Last updated on October 16th, 2022 at 11:35 am
Ever wondered, “Should You Cross Your Legs When Doing Pull Ups?”
I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s thought about the ideal leg position when performing pull ups.
The standard “go-to” method seems to involve crossing your legs at the ankles with your feet behind you.
However, is this the most effective method?
Let’s find out.
Should You Cross Your Legs When Doing Pull Ups?
The best leg position for pull ups will require you to keep your legs straight, knees locked, and toes pointed. However, this isn’t always possible depending on how tall you are or the height of your pull up bar. If you can’t keep your legs straight, due to height restrictions, then you can bend at the knees and cross your legs behind you. That said, you should be wary of arching your lower back in this position, as it decreases the effectiveness of pull ups. In fact, you would be better off having your legs in front of you, which provides more core activation.
1. The Best Leg Position For Pull Ups
The ideal pull up position will involve having your legs completely straight.
Pull ups are actually a full-body exercise.
Okay, I’ll admit that they are upper-body dominant.
So, you would typically perform pull ups to increase size, strength, and power in your upper back, lats, traps, rhomboids, erector spinae muscles, and biceps.
However, there are many more body parts which come to the fore when performing pull ups.
In fact, there are various muscles you should contract and keep tight with every single rep.
And for some of these muscles I’m guessing that you may never have considered doing this before.
So, the best leg position will see your legs ramrod straight.
Your knees should be locked and your toes pointed towards the ground.
Plus, you should also contract your core, quads, and glutes.
In effect, your entire body is completely straight and various muscles are squeezed tight.
Then as you pull yourself up and lower yourself back down all of these muscles will play some part during the movement.
Therefore, I would say that your legs shouldn’t be crossed when performing pull ups.
I know this may be difficult to accept at first.
I mean, everywhere you look people typically perform pull ups with their legs crossed at the ankle and their feet placed behind them.
This has literally become the “traditional” way to perform pull ups.
However, this is definitely not the ideal way to complete the exercise.
With that being said, I understand that it’s not always possible to maintain completely straight legs during pull ups.
So, what should you do then?
2. Don’t Arch Your Lower Back When Crossing Your Legs
There will be times when you can’t use the “ideal” leg position for pull ups.
Basically, you don’t have enough room to hold your legs straight.
Perhaps the pull up bar is too low, as is the case with most door frame pull up bars.
Then again, you may just be very tall, so your feet are always going to be in contact with the ground.
In truth, it is probably because of these reasons that the cross-legged pull up was born.
Obviously, placing your feet on the ground after every rep will mean that pull ups won’t be as effective.
In effect, you will no longer maintain constant tension throughout your set.
So, you will need to do something with your legs to avoid this happening.
As I say, this is probably why the cross-legged pull up came into existence.
This way you can still perform pull ups, while maintaining constant tension on the working muscles.
However, by having your legs crossed you will alter the movement and shape of pull ups.
This will actually change the way in which the muscles are recruited.
Plus, it can have a detrimental effect on building muscle and strength.
In fact, cross-legged pull ups can actually prevent you from progressing to harder exercises.
One such exercise that comes to mind is muscle-ups.
Your body shape and the angle at which you approach the bar when your legs are crossed will never work for muscle-ups.
Why Cross-Legged Pull Ups Can Be a Bad Thing
However, the most negative aspect of crossing your legs is what happens to your lower back.
Basically, as soon as you cross your legs your pelvis rotates forward.
And this in turn will typically mean that you arch your lower back.
Your upper body almost takes on a banana-shape, which will change the angle at which you approach the bar.
Furthermore, you’ll also end up performing pull ups with a reduced range of motion.
With that being said, if you do have to bend at the knees and cross your legs there is a quick fix to help you avoid arching your lower back.
You should tuck your tailbone in and contract both your core and glutes.
Realistically, your core and glute muscles should always be contracted irrespective of leg position.
What you specifically want to avoid is sticking your butt out, which will automatically cause your lower back to arch.
3. Are Pull Ups a Core Exercise?
Now here’s something you thought you’d never read.
The Journal of Physical Fitness, Medicine and Treatment in Sports conducted a study on pull ups and three similar exercises.
The study which took place in 2018 wanted to compare muscle activation of pull ups, negative pull ups, seated lat pulldowns, and kneeling lat pull downs.
And low-and-behold, the study concluded that it was in fact the core muscles that were most activated and involved during pull ups.
Basically, pull ups are more of a core exercise than they are an upper back, lats, traps, or biceps exercise.
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However, as soon as you cross your legs behind you during pull ups you lose much of the core activation.
Don’t get me wrong, your core will still be stimulated to some degree, but nowhere near as much as the ideal straight-leg protocol.
This is why I believe that if you have to bend at the knees during pull ups you would be better having your legs in front of you.
So, in effect, you could hold the hanging knee raise position.
Then again you could bend at the hips and keep your legs straight, similar to a hollow hold position.
Finally, you could perform an L-sit pull up.
All of these options will work the core muscles even harder, which means that pull ups become even more of a full-body exercise.
Plus, when your legs are in front of you there is far less likelihood of you arching your back.
So, it’s a win-win situation.
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So, I hope you have a better understanding of whether you should cross your legs when doing pull ups.
The ideal pull up will see your legs completely straight, locked at the knees, and your toes pointing towards the ground.
However, due to height restrictions this may not always be possible.
In fact, this is probably why many people choose to cross their legs behind them.
That being said, pull ups activate and involve the core more than any other muscles.
Therefore, you could actually increase core activation by having your feet in front you.
You can bend at the knees similar to the hanging knee raise position.
And if you prefer to keep your legs straight, then you can maintain a hollow hold position or perform an L-sit pull up.
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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.