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Wide Grip Pull Ups – How Wide Should You Go?

Dear Dr. Bell, With Wide Grip Pull Ups, how wide should I go? Can you go too wide?

The answer depends on how much stress your shoulder capsules can handle. For many shoulder capsules, going beyond the “Y” increases the stress on the shoulder capsules to the point that high, repetitive loads may cause damage.

Which leads to my question: “Is there any reason to go beyond the “Y” position?” The answer would be NO!

Consider the risk of injury increases dramatically past the “Y” and make sure you understand that the classic “Y” position is with the arms angled lateral 30-45 degrees from vertical, and there has been no evidence that the effectiveness increases beyond the “Y” …why would you do it?

Therefore, the short answer to your question is arms angled laterally 30-45 degrees and dependent on comfort.

I am going to assume that you asked this question in your quest to find the “Best Back Exercises.” That is a different question and a far more complicated answer.

Since the 1990’s, Exercise Scientists have been using Electromyography (EMG) to measure the level of excitation (electrical signals) of a muscle group.

One notable finding that pertains specifically to your question, was that muscle activation in the Pull-Up increased by 11% when you lean your body back 45 degrees from vertical. This means instead of keeping your body in a straight hang under the bar, you angle back at 45 degrees or bend your body into a “C” and pull your chest to the bar. The same technique increased activation in the Lat Pull Down: where you would angle your body back 45 degrees and pull the bar down to your sternum.

Anticipating your next question: What are the “Best Exercises for the Lats (Latissimus Dorsi)?”

Every EMG Study I see has slightly different answers to that question. One highly respected study: Always, 1997 reported the following:

Exercise              EMG Max Motor Unit Activation

Bent Over Barbell Row: 93%

One-Arm Dumbbell: 91%

T-Bar Row: 89%

Lat Pull Down to Front: 86%

Seated Pulley Row: 83%

Chin-Up: 79%

Data from Boeckh-Behrens and Buskies; 2000 tried different techniques and found increased activation:

Exercise                                                                       EMG Max Motor Unit Activation

Lat Pull Down to Sternum-Narrow Underhand Grip, Angled Back to 45 degrees = 101%

Lat Pull Down to Neck-Shoulder-Wide Overhand Grip, Upright = 99%

Dumbbell Row, Bend Over, Underhand Grip, Arms close to torso, palm to the Front = 98%

There is a rule in Biomechanics that you cannot isolate individual muscle fibers from a single muscle group. So according to this rule, you cannot isolate upper or lower abs; or: upper, middle, or lower chest. While I will agree, you cannot “Isolate,” I will disagree that you cannot place additional stress on a part of a muscle.

For example, I am sure there is more than one experienced bodybuilder that read: you cannot isolate upper, middle and lower chest and became just a little confused. You were confused for the simple reason that anyone who has been body building for over a year knows that Incline Chest Presses develop the upper chest; Flat Chest Presses develop the middle chest; and Decline Chest Presses develop the lower chest! None of us needs a PhD in Exercise Science to show us evidence that are eyes are wrong, because our bodies have proved to us that it does indeed work and that the Biomechanical rule is not accurate.

Therefore, I highly recommend you continue your own Life Long Experiment with your body, try a variety of exercises and find out which exercise, technique, and program works best for you and for your Personal Training Clients.

I highly recommend the IFPA Strength Training Specialist Certification Course for anyone wanting to learn a safe and effective way to become a Master of Strength Training exercises. Not only will this course help you, but it will be very, very valuable to all your Personal Training clients. The best personal trainers dedicate themselves to becoming life-long learners.

Train Safe – Train Smart

Best Regards,

Dr. Jim Bell, CEO, IFPA