Pull-ups are a fundamental fitness exercise that is a permanent part of workout routines for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. But how good are they for MMA fighters?
Pull-ups are a great exercise that develops upper body strength that is otherwise not worked in MMA-specific training. That strength allows athletes to use their grappling skills better. It is directly applicable to many grappling and wrestling moves and positions.
Because of their simplicity and effectiveness, pull-ups are present in almost all MMA fighters’ training routines. They will surely benefit your MMA game and overall fitness, but let’s dig deeper to see exactly how they benefit MMA.
Pull-ups are an excellent exercise that builds upper body strength that transfers directly to fighting and especially grappling, making them perfect for MMA.
A pull-up is an exercise where you pull your bodyweight vertically from a hanging position over a bar (or rings or ledge). Pull-ups activate the entire upper body musculature—chest, shoulders, arms, back, and core—and develop pulling strength.
Pull-ups have always been a fitness benchmark exercise. The fact that it uses your body weight is a good indicator of your strength-to-weight ratio. This is extremely important in combat sports, where there are weight classes, and opponents are relatively the same size.
Furthermore, physical abilities play a key role in fighting, and strength is a factor that is often decisive when the skills are relatively equal.
Fighting for underhooks, controlling someone in the clinch, sprawling, and applying and escaping submissions require upper-body strength and muscular endurance.
There are many ways of improving that strength. Still, MMA fighters have so many skills to learn in so many areas that they cannot afford to spend more of their training time only on strength exercises.
The simplicity of the pull-up, combined with the fact that it works the entire upper body, makes it one of the most effective exercises for MMA and general fitness. And let’s remember that it requires just a pull-up bar and no other equipment.
Do Pull-Ups Improve Punching Power?
Pull-ups are very popular not only among MMA fighters but with boxers and other strikers as well. But do they increase punching power? Pull-ups do not directly increase punching power but are nevertheless crucial for strikers.
Punching power is determined by many factors, the most important of which is not strength but the ability to generate and transfer power from the ground up into the fist.
Up to ¾ of the power in a punch comes from the legs and trunk, so upper body strength is a contributing factor but not a decisive one.
With that said, the widest muscles in the body, the lats, play an essential role in punching power because they transfer the power from the hips and core to the arms. Pull-ups develop the lats, so pull-ups do indeed contribute to increasing the bite of punches.
What makes doing pull-ups an excellent idea for strikers is that they strengthen the back and provide structural balance. The upper body muscles work hard while striking, and having strong shoulders, pecs, and arms means a lower chance of injuries.
Furthermore, the standard fighting stance and striking do not work the back and create structural imbalances that, if left unchecked, can lead to serious problems and constant pain.
Pull-ups provide the counterbalance to the “hands in front, rounded shoulders” stance used in striking and can restore proper posture. The hanging portion of pull-ups in a full range of motion also stretches the shoulders and lats.
Different Grip Pull-ups For MMA
You can use several different grips for pull-ups, and each of them works with a different emphasis on the muscles, so MMA fighters should implement all of them in their training.
The two main versions are pull-ups, with an overhand grip with the palms facing away from you, while chin-ups are done with an underhand grip with palms facing towards you.
Pull-ups are done with the palms facing away from you and targeting the back more than the arms. For fighters, the shoulder-width grip is perhaps the best version. The wider you grip the bar, the less the arm muscles are recruited in the movement.
Chin-ups use a lot more arm strength, especially from the biceps, which is why this grip is sometimes called the biceps grip.
The fact that the arms play a more significant role in the movement makes chin-ups somewhat easier, and people often start with them. But if you prioritize pull-ups in your training, in time, they will likely become the easier variation.
Neutral grip pull-ups
Neutral grip pull-ups are similar to chin-ups in terms of muscle activation. Still, the neutral position is easier on the wrist and elbows, which makes them suitable for people with injuries in these joints.
Considering fighting practicality, the neutral grip is closer to many clinch positions than the overhand and underhand grip pull-ups.
Clinch grip pull-ups
One way to do the most sport-specific chip-ups is by employing the hand-over-hand grip, also called the clinch grip. Place one hand on the other and perform a full range of motion pull-up. You can switch which hand is on top with each set to even things out.
How To Perform A Perfect Pull-Up
Despite what you often see in commercial gyms and CrossFit, the pull-up is a strict upper-body movement that should not use any momentum. If you want to see perfect pull-ups, observe gymnasts.
They are the absolute masters of bodyweight strength. Here is how to do a pull-up with good technique. The motions are the same regardless of the grip.
- Start with a shoulder-width or slightly wider grip. Place your thumbs on top of the bar instead of around it (this is not mandatory, but it’s recommended)
- A strict pull-up starts from a dead hang. Start by pulling your shoulder blades down to initiate an active hang. Then pull yourself up, ideally pulling your shoulder blades together.
- Try to touch your chest to the bar. If this is not possible, aim to bring your chin over the bar.
- Slowly lower yourself until your arms are straight.
It’s best to perform pull-ups with straight legs, but sometimes the bar needs to be higher, and this is not possible.
But if you can, aim for straight legs. Most of all, avoid swinging and kipping to help you up. The pull-up is a strict upper-body exercise. It will develop strength most effectively only when done with the proper technique.
Only some people can blast full-range pull-ups when they start. Luckily, all bodyweight exercises have progressions with easier and harder variations.
The lat pulldown activates the same muscle groups as the pull-up, but you are pulling a weight down instead of hauling your body weight up. This can be used by people who don’t have enough strength to perform good pull-ups and by people who want to gain weight because they can get more volume with this exercise.
Band assisted pull-up
A popular way to make pull-ups easier is by using bands. By looping one end of a resistance band over the pull-up bar and the other around the feet, you allow the band to help propel you up. This is a great way to perfect your pull-up technique because you can focus on it and not compensate for the lack of strength with poor execution.
Another way to work up to a full range of motion pull-ups is by using negative pull-ups, which are only the eccentric part of the exercise. You must first hoist yourself up to the top position of a pull-up by jumping or using a ladder or a chair. Then slowly lower yourself from the bar.
Once you are comfortable and proficient with regular pull-ups, adding weight can make them harder. You can load these using a dip belt, a dumbbell between your legs, or a weighted vest, which is the most comfortable way. For the biggest strength gains, stick to a lower rep range between 3 and 6.
Pull-ups are a staple exercise and a benchmark for upper body strength across all fields. MMA fighters also use it to significant effect as it helps build the necessary strength to use fighting skills, and it helps immensely in wrestling. Be sure to include pull-ups in your strength routines to build serious pulling strength without needing any special equipment.