Power racks, cages and even some robust squat stand models come natively equipped with pull-up bars mounted between the racks; it’s a feature expected by any lifter in the market for a rig.
What a lot of these lifters don’t realize, however, is the versatility that a pull-up bar anchored to a stable rack can offer.
Pull-ups are a phenomenal exercise (they’re arguably the king of all upper body pull movements), but if all you’re doing with your 1” bar is putting your chin over it, you’re missing out. Give the following three ideas a try next time you’re in the gym, and all of your wildest dreams will come true.
Dead Hangs And Inversion Hangs
Me demonstrating the dead hang from the pull-up bar.
Walk into your neighborhood weight room and ask any lifter–young or old–if they’ve experienced pain, discomfort or injury. Not only will nearly all of them give a resounding “yes”, but I’d wager that the majority also point to their shoulders, backs, or likely both as the point of aggravation.
This could be due to a number of reasons–faulty movement patterns, limited mobility, and overzealous machismo to name a few–regardless, battles with shoulder and back health are issues with which nearly everyone can identify.
One of the simplest tools you can use to improve your situation is something everyone has access to (except the handful of astronauts currently camped out in the the International Space Station): gravity.
Simply grab the pull-up bar with both hands, relax every muscle in your body (except your grip), and hang for a couple minutes. If your grip gives out early, either wrap some deadlifting straps on the bar and tie yourself in, or set the clock for two minutes, and pause it every time you need to take a break.
While it can be difficult at first, this process is effectively used by many fitness professionals to improve the position of the acromion joint, relieve tension in the lats, and decompress the spine. I personally make an effort to do it every day. Since making it a daily practice, my shoulder flexion and stability have improved dramatically.
If spinal health is your concern, and you want to give your hands a rest, put on a pair of inversion boots, and anchor yourself to the bar. Most rack-mounted bars offer excellent support and stability for hanging like a bat. Just make sure the bar is tall enough for your body in a full upright position (or wear a helmet).
Bands, Tubes, Ropes And Suspension Rig Anchor
All the gear mentioned in the article anchored to the pull-up bar of my Rogue R4 rack
There are dozens of strength and muscle building exercises made possible with a good power rack, a barbell and a few hundred pounds of plates. But what if dozens of exercises aren’t enough?
Don’t you need hundreds or even thousands of accessory movements to get stronger and put on muscle?
No, but no one ever listens to me.
If you don’t have access to expensive equipment and machines and pulley systems, look no further than two feet above your head to unlock the infinitely versatile potential of the pull-up bar.
I don’t have a lat pulldown machine, a cross-cable rig or any Nautilus equipment in my garage gym, but I do have a pull-up bar, a ton of cheap resistance bands and tubes, battle ropes and a suspension rig (i.e., TRX and WOSS). Here are some of my favorite exercises that can be easily performed with the aforementioned equipment:
Banded shoulder distractions: I already discussed the benefits of hanging for shoulder health, but a heavy resistance band wrapped around an elevated bar is another amazing tool for hitting hard-to-reach angles and positions in an effort to improve shoulder mobility.
Tricep extensions/pushdowns: Throw a tube over the bar, or tie a band to it, and voila! You have a fancy tricep pushdown machine. Now, get to work on that horse shoe.
Lat pulldowns: As in the case of tricep extensions, a tube thrown over the bar makes a great lat pulldown anchor. In my garage gym, I perform banded pulldown variations while sitting on the floor for extra resistance. Tubes and bands also offer the unique feature of accommodating resistance at the most distal part of the movement. Incorporate isometric and eccentric-focused pulldowns to take full advantage of this feature.
Suspension rows and push-ups: Rows and push-ups using a suspension rig, like TRX, offers a very unique experience in strength and stability. Performing suspension exercises from your pull-up bar is a lot more convenient than drilling a hole in your ceiling.
Heavy battle rope pulls: Battle rope pulls are a chronically underused exercise (everyone just wants to slam the ropes!). Simply wrap one end of a 50’ rope around the bar and pull hand-over-fist until it’s almost unraveled. Then switch to the other side of the rope and repeat as many times as desired. For an extra challenge, wrap the rope around the bar two or three times, or tie a kettlebell to one end (just make sure no one is under the bar when your grip gives out…watch Rambo to see what can happen).
For more details and reviews on my experience with the gear listed above, check out my article here: My Garage Gym: More About it Than You Ever Wanted to Know
Hanging Leg Raises
Me demonstrating a dead stop hanging leg raise
Pavel Tsatsouline said, “Comrade, I have never known a single person who regularly practiced hanging leg raises, and failed to develop a hard and useful set of abs. Ever.”
After reading Pavel’s Hardstyle Abs, I began taking this movement more seriously and including it in my programming (I didn’t realize the bastardized, choppy and sloppy version of this exercise that I had seen in gyms across the country was not the same thing he was talking about). I can say without hesitation that the strict hanging leg raise is my preferred method of building an iron clad anterior chain (the ab roller is a close second…seriously, I love those things).
So, what equipment do you need to build a core that that plugs power leaks in your deadlift, absorbs blows from drunken ne’er do wells, and turns heads on the beach? You guessed it. A pull-up bar.
You could technically do these on any pull-up bar, however, as in the case of hanging from inversion boots, I prefer to know that my head isn’t going to splatter under the weight of my 250 lbs frame while I hang upside down. Having said that, the stability of a power rack offers peace of mind, as well as the equipment needed to get the job done.
On a side note, do your HLRs strictly, or don’t bother doing them at all (your back and shoulders will listen to me, even if you don’t).
Rob is an ACE certified personal trainer and CPPS Level 1 Coach. He’s also the owner and head trainer at Three Storm Fitness. While he’s not working on making people better at living, he enjoys spending time with his family, dabbling in all things tech, playing guitar and trying not to get choked out at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu