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Close-grip pull-ups (or chins) were probably forced on you in gym class, perhaps by an overweight PE teacher (who had not done pull-ups in many years). If this was the case, you may not have developed much affection for this exercise. However, it turns out that this old-school exercise is really a very good tool for blitzing most of the muscles of the middle and upper back, shoulders, chest and arms.1,2 It also turns out that close-grip chins are great to use if you are traveling and not near a gym, and also as an addition to your back- or arm-training day.

Muscle Structure and Function

Many muscles are recruited to accomplish close-grip pull-ups, which makes it a difficult but extremely productive exercise. This includes everything from the intrinsic muscles of the hand to grip the bar, to the forearm and especially the upper arm muscles that help in the pull upwards, and the deltoid and upper back muscles to continue the pull-up.

The latissimus dorsi muscle is a major upper back muscle that is activated by close-grip pull-ups.1 This muscle connects the vertebrae in the thorax and lumbar regions and the iliac crest of the hip bone, to the humerus bone of the upper arm near the shoulder.3 The muscle fibers of the latissimus dorsi muscle adduct the humerus (bring the arm toward the center of the body), and extend the humerus (pulls the arm backward) to pull the body upward toward the bar. The close-grip pull-up keeps the humerus in an adducted position. The upper fibers of the latissimus dorsi muscle are most completely activated when the hands begin above shoulder height and they are pulled toward the armpits (axilla), during the pull-up exercise.

The teres major muscle begins on the inferior angle of the scapula (shoulder blade), and it attaches to the humerus bone of the upper arm. It assists in arm extension, and adduction of the arm at the shoulder joint when the arms are over the head in close-grip pull-ups.3 The short head of the biceps brachii muscle begins on the front part of the scapula bone.4 The long head of the biceps brachii muscle attaches on the scapula near the shoulder joint. The long head sits on the lateral part of the arm, and its fibers mesh with the short head on the medial side of the arm to insert into the bicipital tendon, which attaches to the radius bone of the forearm. Both heads of the biceps flex the elbow joint.4

The brachialis muscle is also a major elbow flexor.4 It begins on the distal half of the humerus and it inserts on the ulna bone of the forearm. Even the pectoralis major muscle of the chest is activated in close-grip pull-ups.1 The sternocostal head of the pectoralis runs from the manubrium (the top portion of the sternum or “breast bone”), and the upper six ribs and converges near the head of the humerus.4 The pectoralis major muscle adducts the humerus in the close-grip position. It is most active at the beginning of the pull-ups, and it has less of a role as the chest is pulled close to the bar.

The upper fibers of the large trapezius of the upper back attach along the posterior base of the skull and the cervical vertebrae of the neck. These fibers attach to the lateral part of the clavicle (collar bone) and along the spine of the scapula. They pull the clavicle upward in the pull-up. The middle fibers of this muscle begin on the upper thoracic vertebrae, and then run to the spine of the scapula. They pull the scapula toward the vertebrae at the top of the pull-up.5

Close-Grip Pull-Ups

If you cannot do bodyweight pull-ups, use an assisted pull-up machine, as this will allow you to get the benefit from the exercise without requiring you to initially have the strength to pull up your entire bodyweight. After a couple of weeks, you will be able to reduce the amount of weight on the assisted machine, and in a few months you will be ready to tackle the exercise without any additional resistance on the assistant machine.

1. Follow the instructions for your assisted machine pull-ups for setup (kneel or stand on the platform as appropriate) and select desired weight. If you are not using the assist machine, step up on a box that will allow you to grab a pull-up bar.

2. Take a narrow grip4 (shoulder width or slightly narrower) on the bar overhead, just above your head. The hands should be pronated (palms facing away from your face).

3. Pull yourself up (flex the elbows and extend the arms) until the bar is adjacent to the upper part of the chest (just above the chin). Attempt to get your body as high as possible to ensure a complete contraction of the upper and intermediate back muscles (i.e., trapezius, and small scapular muscles) and the elbow flexors (biceps and brachialis).

4. Slowly (3-5 seconds) lower yourself until your arms, upper back and chest are completely stretched at the bottom position. Start upward and repeat the sequence to finish the set.

The pull upward extends the humerus bone and activates the latissimus dorsi, teres major, part of the pectoralis, trapezius and deltoid muscles.1,2 The elbows, however, must flex so the biceps brachii and brachailis muscles are strongly activated.3,4

Don’t get bummed if at first, you find it difficult to do the pull-ups without some assistance. With some consistent effort and time invested into the training program, you will be able to reduce the assistance and pull your body up multiple times and without any help. The hanging position on the close-grip pull-up causes a traction gravitational load on the spine2 that safely carves out a strong, hard-as-granite look to your upper body. Not a bad result for such a basic old-school exercise.


1. Youdas JW, Amundson CL, Cicero KS et al: Surface electromyographic activation patterns and elbow joint motion during a pull-up, chin-up, or perfect-pullup rotational exercise. J Strength Cond Res 2010;24:3404-3414.

2. McGill SM, Cannon J, Andersen JT: Muscle activity and spine load during pulling exercises: influence of stable and labile contact surfaces and technique coaching. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2014;24:652-665.

3. Tucker WS, Bruenger AJ, Doster CM et al: Scapular muscle activity in overhead and nonoverhead athletes during closed chain exercises. Clin J Sport Med 2011;21:405-410.

4. Moore, K.L. Clinically oriented Anatomy. Third edition. Baltimore, Williams & Williams, 501-553, 1992.

5. Signorile JF, Zink AJ and Szwed SP. A comparative electromyographical investigation of muscle utilization patterns using various hand positions during the lat pull-down. J Strength Cond Res 16: 539-546, 2002.

The post Upper Body Blast: Get a Bigger Back, Shoulders and Arms appeared first on FitnessRX for Men.

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By: Stephen E. Alway, Ph.D., FACSM
Title: Upper Body Blast: Get a Bigger Back, Shoulders and Arms
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Published Date: Mon, 07 Jun 2021 20:35:34 +0000

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Ripped Leg Blast for Carved Thighs



Powerful and thick thighs require gut-busting exercises like squats and leg presses. However, once you have acquired adequate thigh mass and strength, you should consider adding some balance and sharpness to the muscle bellies in your thighs. Although tough to accomplish, leg extensions provide a great way to carve the separations between the muscle bellies, and to accentuate the “teardrop” shape of the four quadriceps muscles of the anterior thigh.

Active Muscles in Leg Extensions

The three vasti muscles comprise most of the anterior thigh.1 The vastus medialis covers the medial (inner) part of the femur bone (thigh bone). When it is well developed, it forms a teardrop-like shape over the medial side of the knee joint. The vastus lateralis muscle attaches to the lateral (outer) part of the femur bone. The vastus intermedius connects to the femur bone between the vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis muscles. The fibers of all three vasti muscles come together at the quadriceps tendon, which crosses the patella (kneecap) to attach to the tibia bone just below the knee.1

Together, the three vasti muscles extend the leg at the knee joint, although the vastus intermedius may be more fatigue resistant than the vastus lateralis.2 The vastus medialis oblique (VMO), which is a small part of the vastus medialis muscle, attaches to the medial part of the patella. It is thought to help the patella track properly during movement of the knee. Improper tracking can increase the likelihood for knee injury.

The vastus medialis and especially the VMO part of this muscle are primarily responsible for tibial rotation (rotation of the tibia bone of the lower leg on the femur) during knee extension. This rotation or “twist” has been shown to increase the activation of the VMO portion of the vastus lateralis even more than doing knee extensions with the hip adducted (thigh rotated so that the medial portion of the knee is facing mostly upwards).3 Dorsiflexion of the foot (moving the ankles so the toes are pointing towards your head) also increases the activation of the VMO by more than 20 percent.4 Likely this is because the dorsiflexor muscles stabilize the tibia during knee flexion and resist rotation of the tibia on the femur as the knee straightens.

The fourth muscle of the quadriceps group is the rectus femoris muscle. It attaches to the anterior part of the hip bone just above the hip joint.1 The largest bulk of the muscle fibers are located on the upper three-quarters of the thigh, whereas the largest belly of the vastus medialis and vastus lateralis are more inferior (i.e., closer to the knee). The distal end of the rectus femoris muscle becomes tendinous and it creates a deep valley between the lateral and medial vastus muscles as it approaches the knee.1 It assists the other quadriceps muscles by extending the leg at the knee joint, although it is less effective when the hip is flexed than if it is straight.

Leg Extensions

The three vastus muscles of the anterior thigh are strongly activated by single-leg knee extensions. The rectus femoris is not activated as strongly, but it does undergo some overload when the anterior thigh is under contractile effort, about halfway up to the top of each repetition.

1. You should always warm up your knees with some stationary cycling prior to getting into leg extensions. Furthermore, the resistance on your first set should be fairly light to allow the joint to fully warm up before you get to the heavier stuff.

2. Adjust the knee extension machine so that the pivot point of the lifting arm is directly adjacent to the center of the side of your knee joint.

3. Position the ankle roller/leg pad over the lower part of the leg (above the ankle joint).

4. Take about three seconds to slowly extend (straighten) both leg so that the weight is lifted upward from the stack.

5. Continue upwards until the tibia and the femur bones form a straight line and the knee angle is straight. Hold this for two seconds at the top.

6. Slowly lower the weight (about four seconds down) towards the starting position. Once the knee has reached 90 degrees, start the upwards extension phase again. Continue for 12-15 repetitions for the first set. Lower the number of repetitions but increase the resistance for subsequent sets.

7. On the next sets, lift the weight upwards until the knee joint becomes almost straight, but just slightly short of a total knee lockout. Be careful that you do not “jam” the knee joint into a fully locked out position, because this could cause knee cartilage damage5, especially with heavy weights. Hold the top position for a count of three before lowering the weight.

8. Lower the weight slowly (four to five seconds) towards the starting position where your knee is flexed to 90 degrees. Just before the weight stack contacts the remaining plates at the bottom, start lifting it upward for the next repetition.

The downward movement should be slower than the upward phase because you are resisting the pull of gravity. The slow lowering of the weight stretches the muscle under a resistance and this is a great stimulus to improve muscle shape and size.6

Make sure that you do not hold your breath during the lift upwards.7 Rather take a breath at the bottom (start) of the lift, and exhale as you extend the knees/legs. Take another breath at the top and slowly exhale as the weight is lowered. Take another breath at the bottom and repeat the sequence.

This is a mechanically simply exercise, but it really can be very challenging and blood depriving8,9, especially if you try to control the weight as it is moving up and down. However, if you are willing to work through some discomfort, you will be soon enjoying your new shape and slabs of carved thighs.

GettyImages 674163248 600


1. Moore K.L. Clinically Orientated Anatomy. Third Edition. Williams & Willkins, Baltimore, 1995; pp 373-500.

2. Watanabe K, Akima H. Neuromuscular activation of vastus intermedius muscle during fatiguing exercise. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2010;20:661-666.

3. Stoutenberg M, Pluchino AP, Ma F et al. The impact of foot position on electromyographical activity of the superficial quadriceps muscles during leg extension. J Strength Cond Res 2005;19:931-938.

4. Coburn JW, Housh TJ, Cramer JT et al. Mechanomyographic and electromyographic responses of the vastus medialis muscle during isometric and concentric muscle actions. J Strength Cond Res 2005; 19:412-420.

5. Senter C, Hame SL. Biomechanical analysis of tibial torque and knee flexion angle: implications for understanding knee injury. Sports Med 2006;36:635-641.

6. Alway SE, Winchester PK, Davis ME et al. Regionalized adaptations and muscle fiber proliferation in stretch- induced enlargement. J Appl Physiol 1989;66:771-781.

7. Garber CE, Blissmer B, Deschenes MR et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Quantity and quality of exercise for developing and maintaining cardiorespiratory, musculoskeletal, and neuromotor fitness in apparently healthy adults: guidance for prescribing exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2011;43:1334-1359.

8. Denis R, Bringard A, Perrey S. Vastus lateralis oxygenation dynamics during maximal fatiguing concentric and eccentric isokinetic muscle actions. J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2011;21:276-282.

9. Ueda C, Kagaya A. Muscle reoxygenation difference between superficial and deep regions of the muscles during static knee extension. Adv Exp Med Biol 2010;662:329-334.

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By: Stephen E. Alway, Ph.D., FACSM
Title: Ripped Leg Blast for Carved Thighs
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PRIMAL Preworkout



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PRIMAL Preworkout

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†These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This product is not
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By: Team FitRx
Title: PRIMAL Preworkout
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