Whether you are a powerlifter or not, everyone wants to have a big deadlift.
But can pull ups help deadlift performance? Yes, pull ups can help deadlift performance by targeting the forearms, biceps and lat muscles. The forearms and biceps are important for grip strength. The lats are important for stopping the back from rounding, which subsequently helps you lockout easier in the deadlift.
In this article, we will go through exactly how pull-ups can help your deadlift strength, how to know if you will benefit from it, and how to implement it into your own training.
If you struggle with the deadlift, read our articles on:
- Is your deadlift weak off the floor? Try these 7 tips
- Is your deadlift weak at the knees? Try these 5 tips
- Is your deadlift weak at lockout? Try these 10 tips
Can Pull-Ups Increase Your Deadlift Strength?
Your deadlift strength can be broken up into the following 5 components of strength in your body:
- Grip Strength
- Leg Extension Strength
- Hip Extension Strength
- Trunk Stability Strength
- Back Strength
If you fail in the deadlift, you can potentially attribute it to one or more of the above components.
In the following section, we’re going to cover two of these components that directly relate to pull-up strength.
Why Do Pull-Ups Help Deadlifts (2 Reasons)
Pull ups will help deadlifts by improving the following components of strength:
- Grip Strength
- Back Strength
Grip strength is one of the most underrated components of the deadlift performance.
People often talk about whether their back, hips or legs are weak. Grip strength is often not developed when people choose to use lifting straps during their training for the deadlift. This means that the grip strength often gets underdeveloped as everything else gets trained.
Pull ups are a great way to challenge your grip strength. Whether you use mixed grip or double overhand hook grip, you can manipulate the grip position of your pull ups to cater for your deadlift grip style.
You can also do weighted pull up variations in order to progressively overload the pull ups in order to challenge your grip strength. I even coach my athletes to load weight onto their body and simply “hang” from the chin-up bar in order to challenge their grip strength.
I wrote an entire article on how to improve your grip strength for deadlifts.
The lats are one of the prime movers for the pull ups and these muscles are incredibly important for the deadlift.
The lats have two important functions:
- They help stop your back from rounding during the deadlift.
- They help you keep the bar close towards you when you engage these muscles (i.e. it prevents the bar from drifting away from the body, which makes the lift harder). You can read more about the best deadlift bar path in my other article.
In addition, if your lat strength is not strong enough, you may lose posture and struggle to lock your shoulders back during the lockout. Not being able to keep your back extended from having weak lats can increase injury risk.
Your lats work with your back extensors and helps maintain a neutral posture during the deadlift. This subsequently makes the work of your hips easier.
How To Know If Your Deadlifts Will Benefit From Doing Pull-Ups
Pull ups can help your deadlifts but it will not necessarily help everyone.
Here are some ways to tell if pull ups will help your deadlifts:
- Your back rounds during execution
- The bar drifts away from you
- You fail the deadlift due to grip strength
If your back rounds or if the bar drifts away from you, the pull up will help strengthen the lats that will help these issues.
In addition, if you fail the deadlift due to grip strength then the pull ups can be useful for increasing the deficit in your grip strength.
If you don’t experience any of these issues, then there are probably other exercises that will have a better impact on your deadlift strength.
If you want to learn about more exercises that help the deadlift, read my article on 18 Exercise That Will Increase Deadlift Strength.
How Should Pull-Ups Be Performed To Improve Deadlift Strength
You can manipulate the way you execute pull ups to get specific strength improvements.
Here are 3 ways you can perform pull ups to help with your deadlift:
- Underhand and narrow grip
- Overhand and narrow grip
- Overhand and hook grip
Here are reasons why you might want to choose one of the above ways of executing pullups:
Underhand and narrow grip
If you use a mixed grip for deadlifts and you lose grip on the hand that is supinated i.e. an underhand grip, then it will be useful to choose an underhand grip with the pull ups.
Choosing a narrower grip with pull ups is useful because it increases the range of motion on the lats, which maximizes the stimulus on the muscle. It is also a more similar position that your arms will be in for deadlifts, than compared to a wider grip.
Overhand and narrow grip
If you use a mixed grip for deadlifts and you lose grip on the hand that is pronated i.e. an overhand grip, then it will be useful to choose an overhand grip with the pull ups.
Overhand and hook grip
Whether your hook grip is weak because it generally is your weak point or whether you are switching to hook grip for deadlifts, it may be useful to practice hook grip on other pulling accessory exercises including pull ups.
Programming Pull-Ups For Deadlift Training
There are a few considerations that need to take into account when it comes to programming pull ups into deadlift training. The considerations will determine when, how often and how much pull ups should be.
Here are some considerations for programming pull ups for deadlifts:
- Max number of pull ups you can do
- How hard the deadlift session is
- What other and how much of other back exercises you do
Should You Do Pull Ups On The Same Day As Deadlifts?
Generally speaking, it does not matter too much whether you do pull exercises on the same day as deadlifts. However, one of the main things you need to take into consideration of whether you should do pull ups on the same day as deadlifts is your pull up strength level.
If you are generally poor at doing pull ups fresh in a training session, you should do pull ups on a different day as deadlifts. If you are generally good at doing pull ups, then you can do pull ups on the same day as deadlifts. If you are generally weak with pull ups, then your capacity to do pull ups will decrease after training deadlifts.
Here’s my general rule of thumb:
- If the most reps you can do on pull ups is 7 or less, you should train pull ups on a different day
- If the most reps you can do on pull ups is 8 or more, you can train pull ups on the same day as deadlifts.
Sample Pull Up Program To Increase Deadlift Strength
Here are two pull up programs that you can implement, one is for beginners (can’t do more than 7 pull-ups), and one is for intermediates (can do between 8-12 pull-ups).
Beginner Pull Up Program
- Pull Ups
- 3 sets 2 reps
- Pull Ups
- 3 sets 2 reps, 1 set 1 rep
- Pull Ups
- 4 sets 2 reps
- Pull Ups
- 4 sets 2 reps, 1 set 1 rep
- Pull Ups
- 5 sets 2 reps
- Pull Ups
- 4 sets 3 reps
Intermediate Pull Up Program
- Pull Ups 3 sets 4 reps
- Pull Ups 4 sets 4 reps
- Pull Ups 3 sets 5 reps
- Pull Ups 4 sets 5 reps
- Pull Ups 3 sets 6 reps
- Pull Ups 4 sets 6 reps
Other Back Exercises That Help Deadlifts
Pull ups are not the only back exercise that help with deadlifts. Here are 3 fantastic back exercises that help with deadlifts:
The lat pulldown is a great alternative to pull ups especially if you do not have a pull up bar or you cannot do many bodyweight pull ups. It mirrors the same movement pattern as a pull up.
The barbell row is a great back exercise that slightly mirrors the bottom position of a deadlift. The barbell row works the back extensors, lats and trapezius muscles too.
T Bar Row
This is similar to a barbell row, but with the elbows more tucked in. The muscles that are trained are similar to the barbell row, but there may be less emphasis on the traps but more on lats. Don’t have access to a T-bar Row? Check out my other article on the Best T-Bar Row Alternatives.
Pull ups are definitely a useful exercise to keep as a staple in your deadlift training program.
As you progress as a beginner to intermediate and beyond, you will naturally build muscle and naturally increase your bodyweight.
This will mean that if you do hit the same number of sets and reps, but your bodyweight has gained, you have ultimately progressed in your pull up strength and subsequently pass those benefits on to your deadlift performance.
About The Author: Norman Cheung ASCC, British Powerlifting Team Coach
Norman Cheung is a powerlifting coach and an accredited strength and conditioning coach under the UKSCA. He has been coaching powerlifting since 2012 and has been an IPF Team GB coach since 2016. He has experience with coaching a variety of lifters from novices to international medallists and international university teams. Along side coaching, he takes interest in helping powerlifters take their first step into coaching. He currently runs his coaching services at strongambitionscoaching.com