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Are Pull-Ups A Compound Exercise? (Explained For Beginners)

If you’ve been around the fitness world for a while, then you may have heard some bros say that compound exercises are the best type of exercise.

While that may not be true (depending on your fitness goals), knowing which exercises are compound exercises can help you get the most from your workouts.

In this article, we answer the question of whether pull-ups are a compound exercise or not.

We do this by first looking at what a compound exercise actually is, before looking at pull-ups in a bit more detail to see if they fit the bill to be considered one.

What Is A Compound Exercise?

A compound exercise is a multi-joint movement that activates and works multiple muscle groups at the same time.

Compound exercises tend to be functional movements with some kind of foundation in day-to-day activities, although this isn’t always the case.

A good example of a typical compound exercise is a squat.

Not only do they require movement in both your knees and your hips (to satisfy the multi-joint element), but they work multiple muscles in various parts of your body too including your quads, hamstrings, glutes, core, and lower back.

The squat movement is an example of a compound exercise that can also be seen in day-to-day life (in some form) for picking things up, crouching down, and similar.

The opposite of a compound exercise is an isolation exercise.

These are exercises that work one joint and only one muscle group (primarily).

An example of an isolation exercise would be a bicep curl or a leg extension.

Are Pull Ups A Compound Exercise?

If you consider the above definition of a compound exercise, then pull-ups definitely fit into the category.

They’re a multi-joint movement as both your elbows and your shoulders are working throughout, and they also work multiple muscle groups during the exercise.

As pull-ups require multiple joints (elbows and shoulders) and activation from several different muscles in order to be performed, they are a compound exercise.

Which Muscles Do Pull Ups Activate?

There are actually quite a few muscles that pull-ups target.

Primarily, your back muscles (particularly your lats) are the most targeted.

Assuming you’re using a close, neutral grip for your pull-ups, your biceps are also a primary muscle that the movement works.

Other back muscles such as your rhomboids also play a part in pull-ups, as do your deltoids (shoulders) and your core muscles.

Even more muscles activate if you consider all the stabilizing muscles too.

Your forearms will play a role in the exercise so you get a good range of working muscles with pull-ups.

With such a range of muscles being used during pull-ups, it makes sense that they’re considered a compound exercise.

Are Pull Ups Suitable For Beginners?

As a general rule, pull-ups will not be suitable for beginners.

That doesn’t mean beginners can’t try them.

It’s just that you need a decent amount of strength in all of the working muscles in order to do pull-ups successfully.

If you’re just starting out on your fitness journey, unless you are genetically lucky, it’s unlikely that you’ll have the foundation of strength required to be able to perform the full movement.

There are ways of making pull-ups more suited to beginners however.

You can, for example, use a specific resistance band under your knees to help lift you during the upward phase of the exercise.

This won’t be suitable for all beginners but it can be a good way of introducing pull-ups into your training program.

If you are a beginner, then here are some great tips to improve your pull ups quickly!

Other Examples of Compound Exercises

Deadlifts

Many gym-goers include deadlifts in their workout programs. 

The joints used in deadlifts are your hips, knees, and ankles.

The muscles that activate during deadlifts include your hamstrings, glutes, back, core, traps, and quads (all to varying degrees).

Squats

Another commonly used compound exercise is squats.

Like deadlifts, they use your hips, knees, and ankles during the movement. 

When it comes to muscles worked during squats, you’ll see activation in your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, core, back, and traps.

Bench Press

Bench press finishes off the three main compound exercises that most gym-goers will perform at some point in their training.

As an upper body exercise, bench press requires movement from your elbows and your shoulders.

The muscles bench press work include your pectorals (chest), shoulders, biceps, triceps, core, and your forearms to a lesser degree too.

Sources

Pull Ups Muscles Worked