Why Wide Grip Pull-ups Are More Difficult

I am asked this routinely. Without getting into the physiology of the movement, there is actually one simple way to identify if an exercise will be really difficult or not as difficult.

In simple terms, the closer your hands are to the center of the body, the stronger you are. The farther your hands are from the center of your body, the weaker you are.

Let's look at a pull-up. When I am teaching beginner clients how to do a pull-up, I use the following progression.

  1. Start with a reverse grip pull-up. (hands are approximately shoulder width and palms are now facing the body).
  2. Progress to a narrow grip pull-up. (hands are approximately shoulder width and palms are facing each other).
  3. Finally, a wide grip pull-up (hands are located 3-6 inches outside of the shoulder and palms are facing away from the body).

As a general rule, when the hands are farther away from the center of the body, the more difficult the exercise can be. If you don't believe me, perform as many narrow or reverse grip pull-ups as you can. Then, after couple minutes of rest, try doing the same are more repetitions with a wide grip pull-up. Your reps for the wide grip will not be we close to the number performed with the narrow grip

I will not have clients who struggle performing a rev grip pull-up even think of trying a wide grip pull-up until their rev grip and narrow grip pull-ups are flawless. Once the client has enough strength to pull themselves up with a narrow or rev grip, they are ready for the next step. Once mastering all 3 grips is achieved each can be utilizing in programming for different objectives. For example, when you are tight for time but still want to train biceps, use reverse grip pull-up to utilize the bicep muscle greater than any other pull-up.

What are you to do?

Understand that certain movements are very difficult. Some of the movements are difficult because of how close to the center of your body they are or vice versa. If you struggle with a wide pull-up, start with a reverse grip pull-up and as you get stronger, slowly work your hands farther from the center of the body. In a later article, I will educate you how to efficiently develop strength to perform 10 pull-ups in a row.


Steven Zahn

ACE Certified Personal Trainer

NASM Certified Personal Trainer

Pre and Post Partum Certified

Dragondoor Publications: HKC Russian Kettlebell Certified