Pull-Ups For BJJ: Are They Good?

March 18, 2022

BJJ practitioners can become obsessed with the calisthenics movement. Endless push-ups, pull-ups, and bodyweight squats round out their BJJ strength training. I’ve talked and written extensively about how solely bodyweight exercise is not enough to maximize BJJ performance. But what about pull-ups?

Pull-ups should be a staple strength exercise for BJJ. It trains the grip, forearms, biceps, and lats essential for gripping and wrestling on the mats.

But did you know there are many ways to do a pull-up, with some being “specific” to BJJ? Pull-ups can be a simple exercise to train your BJJ grip and your back.

Are Pull-Ups Good For BJJ?

Pull-ups are an excellent exercise for BJJ. They primarily train the lets, which are the largest muscles of your back. But pull-ups also tax the biceps, forearms, and grip, which, as you will know, are vitally important for controlling your opponent.

If you’re looking for an exercise to simultaneously help your wrestling and ground game, the pull-up is your best bet.

5 Best Pull-Up Variations For BJJ

Towel Pull-Ups

The towel pull-up is one of my favorite pull-up variations for BJJ. Using the towel puts extra stress on your grip and forearms, vital for gripping the Gi. If you are training a lot of Gi each week, be careful with adding the towel pull-up as you can overload the small muscles of the forearm and fingers, causing injury.

Here’s how to do the towel pull-up:

  • Hang two hand towels over the pull-up bar.
  • Grab each towel and hang.
  • Perform pull-ups how you usually would.

You’ll find you can’t perform the same number of pull-ups without the towel. But as you get better and stronger at this, you’ll get damn close.

Gi Pull-Ups

The Gi pull-up is the “specific” version of the towel pull-up for BJJ. You can grip the collars and do pull-ups like holding another human. I’d recommend using an old Gi, so you don’t potentially ruin your nice competition Gi. Here’s how to do it:

  • Drape your Gi over the pull-up bar, so the collar hangs on either side of the bar.
  • Grip the collars and pull-up.
  • Move your head to either side of the bar at the top.

Fat Bar Pull-Ups

The fatter the bar, the harder it is for your grip. While this will reduce the number of pull-ups you can do, and therefore, under stimulating your lats, it will take your grip to another dimension. If you can hang from a fat bar and rep pull-ups, you’re likely able to grab that training partner with extra thick wrists. Here’s how to do it:

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  • Find a fat pull-up bar or add Fat Gripz to a regular bar.
  • Grip the bar with your thumb around the bar if using Fat Gripz. A thumb-over bar works for a fat bar but will make it easier on your grip.
  • Perform a pull-up by driving your elbows to your ribs and maintaining a big chest position.

Chin-Ups

We can’t forget the traditional chin-up. If you’re wondering what the difference is, it’s all in the hand position. A chin-up uses an underhand (supinated) grip which is more advantageous for the biceps, making it a great exercise to target your arms and lats combined.

It’s a good idea to use different grip positions for BJJ training, as when rolling, you have multiple grips to deal with depending on the position. So, train them all! Here’s how to chin-up:

  • Grip the bar with an underhand grip where your palms face toward you.
  • Hang with a big chest and drive your elbows to your ribs, so your chest touches the bar at the top.

Neutral Grip Chin-Ups

Another grip variation is the neutral grip and is the strongest pull-up grip. You’ll get the most reps using a neutral grip. Instead of your palms facing toward or away from you, they will be parallel or facing each other.

This allows a strong muscle in your arm named the brachialis to contribute maximally to the exercise. Here’s how to do it:

  • Grip the handles of a pull-up attachment that has parallel bars.
  • Once hanging, drive your elbows to your ribs and maintain a big chest.

Summary

The epic thing about pull-ups for BJJ is that you can do them often. Because they are a low-stress bodyweight exercise, you can perform higher volumes and not have residual soreness. I recommend mixing your grips frequently to avoid overuse injury.

For example, using pronated, neutral, and supinated grips within one workout or different training cycles.

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About the author 

James de Lacey

I am a professional strength & conditioning coach that works with professional and international level teams and athletes. I am a published scientific researcher and have completed my Masters in Sport & Exercise Science. I've combined my knowledge of research and experience to bring you the most practical bites to be applied to your combat training.


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