• You're all caught up!

What Are the Prime Movers for the Pull-Up?

author image Danny Vasquez
Danny Vasquez has been sharing his passion for sports performance, fitness and injury prevention online since 2010. Vasquez earned his bachelor's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Los Angeles, and is a certified strength-and-conditioning specialist.
What Are the Prime Movers for the Pull-Up?
Man doing pull ups. Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

To perform a pull-up, this exercise takes a certain amount of strength and is mainly used to target the latissimus dorsi and the teres major. When the shoulder blades come together at the top of the movement, the rhomboids and the middle and lower portions of the trapezius get involved; helping add thickness and strength to the back.


Pull-ups are one the most effective and demanding exercises you can do to develop overall back and hand-grip strength. According to Frederic Delavier, author of "Strength Training Anatomy," several synergistic muscles in the arm and back are used to carry out a pull-up, though only the latissimus dorsi and the teres major are the primary movers.These two muscles insert into the humerus, which gives them the angle or leverage to pull the body upward.

Latissimus Dorsi

The latissimus dorsi, a large triangular shaped muscle located in the posterior, originates on the lower spine, last four ribs and inferior angle of scapula. The muscle the inserts into the intertubercular groove of humerus after spiraling around teres major. This allows the latissimus dorsi to extend, adduct and medially rotate the arm. The latissimus dorsi helps with forced expiration and deep inspiration as it assists in lifting the rib cage.

You Might Also Like

Teres Major

The teres major is a small muscle that originates on the lateral inferior angle of the scapula. Since it inserts to the intertubercular groove of the humerus, similar to the latissimus dorsi, it also assists with medial rotation and adduction of the arm. The teres major is known for its strength and stabilization of the shoulder joint, as it is one of the four muscles of the rotator cuff.


A few variations of the pull-up exist that can make an impact on your muscle development. Both a neutral grip and underhand still targets the two primary movers, but they tend to involve more synergistic muscles such as the biceps. In addition, Delavier states by pulling the elbows back to raise the chin to the bar, mainly solicits the upper and central fibers of the latissimus dorsi; excellent for developing the bulk of the back.


Heavy training of the back may potentially cause injury; partially tearing the long head of the triceps brachii. According to Delavier, the triceps is not used much when training the back, but the long head of the triceps is the most frequently injured muscle during lat pull-downs with heavy weight or pull-ups with added weight. Injury tends to happen when the latissimus muscle becomes over fatigued, which then shifts tension to the triceps long head.

Related Searches

LiveStrong Calorie Tracker
THE LIVESTRONG.COM MyPlate Nutrition, Workouts & Tips
  • Gain 2 pounds per week
  • Gain 1.5 pounds per week
  • Gain 1 pound per week
  • Gain 0.5 pound per week
  • Maintain my current weight
  • Lose 0.5 pound per week
  • Lose 1 pound per week
  • Lose 1.5 pounds per week
  • Lose 2 pounds per week
  • Female
  • Male
ft. in.


Demand Media