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Conquering Vertical Pull Exercises for Next Level Gains

pull up is a vertical pull exercise


If you want to strengthen your back and have that chiseled posterior look, vertical pull exercises may be for you. They are worth adding to your workout routine for many reasons which we will explore shortly. 

This functional exercise is exactly what it sounds like, a vertical pull in which a pretty extensive list of muscles (your lats and traps for example) will show what they’re made of! By the end of this page, you’ll see why they’re a good way to spice up your training routine (if you haven’t done so already). 

What Are Vertical Pull Exercises?

Vertical pull exercises can come in many variations but if you want a bigger back, these should be your first stop. 

Simply put, vertical pull exercises are when you move an object (or weight) into your body typically from an overhead position. Either way, the movement is… you guessed it, a vertical line

In doing this pulling motion, you’ll proceed to work the following muscles:

Lats are worked out during vertical pull exercises
  • Latissimus Dorsi: Also known as your lats, this is your primary back muscle that practically spans your entire upper back. This muscle works in both vertical and horizontal pulling exercises.
  • Trapezius: Traps are in your middle upper back area - seemingly shaped like a trapezoid, hence the name. You’ll see your traps from the top of your shoulders along with your neck/upper back area. 
  • Other worked muscles include:
    • Rhomboids
    • Rear deltoids
    • Biceps
    • Erector spinae

Now let’s get into the exercises themselves…

Four Best Vertical Pull Exercises

  • Pull-ups: This can be a tough one to master, but the challenge is what makes it worth it as you feel your lats and biceps (and possibly your abs and glutes) as if they’re on fire. Just using your body weight can be a struggle… try a machine-assisted pull-up machine if you’re a beginner. 
    • Grip the bar using an underhand grip slightly closer than shoulder-width 
    • Hang down with your feet off the ground, arms fully extended 
    • Pull yourself up, retract your shoulder blades, and pull your chest towards the bar.
    • Keep your elbows close to your body as if pulling your elbows towards your hip.
    • Engage your core and pull yourself up with control
    • Lower back down with control
    • Repeat as desired

  • Lat Pulldown: The lat pulldown is a great exercise no matter what fitness level you are. Compared to a pull-up, this requires a more focused movement from your upper back and lats. Since your lower body is anchored in place and you can adjust the weight this can be an awesome starter exercise. 
    • Grip the bar with an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder-width apart
    • Engage your lats by pulling your shoulder blades down and back
    • Pull the bar down towards your chest with control - try focusing on your lats rather than your arms
    • Pull until the bar reaches below chin level and your elbows are fully bent
    • Return to starting position with control.
    • Repeat for desired reps

  • Single Arm Cable Pull Down: This is basically like a one-sided lat pulldown since you only use one arm at a time. This can also be done at home with a resistance band. 

  • Chin ups: I used to not know the difference in muscles worked between the pull-up and chin up. Chin up with your palms facing you - and this will have you working more posterior deltoids and biceps. 
    • Grip the bar with an underhand grip slightly closer than shoulder-width
    • Hang down with your feet off the ground, arms fully extended 
    • Pull yourself up by bending your elbows and keeping them close to your sides
    • Pull upward until your chin reaches past the bar, bringing your chest toward it
    • Pause at the top and lower back down with control
    • Repeat as desired

    A Vertical Pull Exercise at Home: With Dumbbells

    If you have dumbbells at home, you can do an upright row. This works out your deltoids and upper traps because of your elbow position.

    • Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging down and palms facing you
    • Lift the dumbbells in front of your torso
    • Keep the dumbbells close to your body as you lift until your elbows are at shoulder height.
    • Lower back down with control.

    Benefits of Vertical Pull Exercises

    There are many benefits of vertical pull exercises. Some of these include:

    • Builds arms and back muscles 
      • Awesome for gains and improving upper-body strength
    • It can help improve posture
    • Reduces risk of back and shoulder injury

    Vertical Pull Exercises FAQ

    Is lat pullover a vertical pull?

    Yes. Since this exercise focuses on your back and posterior deltoids you can say it’s quite the literal definition of a vertical pull. The exercise itself reflects the downward movement from overhead towards your chest AKA vertical movement. 

    What are vertical or horizontal pulls?

    Vertical pull is when you pull the resistance vertically toward your body targeting your back or upper posterior chain.

    A horizontal pull is when you pull a weight horizontally towards your body primarily targeting the upper back as well. Some examples include seated rows and face pulls. 

    Are curls a vertical pull?

    Yes - as you flex your elbow and move an object up and down vertically, technically these are considered vertical pull exercises. 

    This is debatable, however - because unlike a lat pulldown or pull-up, only the elbows are used and not the shoulders.

    How to do vertical pull with dumbbells?
    A dumbbell upright row is a good example. Check out the above section on how to do it!

    Vertical Pull Exercises: Key Takeaways

    Since noting the multiple benefits of vertical pull exercises, you won’t want to sleep on adding this to your upper body or back fitness regimen. There are many variations of the listed exercises, so you can start trying them out no matter what level you are! 

    Whether you’re trying to build a chiseled back or just trying to improve your upper-body strength, vertical pull exercises can at the very least help improve your posture. We have noted on many of our blogs that being mindful of your posture and balanced muscle strength can prevent injury. 

    Embrace the challenge, diversify your workouts, and get out there and do some pull-ups! 



    Now that you've read about vertical pull exercises, check out our page on neutral grip pull ups!

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