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The progression to a classic pull-up is not a straightforward road.
If you have ever taken a look into the exercises meant to help you get your first pull-up, you may have run into something called the Australian pull-up (or inverted row).
What is it?
Well, for many, it is simply a progression exercise, meant to train the muscles required for the pull-up.
But this is a gross oversimplification.
In reality, the standalone exercise offers some great benefits that can hardly be achieved in the classic pull-up exercise.
The 10 benefits of Australian pull-ups are:
Because people tend to generalize it as a progression exercise and nothing more, I will be looking into the mechanics of the Australian pull-ups, muscles worked, benefits, and drawbacks.
Hopefully, this will paint a more comprehensive picture of how you can use this exercise for substantial gains in endurance and strength.
What Is An Australian Pull-up
The Australian pull-up is a bodyweight exercise that uses a resistant bar as equipment.
The bar is positioned somewhere around waist height, and you have to lie down beneath the bar, stretch your arms up, grip the bar, and pull yourself up until your chest hits the bar while keeping your heels on the ground at all times.
This exercise is easier than the classic pull-up because of the angle at which it is performed, and because of the additional support that your heels provide.
The heels are positioned to support the body’s balance and reduce the effort required for you to lift yourself off the ground. Thus, if you want to increase the difficulty of the exercise, simply lower the bar further.
As you decrease the angle at which your heels touch the ground, they will have less of an impact on the exercise altogether. Conversely, if you decide to raise the bar, your heels will be able to better stabilize your body and help during the lift.
The Australian pull-up is a great exercise that maximizes endurance, focuses on working your back, and offering a way to train essential muscles for strength without you needing to be able to do classic pull-ups. Technically speaking, the setup is also much easier to get right.
How To Do Australian Pull Ups
Setting up the equipment for a classic pull-up is rather difficult, especially if you live in an apartment with no private outdoor space.
There are many options for pull-up bars that can be installed indoors, but they take up a good chunk of time and may even be risky at times. Luckily, the Australian pull-up is not as demanding as its counterpart.
1. Position Yourself
The first step will be to find a bar about knee height.
You want to position yourself in the middle of the bar. Line your shoulders up with the bar so when you complete the movement your middle chest touches the bar.
2. Grab The Bar
Next, get under the bar and use a grip according to what muscles you want to target. We go into more detail about muscles worked later on but you have two options: overhand or underhand.
Using an overhand, wide grip will shift the focus of the exercise on your back, especially working wonders on the lats. The width should be slightly wider than the distance between your shoulders for maximum benefits.
If you would rather go for an underhand grip, like in the case of chin-ups, the focus will be more on your arms and biceps. Go for a grip that is slightly narrower than your shoulder width for maximum effect.
No one grip is better than the other, they just achieve different results. For optimal performance with your Australian pull-ups, you want to alternate between the two.
3. Straighten Your Body
With your grip properly done, you want to straighten your body out.
Your body will be on an angle with the ground but it should be straight. Keep you head straight looking into the ceiling. You will notice you need core strength to keep your body linear.
You can recruit your glutes and legs to keep things tight here.
4. Retract Those Scapulae
Many lifters will find this cue difficult.
You want to retract your shoulders here to move your head forward. Your shoulders should move backwards. Think of good posture when you're standing. Chest up high.
Try to see if you can touch your chest towards the bar and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Keep your scapula retracted during the whole movement.
5. Pull Yourself Toward The Bar
With your shoulders down and retracted, move yourself up towards the bar.
Flex those lats and imagine yourself breaking the bar in half. You should feel your upper back, your chest, your shoulders and abs working here. On the way up you will feel your biceps activating as well.
Remember to inhale on your way up, hold and exhale on the way down.
6. Lower Yourself Slowly
Once you are at the top of the movement, you should feel your back muscles working here.
Slowly lower yourself to the bottom of the movement, keeping your body tight and straight. This part of the movement will make you stronger. The eccentric portion improves skill and strength of the Australian pull up.
Pro Tips And Cues
Muscles Used in the Australian Pull-Ups
Just like the classic pull-up, the Australian pull-up is a compound exercise that relies on coordinating the effort of multiple groups of muscles.
There are two categories of muscles that are hit by this exercise, the prime movers and the supporting muscles. We will be focusing on the prime movers, as they receive the largest dose of tension out of the two.
Primary Muscles Worked
The main muscles that you work on through the inverted rows are the lats, the middle and lower traps, the core, and the biceps.
Although grip variations allow you to hit the arms more, the Australian pull-up is mainly focused on the back. Because of important differences in mechanics and technique, the overhand and underhand grips work the back in distinct ways.
Even if you don’t want to focus more on the arms, you should give both grips a go.
Secondary Muscles Worked
A special mention goes out to the glutes and hamstrings, which play more of a supportive role, but get a good shaking out of the workout overall.
The core is used in Australian pull-ups like in classic pull-ups because of the position of the body and the additional support of the heels. But this gives some prime time to your lower body muscles, specifically the glutes and the hamstrings.
Although you may not sense the tension at first, after a couple of sets you will certainly feel it.
10 Benefits Of Australian Pull-Ups
Now that we’ve caught up with the hows and whys of the Australian pull-up, it’s time to take a look at the benefits of the exercise.
1. Great Lower Body Workout
Working both the upper and lower body through the same exercise is not something to be achieved easily.
But in the Australian pull-up, lowering the bar enough will ensure that your glutes and hamstrings will have to get work. This is a net benefit when compared to the pull-up, where your feet don’t even touch the ground.
If you are looking to work your legs and back faster, being willing to cut back on time, this exercise is a perfect fit for you.
2. Engages The Lower Back
Although a supporting muscle in this exercise, the lower back can also get a good workout with enough reps and sets.
Because these muscles are not specifically targeted, you will have to make a bit of a conscious effort to contract the lower back muscles.
But after the movement and the compound contraction of various muscle groups becomes second nature, you will have no problem pulling this off.
3. Develops Grip Strength
As the position of the Australian pull-up is not as demanding as the classic pull-up, it will allow you to build grip strength more easily.
This may sound counterintuitive at first, but remember that grip is primarily concerned with endurance, not muscle size. The more you keep the gripping muscles under tension, the easier it will be to build up grip strength.
Additionally, if you practice multiple grips during the inverted rows, you stand a better chance to consolidate your overall grip.
The results of this will be seen the next time you want to curl some dumbbells, or when you are going for the actual pull-ups.
4. Targets The Mid Back
The Australian pull-up is one of the best exercises to work out your back without needing to go to the gym.
You can increase the level of difficulty and activation of the mid back by adjusting your bar. Increasing the angle of your body with the ground will allow better mid back activation.
Yes, the classic pull-up is still better at working your back than the Aussie variation. Nevertheless, the other benefits on this list cumulatively make a good case for this exercise, as well.
5. Progression To Pull Ups
This the note we began the article on, so it would be foolish to leave it out of the benefits pool.
The Australian pull-up is one of the best exercises that get your body closer to doing classic pull-ups.
The increase in strength and endurance in the lats and traps, paired with better handling of the grip gives you significantly improved chances of lifting yourself off the ground on the bar.
6. Uses Little Equipment
The pull-up would be an amazing exercise for anyone to do regularly because of its benefits to overall fitness and health.
The problem? Not everybody has a pull-up bar ready to go at home.
This is where the Australian pull-up truly succeeds.
It is an exercise with comparable impact on the individual’s physical condition, but it is also very accessible, equipment-wise. As you have seen above, even things like a wooden broom or the edge of a table can be used for inverted rows.
Fewer obstacles to prevent working out means a higher chance of actually working out.
7. Improves Muscle Imbalances
Not an obvious benefit, but one to be welcomed. The back is one of the most underdeveloped regions of your body, in terms of muscle mass.
So, given the accessibility of the Australian pull-up, you will be able to give it a comprehensive workout effortlessly.
Due to an increase of computer use, many people have muscle imbalances. Specifically, weaker back muscles can cause rounded shoulders and poor posture.
Australian pull ups are a great way to start improving your back strength and overall posture.
8. Plyometric Applications
Plyometrics refers to these types of exercises that are explosive and rapidly-paced in nature.
Because of the various ways they can be executed, Australian pull-ups can be done as a plyometric variation. You can alternate between grips, widths of the grip, and other factors. This will most likely keep your back and arms in shape, while also giving your heart a thorough workout.
The best of both worlds.
9. Improves Core Strength
The plank is effective because you are preventing your back from rounding and collapsing to the ground. Similarly, the Australian pull up involves you preventing from falling.
Preventing your back from rounding requires loads of core strength. Even if you don't have core strength, you will see how this pull up improves core activation overall.
10. Works Your Arm Muscles
Using an underhand grip will really target all your arm muscles overall.
If your back strength is not just there, focusing on your arms will be a great start. By using the underhand grip, the movement becomes focused on your bicep and forearm strength.
Most lifters have better arm strength than back so switching the grip allows you to complete a few reps and sets.
Drawbacks of the Australian Pull-Ups
Now that we’ve seen what benefits this exercise brings, it’s time to remind ourselves that it’s not all flowers and unicorns on this horizon. The drawbacks of this exercise must be mentioned too so that people have a clearer picture of what they’re getting into.
1. Safety Hazards
Because the Australian pull-ups are so easy to improvise, we must not forget that our makeshift bar could be dangerous. In other words, that broom-and-chairs structure that you built may get you to fall flat on your back while trying to pull yourself up.
You have to be careful with your setup, or you risk breaking a table, broom, door, or anything else that your imagination got you to use. Always take care!
2. It Is Still A Progression Exercise
Ultimately, no matter how many arguments we craft, one thing is certain: the classic pull-up offers more benefits. From back workout to guaranteed core activation and more tension in the biceps, the classic pull-up reigns supreme.
This does not mean that the Australian pull-up is not a great exercise, only that, at some point in your fitness journey, you will move to pull ups. Challenging yourself more is only natural, and you will run out of variations for the Australian pull-up at some point.
That’s when the classic pull-up makes its entrance.
Common Mistakes of Australian Pull-Ups
Finally, let’s look at some common mistakes that people make when attempting the Australian pull-up.
Partial Range Of Motion
The first mistake is not going for a full range of motion.
This means that a person does not lower enough, or doesn’t hit the bar with the chest. This is problematic, as it hinders you from getting the most out of the exercise.
It’s better to do just 3 Australian pull-ups with the correct technique and posture than 10 with incorrect ones.
Depending On Your Heels Too Much
Secondly, people tend to rely on their heels too much.
Remember, this exercise is meant to train your back, not your feet. Lifting yourself by pushing off the ground cuts back on the benefits that you can get for your back and arms. It’s harder, but it’s also more rewarding.
Ultimately, people are unaware that they can also work their abs in the process.
Most people forego tensing their abs, losing out on a lot of muscle mass they could have gained otherwise. You will have to do it as a conscious effort at first, but, as with all compound movements, it will be second nature in a short while.
Using Your Arms Too Much
Although the underhand grip can focus on your arms and biceps, you want to make sure you include your back muscles.
The best cue to remember here is, use your traps and back muscles to pull forward. Don't flex your biceps first, instead, focus on squeezing the lats down.
The idea of the Australian pull up is to advance to the class pull up. Focusing on back strength and development will allow you to make the best of the movement.
Should You Do The Australian Pull Up?
So, should you do the Australian pull up?
Once you start lifting, you will notice how important back strength and development is. However, many people don't have the proper strength and power to perform the actual pull up. In addition, the result of lockdowns worldwide are people stuck to home based work outs.
In both cases, the Australian pull ups are an excellent answer to these problems.
You'll be able to maintain back strength as well as progress to a regular pull up with this movement.
It doesn’t have to be a lift that you keep in your training program year-round. Instead, you can understand the basics of this movement and use it every now and then to work on technique.
Frequent Asked Questions
What Do Australian Pull Ups Work?
Australian pull ups are considered a total body workout. They primarily work the mid back muscles, shoulders, traps, core, and biceps. Due to the movement involving gravity, the Australian pull up also works the glutes and hamstrings to prevent falling.
Do Australian Pull Ups Work Biceps?
Similar to pull ups, the Australian version works the biceps. Due to the position of your arm, the under hand grip can work your biceps and help with strength.
Why Is It Called Australian Pull Ups?
Inverted rows are known as Australian pull ups because you are under a table or bar. As the common name for Australia is down under, a pull up from down under is where you perform the exercise from under.
How To Do Australians Pull Ups At Home?
The best way to do Australian pull ups at home is using a table end. Grab one end of the table and get under it. If the table is too high up, you can use a chair for your feet to rest on. Another option at home is a setup of two chairs to use for your grip.
Are Inverted Rows As Good As Pull Ups?
Inverted rows are also known as Australian Pull Ups. They work similar muscles and involve the same motor patterns as the pull up. However, the inverted row is a progression exercise to the eventual pull up. As a beginner exercise, start with the inverted row and once you can do 5 sets of 10-15 reps easily, move on to pull-ups.
Australian pull-ups are a great tool in your arsenal to tackle back workouts, to progress towards a pull-up, and to work on your compound movements.
Although not the most popular out of the bunch, it is a great exercise that brings amazing benefits with time and which is easy to set up.
If you don’t feel strong enough to do a classic pull-up or simply don’t want to buy a pull-up bar, give the Australian pull up a shot.
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DISCLAIMER: This article is for intended for educational purposes only and not as an individualized exercise prescription, therefore no one can be held liable in the occurrence of injuries, damages or monetary losses as a result of the information.