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Hammer grip pull ups are performed with the palms of your hands facing each other. From a dead hang pull yourself up until your chin is above your hands. Sound simple? Well there is a BIT more to it than that…
At a glance…
- Hammer grip pull ups are easier than traditional pronated pull ups, but harder than chin ups
- Follow the 4 steps below to perform a PERFECT neutral grip pull up
- The hammer grip is FAR easier on your shoulder and elbows – ideal if you are rehabilitating from an injury
- The downside is the need for a pull up bar with parallel bars or similar equipment. Straight pull up bars are far more common in home gym focused power racks
- The best way to add these to your program is to simply throw in TWO sets at the end of EVERY workout, aiming to take each set to RPE 8 (a couple of reps shy from failure)
How to perform a hammer grip pull up
Pull ups are easy to learn, but difficult to master! Here is a 4 step process to help you perfect your hammer grip pull up:
Step 1: Take your grip
Take a hammer grip on your chosen bit of gym equipment. A hammer grip is when your palms face each other – this is also known as a neutral grip as it’s how your hands sit naturally when by your sides.
Once you’ve taken the neutral grip get yourself in to the dead hang, extended position at the bottom of the rep.
Step 2: Pull yourself up
Pull yourself with your upper back and bicep muscles until your chin clears the top of your hands. I find it useful to try and imagine keeping my elbows stationary and letting the bicep and back do all the work.
The top of a pull up is subjective, but I accept any rep where the chin clears the top of the bar. Some even take it to the extreme of touching their chest to the bar!
Step 3: Keep your core tight
Over the course of a set you will need to brace your core to keep your body roughly upright. If you don’t – or if your core strength is not quite there yet – you will find your body swinging back and forwards through the set burning energy. This also slows you down and therefore makes your set last MUCH longer.
Step 4: Lower yourself back down
Lower yourself at reasonable pace to the starting position. Keep SOME control over the descent as otherwise you can jolt your elbows straight suddenly risking some minot bicep strain.
Which grip pull up is best? Hammer grip pull up vs regular grip
Why should you go for a hammer over a regular grip pull up? Well maybe you shouldn’t… Or should… As usual, it depends on your goals:
Which muscles are you trying to work?
All ‘ups’ – traditional pull ups, chin ups and everything in between – work the back and arms. Your lats, biceps and traps will ALL be getting SOME work in these movements.
What a neutral grip pull up offers is a half way hour between a supinated and pronated pull up. That means it engages MORE bicep than a pull-up, but LESS than a chin up. It engages MORE lat than a chin up, but LESS than a pull up – and so on…
The muscles worked would include:
|Muscle||Best grip to target…|
A neutral grip is excellent for adding a bit of volume to the brachialis which is in the lower ‘side’ of the arm. Making this pop adds a really interesting bit of size to the upper arm. Typically it’s targeted with a hammer grip curl but a neutral pull gives us another option.
The benefit? It gives you another option for a vertical pull to target the muscles YOU want to work on. I am quite happy with a standard pull up personally, BUT if I want to work my biceps a bit more without doing endless curls I love knocking out a few sets of neutral grip pulls.
Easier on the elbows and wrists
If you have creaky shoulders, elbows or wrists you will love to hear that a neutral grip is FAR easier on the body. The ability to let your elbows find their own position with the neutral (or hammer) orientation means they are fighting less lateral force.
A traditional pull up in particular forces the elbows out wide below your hands with limited ability to move sideways to accommodate your body movements. Chins are less punishing as the elbows can move INWARDS more easily and grip width can be narrower. At the top of the rep there can be an uncomfortable ‘twist’ in the elbow however.
Hammer grip by contrast keeps your shoulder, elbow and wrist in their natural orientations.
If you work out in a commercial gym you likely have access to neutral grip handles on either the power racks or cable machines.
For those of us trying to do neutral grip pull ups in a home gym it can be more difficult. Unless you have a multi-grip pull up bar (they are awesome but not overly common on higher quality power racks) then your choice of equipment to perform hammer grip pull’s are more limited.
There are a few options:
- Buy a multi grip pull up bar for your power rack – if available then sourcing this attachment for your rack is likely the simplest way to get started.
- Stand alone wall mounted multi-grip pull up bar – If you are comfortable wall mounting equipment then these are also available
- Football bar – sling a multi-grip bar like a football bar on to the TOP of your power rack and perform your pulls under it – voila!
- Gymnast rings – grab a cheap pair of gymnast rings and hang from your power rack. They will rotate based on your hand movements however as they are not rigid like traditional pull up bars.
- Towel – some use a towel slung over a straight bar. Personally I don’t like this method but I have included it for completeness!
Sets and Reps: How to add these in to your program
I found that little and often is the best tactic to train vertical pulls. At the end of EVERY workout do TWO sets of hammer pull ups.
Yep – every time.
If you can do 2 reps then do 2×2. If you can do 5 reps then do 2×5. The important thing is to get the volume in each day.
Week to week aim to add ONE rep to each set – so your 2×5 becomes 2×6, and so on. Once you get to 10 reps start cycling in WEIGHTED pulls half of the time and keep pushing for 15 reps per set!
Progress WILL slow down, but you CAN get there! I personally prefer NOT to train them to complete failure instead taking myself to an RPE of 8 or 9. This allows me to hit a few good sets per workout whereas I find failure in pull ups really kills the energy I have for subsequent sets more than most other upper body focused lifts.
What if I can’t do ONE pull up?
If you struggle to get a single rep then start with negatives – this is lowering yourself from the TOP down. Move to banded (or assisted) pull ups which make the UPWARDS movement easier reducing the assistance over time.
Once you can do a few reps you can follow the above progression to try and get to sets of 15 reps.
Which is the easiest grip to use: Pull, chin or hammer?
Chin ups typically feel the easiest due to the high level of bicep involvement and comparatively low back emphasis. Traditional pronated pull ups are at the other end of the spectrum with low bicep work but high back making them feel the hardest for most people.
Hammer grip pull ups sit in the middle – typically feeling easier than traditional pull ups. If you have cranky shoulders or elbows then hammer grip often feels the easiest to do for multiple reps!
Hammer grip pull ups offer a fantastic way to get some serious upper back and arm work in to your workouts WITHOUT agitating your shoulders or wrists as much as a traditional pronated pull up. If you have the equipment available I would recommend trying them in your next training cycle to see how you find them!
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