Pull-ups have long been a marker of upper body and grip strength, used throughout the military and sporting organisations to test durability.
There are many variations of pull-ups, from wide grip to kipping, but have you heard of the Australian pull up?
“How much do you bench?” is probably the most common question asked by fitness newbies, but that steely-eyed ex-special forces PT at the gym is way more impressed by how many times you can get your chin above the bar!
One of the best things about pull-ups, in general, is the basic equipment needed to get a savage workout. You can even blast your upper body in the local park or woodland, hanging from monkey bars or a tree branch. The Australian pull up is no different, simply requiring a fixed bar around waist height. In fact, a TRX or set of gym rings can adapt most setups to the Australian pull up.
What is an Australian Pull Up?
This exercise is more accessible than conventional pull-ups and is essentially a bodyweight row. The body angle and contact with the ground change the dynamics and reduce the muscular effort required to lift the upper body towards the bar. The fact that intensity is quickly graduated by either raising (reduces intensity) or lowering (increases intensity) the height of the bar means the Australian pull up is perfect for people looking to progress to full pull-ups. They are also a great exercise for any upper back workout.
As if that wasn’t enough, several mobility specialists believe the Australian pull up can assist in correcting posture due to the training effect on the erector spinae muscles.
How to do the Australian Pull-Up
Start with a high bar position. Squat as low as you can, or even sit on the floor. Place your hands on the bar slightly outside shoulder width, with an overhand grip (focus on the upper back) or an underhand grip (focus on biceps).
Brace your abdominals and walk your feet forward until your body and legs are straight, with your chest in line with the bar. Your heels should be on the ground. However, it’s worth noting that placing the soles of your feet on the floor and slightly bending your knees will decrease the intensity, should you need it.
Retract your shoulder blades. In other words, pull them backwards slightly. Once you feel the upper back and shoulder muscles engage, start to pull your chest towards the bar in a smooth and controlled motion. At this point, you should also feel your shoulder blades pulling towards one another
Squeeze your lats and try to feel like you are “pushing” your elbows behind you. Another excellent cue is to imagine you are trying to stretch the bar outwards. Make sure those core muscles are still engaged!
As your chest reaches the bar, pause momentarily before lowering yourself in a slow and controlled motion.
Coaches Pro Tips
“Ideally, you will be inhaling on the way up and exhaling on the way down. Don’t forget the eccentric (way down) part of an exercise is just as important as the concentric (way up). If it takes you two seconds to go up, take at least two seconds on the way down!”
Muscles Trained in the Australian Pull-Up
The Australian pull-up is a compound exercise that uses multiple muscles. By performing this exercise correctly, you can effectively train:
Believe it or not, because of the unique body position, the Australian pull up will also train:
Lower body – Glutes and Hamstrings
Core Forearms and Hands
Common Mistakes with Australian Pull-Ups
Lack of ROM
Guys, you must hit full range of motion on this exercise! There is no excuse for short quick movements. We need to feel those arms stretched into full extension at the bottom and the chest in contact with the bar at the top. Quality over quantity is paramount. If you cannot perform reps with perfect form, raise the bar or adjust the position of your feet. No half reps!
Pushing Into the Floor Too Hard
Pushing your heels/feet into the floor is essential to maintain engagement of the core and posterior legs. However, pushing hard will reduce the intensity of the upper body and ultimately assist the movement.
Too Much Arm Tension
The movement must be controlled from the upper back. The tendency is to dominate the motion with the arms, which results in a poorly executed move and potential soft tissue injury. Remember, the best tip for activating the upper back is to imagine you are “pushing” your elbows behind you and “squeezing” your shoulder blades together.
Coaches Pro Tips
“Remember, we come to the gym to BUILD strength, not DISPLAY strength! So be it if you need to regress the Australian pull up to its most basic form! A higher bar and slightly bent legs with perfect form are way better than a half rep on a knee-high bar!”
How Many Sets and Reps?
This is an interesting topic. Firstly, let’s consider the various rep ranges and what they achieve.
Strength & Power
3-5 sets of 2-6 reps
Hypertrophy (muscle growth)
3-4 sets of 6-12 reps • Muscular Endurance = 2-3 sets of 12-20 reps
Because Australian pull-ups are a calisthenic or bodyweight exercise, it is recommended that you work out in the Hypertrophy rep range or 3-4 sets of 6-12 reps. Training in the Strength and Power range will have limited effectiveness. In contrast, the Muscular Endurance range will benefit upper body endurance athletes like swimmers or kayakers.
As we mentioned earlier, the Australian pull up is a highly adaptable exercise and suitable for many people and training environments.
Slinging a TRX or Gym Rings over a tree branch or a man-made structure can keep your training routine going while on holiday. Equally, it can be adapted to most public gym setups.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why are They Called Australian Pull-Ups?
They are Australian pull-ups because you perform them “Down Under” the bar.
Are Australian Pull-Ups as Good as Conventional Pull-Ups?
In a word, no. Conventional pull-ups are one of the most effective and demanding exercises you can do, with an almost unrivalled training effect. However, Australian pull-ups are a fantastic exercise and one of the best to support your progress towards mastering conventional pull-ups.
Australian pull-ups are the perfect addition to any back workouts. They not only offer a route towards full pull-ups but also help you adapt to the “feel” of compound movements.
Hopefully, you have been inspired to give this fantastic exercise a go.