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Using a wider grip recruits the deltoids more than a narrow grip.
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The pull-up, while traditionally considered predominantly a back and biceps exercise, works a number of other upper-body muscles, including your deltoids. When performing regular pull-ups, it's mainly your posterior deltoid - the rear section - that's working, but other variations of the standard pull-up can increase deltoid recruitment and make the exercise more shoulder dominant.
By changing from a shoulder-width grip on the bar to a wider hand spacing, you increase the demand on your deltoids. This wider grip brings your lats and teres major muscles into play, and it puts more strain on the rear delts, notes trainer Mike Simone of Men's Fitness. By pulling your chest right to the bar at the top of the movement and forcing your elbows down and back, your shoulders will also get more of a workout.
Most pull-up bars can be held using an underhand or overhand grip, but if your bar has the option of using a neutral grip, with your palms facing each other, choose this. This neutral grip puts your shoulders in a more natural position, according to strength coach Jason Ferruggia, so your deltoids still get a workout without placing undue stress on your joints.
Maintaining tension in your shoulders throughout an entire set of pull-ups and not quite fully extending at the bottom of each rep is known as packing the shoulder. While this is common practice, it can lead to cheat reps and a shortened range of motion, notes trainer Logan Christopher of Breaking Muscle. Instead of keeping the tension on all the time, try unpacking your shoulders by hanging completely straight at the bottom of every rep. This will make it much tougher to generate momentum to lift yourself up and make your shoulders work harder.
Add Some Muscle-Ups
Perhaps the ultimate pull-up variation is the muscle-up. Muscle-ups start much like a regular pull-up, but with a lot more body swing and with your body further away from the bar. As you approach the top of the movement, roll your wrists over and bring your shoulders above your hands. Then, push yourself up until your arms are extended and your torso is above your hands, with the pull-up bar in-line with your thighs. These are extremely tough and only for advanced trainees. It is the explosiveness of the initial pull, combined with pushing yourself up over the bar, that increase deltoid activation. Body-weight training website Beast Skills advises performing muscle-ups on gymnastic rings when you first attempt them.