull Ups Better For Building a Wider Back?
3. What About a Narrower Grip For Pull Ups?
In my mind, narrow-grip pull ups are a far better exercise than their wide-grip counterparts.
And funnily enough, you’ll hardly ever see anyone performing them.
You’ll typically hear that the closer your grip, the more your biceps are brought into play.
I will agree with this, but I would still place the narrow-grip as a better lat exercise than the wide-grip.
I’m sure many people will wholeheartedly disagree with me here, but I point you back to the difference in range of motion between the two movements.
Narrow-grip pull ups will also activate the various muscles in the shoulders, traps, rhomboids, and core that you would expect to be worked.
Plus, they bring the biceps and forearms more into play.
However, any variation of pull up, whether conventional, wide-grip, or narrow-grip will always primarily focus on working the lats.
As I say, I much prefer the narrow-grip to the wide-grip.
It takes you through the full range of motion, it works a wider variety of muscles much harder, and there is far less stress placed on the shoulders.
The last thing you want when performing pull ups is to worry about tweaking something in your shoulders.
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Basically, the narrow-grip pull up works exactly the same major muscle groups as wide-grip, and there’s less chance of injury.
4. The Most Important Tip You’ll Ever Read About Pull Ups
Now that we have sorted out how far your hands should be apart for pull ups, it’s time to provide you with an extremely important tip.
In fact, I will go as far to say that you probably won’t ever get a better tip for pull ups than this.
I want you to forget the name of the exercise for a moment.
When performing the movement, don’t try to pull yourself up, but rather focus on pulling your elbows towards the ground.
If you do this you can guarantee much better technique when performing pull ups.
And better technique will mean that you’re hitting the target muscles in the way that they should be.
So, the upshot being that you are much more likely to get bigger, stronger, and ripped.
And once again, I’m guessing that’s what we all want from pull ups.
I’ve even heard of people who imagine that they are trying to bend the bar downwards with their hands when performing pull ups.
And I completely understand this too.
Basically, the more you focus on actually “pulling yourself up”, the more likely you are to use your arms rather than your lats.
So, really try to concentrate on pulling your elbows towards the ground the next time you’re doing pull ups.
I will also say that this is the perfect cue for any rowing exercise you perform for the back.
Let’s take the bent over row as an example.
So, next time you row, rather than trying to pull the bar towards you, aim to lead with your elbows.
The way I like to imagine it is that there is someone standing behind me and I want to elbow them out of the way.
If you concentrate on bringing your elbows back and I can guarantee that the strength and muscular development you’ll get from the bent over row will be phenomenal.
The Official Pull Up Checklist
So, hopefully you have a better idea of how far apart your hands should be for pull ups.
When it comes to the traditional pull up you should aim to have your hands 1-2 inches wider than your shoulders.
There are of course various hand placements you can use for pull ups.
However, from a personal perspective I much prefer narrow-grip pull ups to wide-grip.
You’ll work the exact same muscles, plus the biceps get worked to a greater degree, and there’s less chance of injury.
However, whether you still perform wide-grip pull ups is your own choice.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.