Assisted Pull-Up

Pull-ups are an advanced upper-body movement that requires a large amount of strength to perform correctly. They remain a solid foundational move in any bodyweight training routine and offer a host of useful benefits. 

As a beginner lifter, the pull-up can be hard to master. Assisted pull-ups provide a great stepping-stop to practice the correct form. They also develop upper-body strength using the same muscle groups. Let’s take a look at them in more detail.

How To Do

  1. Set up next to an assisted pull-up machine. Ensure the assistance platform is firmly in place with the correct weight selected. 
  2. Step onto the platform whilst simultaneously grasping the pull-up handles. Use an overhead grip.
  3. Ensure your head is between your arms with your arms fully extended.
  4. Engage your core and pull your shoulder blades down by performing scapula retraction.
  5. Start to bring your chin towards the bar by flexing your elbows. Try to drive your elbows through the floor as you pull. 
  6. Pause briefly at the top position. Lower down to the starting position under control whilst taking a deep breath out. 
  7. Repeat for the desired sets and reps. 

Tips From Expert

  • Before stepping onto the platform, ensure both the safety pin and weight stack pin are firmly secured. 
  • Start with a weight that’s around 10 pounds below your body weight. This gives you a chance to practice the technique and find the correct weight. 
  • Engage the core before pulling up. Ensure you keep a tight body position, using a straight line as you pull.
  • Initiate the pull with your lat muscles and not your arms. Examine the primary and secondary movers below so you know what muscles are involved. 
  • Perform each repetition with a full range of motion. If you can’t do this, lower the weight.

Optimal Sets and Reps

Use the table programming table below when adding the assisted pull-up into your workout. The sets and reps should be viewed as targets to hit each session.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 5 3–5
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–10
Endurance Training 3–4 12+
Power Training 3–5 1–3 (Explosive)

How to Put in Your Workout Split

Like the traditional pull-up, the assisted pull-up is classed as a functional, compound movement pattern. This means that it works several muscle groups and helps to develop useful movements that translate well to other aspects.

The primary movers worked are your latissimus dorsi muscles. Secondary movers include your biceps brachii, traps, posterior deltoids, and forearm muscles. Because of this, they can be programmed in several ways.

As a beginner lifter, you’ll be looking to use the assisted pull-up to work on strength and technique. In this case, program them at the start of your training session when you have the most energy. 

As an advanced lifter looking to add variety or work on certain elements, you can probably program them more freely.

As a functional fitness athlete, assisted pull-ups will be programmed somewhere toward the front of your routine. As you’ll be working on multiple functional movement patterns, the exercise order doesn’t matter as much. 

Bodybuilders can program assisted pull-ups as part of their upper or back-focused sessions. They may be included before a main movement as a pre-exhaust method. Other ways include as a drop set or stand-alone exercise. 

Primary Muscle Groups

Latissimus Dorsi

Large, triangular shaped muscles located just below your shoulder blades. They extend along your spine down to your pelvis.

Your latissimus dorsi muscles can be divided into three sections, These are your upper, middle, and lower portions. The main function of your lat muscles is to move your arms closer to the midline of your body.

During the assisted pull-up, your lats bring your arms closer to your body as you pull towards the bar. As you pull with your lats, imagine dragging your elbows down to the floor.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Upper Trapezius

Triangular shaped muscles located between your neck and shoulder blades.

Middle Trapezius

Muscles located in the middle of your back between your upper and lower traps.

Biceps Long Head

Most outside part of your bicep.The front of your upper arm.

Biceps Short Head

Most inside portion of the biceps. Located at the front of your upper arm closest to your chest.

Brachialis

Muscle which starts at the middle of your upper arm and connects just below the elbow.

Wrist Flexors

Muscles that span the inside of your lower arm, between your elbow and wrist palm side up.

Wrist Extensors

Muscles that make up the back portion of your lower arm, between your elbow and wrist.

Brachioradialis

Muscle located between outside portion of your forearm from the elbow to the wrist.

Biceps Brachii

Your biceps brachii are made up of two primary muscle groups. These are your biceps long head and your biceps short head. Your long head is on the outside of your arm and your short head is on the inside. While some people class the brachialis as a bicep muscle, we’ve included it in another section due to its action.

When performing the assisted pull-up, your biceps work with your lats to pull your chin above the bar. They are primarily responsible for elbow flexion which is the main movement pattern during the lifting phase.

Upper And Middle Trapezius

Your trapezius muscles are made up of three sections. These are your upper, middle, and lower traps. These are located in the middle of your back between your lat muscles.

During the assisted pull-up, your upper and middle traps help to keep your body stable. During this, your lats act as the primary movers.

Posterior Deltoids 

Your posterior deltoids make up part of your shoulder muscles. The other heads are your lateral deltoids and anterior deltoids. Your posterior ones are located at the back of your shoulder.

During the assisted pull-up, your posterior deltoids prevent your shoulders from rounding forward when pulling upward. This means they act as key shoulder stabilizers.

Brachialis And Brachioradialis

Your brachialis technically forms part of your bicep but is less well-known compared to the long and short heads. Its a small muscle group located between your bicep head and tricep just above your forearm. 

Your brachioradialis makes up part of your forearm, situated on the inner side just below your bicep.

During the assisted pull-up, both muscles act as key elbow flexors and stabilizers. Their relative contributions will change at different phases.

Wrist Flexors And Wrist Extensors

Your wrist flexors and extensors form part of your forearm muscles. They are located on the inner part and outer parts of your forearm respectively. Their primary functions are to move your forearm, elbow, wrist, and hands. 

During the assisted pull-up, both your wrist flexors and extensors help to maintain a strong grip. Your flexors flex your wrist inwards whilst your extensors extend it outwards. Both of these movements are extremely important for grip strength, even during the assisted version.

Equipment

Assisted Power Tower

Assisted Power Tower

This is great for beginners to practice compound upper body movements. Ensure your feet or knees are firmly against the pads. Adjust resistance as needed.

Alternatives

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the different equipment.

Who Should Do?

Recreational Gym Users

One of the biggest benefits of performing assisted pull-ups is the accessibility to all users. They can be performed by any ability level just by changing the weight stack to suit your strength.

When using a large assistance weight, assisted pull-ups are great for working on certain technique elements. Recreational gym users who are new to the movement will find them much less challenging and daunting to perform. This is often one of the biggest initial hurdles.

Bodybuilders

As a bodybuilder, your main focus should be on training volume and intensity, The assisted pull-up version might not be as hard for advanced users. However, it’s an excellent way to ensure the other training focuses are met. 

In terms of volume, assisted pull-ups provide a great way to increase training volume whilst reducing the intensity. You can program them as part of a drop set or at the end of a pull session. They can also be done when your body feels too fatigued to perform traditional ones.

With assistance, you’re able to focus much more on developing a good mind-muscle connection with your primary movers. In this case, it would be your lats. 

Functional Fitness Athletes

Functional fitness athletes tend to put most of their training focus on full-body movements. These include bodyweight exercises such as pull-ups that help to develop functional upper-body strength.

Even as a functional fitness athlete, you may still need to improve your traditional pull-up form and grip. The assisted pull-up version provides a great way to do this. Set up the weight stack and focus on particular technique elements or maintain a strong grip throughout.

Who Should Not Do?

Advanced Athletes With Years Of Training

As an advanced athlete with years of training, you can likely do a normal pull-up with ease. While assisted pull-ups can help to develop strength and form, this is likely not needed at this level.

At this stage of training, your main focus will be on advanced training strategies that focus on the main movement patterns. In this case, weighted pull-ups might be a better option.

People Suffering From Injury

As an experienced lifter, the assisted pull-up can be easier to perform than the traditional one. However, with pre-existing upper-body injuries, your primary focus should still be on recovery and rehabilitation.

In this case, focus on the exercises prescribed by a healthcare professional. Perform the assisted pull-up only when cleared to do so. 

Benefits Of The Assisted Pull-Up

Stronger Upper Body

As a compound movement pattern, the pull-up is an effective exercise to build a stronger upper body. It’s challenging to perform which means it provides enough intensity to build upper-body strength and hypertrophy. 

Whilst you may think the assisted pull-up is performed at a lower intensity, this isn’t the case. Beginner lifters looking to progress the pull-up will use the same relative intensity as a normal pull-up. Bodybuilders and power-based athletes can program the assisted pull-up towards the end of a lifting session to increase the difficulty.

When performing the assisted version, more focus can be placed on the correct form and developing the right mind-muscle connection. In all of these cases, the assisted pull-up provides an excellent stepping stone to build a stronger upper body.

Increased Grip Strength

To perform an assisted pull-up correctly, you need to use your brachioradialis, wrist extensors, and wrist flexors. These forearm muscles help to maintain a strong grip during both phases of the lift.

Compared to normal pull-ups, assisted pull-ups are much more accessible. This allows you to work on your pulling grip strength whilst practicing the correct movement pattern. Better grip strength can translate well into better performance in other pulling movements, including the normal pull-up. 

Improved Stability And Form

Because of the assistance provided, the assisted pull-up is a great way to work on form and stability. When noticing form deviations, you can change the weight stack to reduce the difficulty and practice the same technique cues.

Reducing the difficulty before progressing again allows you to focus on individual elements before putting them together.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are assisted pull-ups effective?

The assisted variation doesn’t build as much strength as the traditional version. However, it’s more accessible, helps to build strength, and works on the correct body positioning.

How much weight should I put on the assisted pull-up machine?

Put the stack at just under your body weight and attempt a pull-up. Move the stack up until you find a weight allowing you to perform the programmed repetitions with good form. Lower the weight used as your strength develops.

What muscles do assisted pull-ups work out?

The assisted pull-up works your latissimus dorsi muscles as your primary movers. Secondary movers include your biceps, traps, posterior deltoids, and forearm muscles.

How to do assisted pull-ups for beginners?

Set the required weight and grasp the handles using an overhand grip. Step on the platform and engage your core. Bring your head towards the bar by flexing your elbows. Pause at the top and lower down under control.

Resources

  1. Jeno, S.H. and Varacallo, M. (2019). Anatomy, Back, Latissimus Dorsi. [online] Nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448120/.
  2. Mcleod, J.C., Currier, B.S., Lowisz, C.V. and Phillips, S.M. (2024). The influence of resistance exercise training prescription variables on skeletal muscle mass, strength, and physical function in healthy adults: An umbrella review. Journal of sport and health science/Journal of Sport and Health Science, [online] 13(1), pp.47–60. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jshs.2023.06.005.
  3. Calatayud, J., Vinstrup, J., Markus Due Jakobsen, Sundstrup, E., Brandt, M., Jay, K., Juan Carlos Colado and Lars Louis Andersen (2015). Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training. European journal of applied physiology, [online] 116(3), pp.527–533. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-015-3305-7.
  4. Huebner, M., Riemann, B. and Hatchett, A. (2023). Grip Strength and Sports Performance in Competitive Master Weightlifters. International journal of environmental research and public health/International journal of environmental research and public health, [online] 20(3), pp.2033–2033. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20032033.