Pull ups are an iconic compound exercise for building upper body strength. The traditional way to do them is with your hands about 1½ shoulder-width apart and your palms facing forward.
Over the years, more pull up variations have gained popularity for developing different muscle groups—from wide grip pull ups to close grip chin ups and more advanced movements like around-the-world pull ups.
One of the less complicated but equally important pull up variations is the close grip pull up (aka narrow grip pull up), which is an incredibly efficient exercise for refining your upper body.
So let’s look at the muscle groups it works, how to do it, and how it can benefit you.
Muscles Worked by Close Grip Pull Ups
The primary drivers of the close grip pull up are the lats, traps, rhomboids & biceps. However, compared to the conventional pull up, the focus is more on the biceps & pectoralis muscle groups.
Here’s an overview of the muscles you’ll work when performing close grip pull ups.
A close grip pull up is a variation of the standard pull up, so the focus is still primarily on your back muscles; specifically, latissimus dorsi muscles, or lats. These are the wide fan- or wing-shaped muscles that span most of your back.
Your lats are a significant muscle because they’re responsible for several movements, including moving your arms up and down. And since this is the primary movement in close grip pull ups, you’ll be putting plenty of focus on them.
Lats are also incredibly important for building a solid back, countering most posture problems, and getting that V-taper body shape in the long run.
Trapezius (traps) are another major muscle group in your back. They’re the upper back muscles stretching from the middle, reaching your neck, and securing your shoulder blades.
Traditional pull ups work your traps to an extent, and the close grip variations do as well. However, these exercises don’t work your traps as much as the wide grip pull up.
Rhomboids are the smaller muscles behind the traps and between your shoulder blades, and they’re crucial for the elevation and rotation movements in the close grip pull up.
Biceps and back muscles both “pull” muscles, so they work together in pull up movements. A close grip pull up puts more focus on your biceps than a wide grip pull up, but less than other variations like neutral grip pull up and chin up.
When you bring your hands closer in a pull up, you put more pressure on your chest muscles, especially the pectoralis major, but other pectoral muscles are also involved.
How to Do a Close Grip Pull Up
- To get into the starting position, grab the pull up bar with your hands about 6-8 inches apart (a few inches narrower than a shoulder-width grip) and your palms facing forward.
- Before you lift, take a deep breath and tighten your core. Also, lean your head back and push your chest slightly out to avoid hitting your head on the pull up bar.
- Once ready, lift your body by lowering your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades until your chin is at the pull up bar height. Also, try not to swing your body or legs for momentum unless you’re only slightly swinging to get that last rep or two.
- Finally, slowly lower your body until you’re back in the starting position.
- Repeat this movement for 6-10 reps and maintain proper form. If you can’t do the exercise, here are a few tips for getting started.
Comparison to Conventional and Wide Grip Pull Ups
The traditional grip up mainly works the latissimus dorsi (lats) and trapezius (traps), with a lesser focus on the biceps and other groups. As with other exercises, your hand position shifts the focus.
A wider grip puts more strain on your latissimus dorsi and traps, while not relying on your biceps as much. In contrast, a narrow grip moves some pressure to the biceps and pecs.
Close grip pull ups are also easier than regular and wide grip pull ups since the work is divided across more muscle groups.
Working Your Way to a Close Grip Pull Up
If you can’t do a single close grip pull up or want to improve your performance, here are a few exercises that utilize the same movements and help you prepare for it.
Close Grip Lat Pull Downs
Lat pull downs are very similar to pull ups. But instead of pulling your body upwards, you’re pulling a weight downwards. Every gym should have a lat pull down machine, and the technique is essentially the same.
Machine-Assisted Pull Ups
Although pull up machines aren’t as common, they’re great because they help you do the same exercise while counteracting some of your body weight. They also help you gradually build strength for pull ups by incrementing the load with each plate on the stack.
Using a Resistance Band
If you’ve already got a decent amount of muscle, but you’re just not there yet, you can wrap a resistance band around the pull up bar and your feet and do the exercise regularly. The band will help you push upwards.
Benefits of Close Grip Pull Ups
Here are some ways that close grip pull ups can benefit you.
More Muscle Groups Worked
Although wide grip pull ups are better for building bigger lats, close grip ones are a more compound exercise that will help you grow more muscle groups simultaneously, such as your biceps, delts, and pecs.
Easing Your Way to Other Grips
As previously mentioned, close grip pull ups are easier because the work is more spread out. So you can start with them and ease your way into a traditional or wide grip pull up.
Building a Stronger Back
Although a close grip pull up works many muscles, the main focus is still on your back muscles. And as you develop these, you improve your back health and posture and avoid common back problems.