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Wondering how to do your pull-ups? All Marines have their own opinion. Marines often debate, palms out or palms inward, switch grips during the PFT or not.  There are certainly a lot of good questions when it comes to getting the most out of your effort. MARINES set out to get answers.

First off, let’s focus on the grip
An actual pull-up is performed with your palms facing away from you, and a chin-up is performed with your palms facing toward you.

“On pull-ups I suggest keeping your thumb tight to your fingers or on top of the bar,” said Gunnery Sgt. Brian Woodall, chief instructor of the combat conditioning program.  “On chin-ups wrap your thumb around the bar to give you more grip strength, but its personal preference depending on how you train and practice.”

Which grip is best for you?
“Both grips use three primary muscles, your latissimus dorsi, biceps, and triceps,” Woodall said. “Overhand pull-ups mainly work your lats and triceps .The biceps come into play, but they aren’t fully used. Underhand or chin-ups work all three more efficiently. So If I had to say, three muscles are better then two.”

It’s not always as simple as A numbers game
When doing pull-ups you use much more of your back, chin-ups involve using much more of your biceps,” said Ira Seth, Marine Corps Base Quantico’s Semper Fit fitness coordinator and lead trainer.

Deciding what technique to use for your pull-ups should depend on what muscle is more developed, either the back or the bicep muscles, Seth said.

To switch or not to switch grips during the PFT?
“I do not recommend switching grips because what you’re doing is spending more time on the bar, which uses more energy,” Woodall said.  “This will tire your muscles. Marines who do switch grips usually do so because they are at the end of their strength. By switching they hope to get one or two more repetitions.”

Woodall also suggested a few ways to train to increase the number of pull-ups you can do.

“Use a weight belt, lat pull-down machine and you can wrap a towel around the bar to work on grip strength,” Woodall said.

There is only one proven way to increase the number of pull-ups you perform … getting on the bar!

Photo of recommended grips for Chin-Ups and Pull-Ups

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11 Responses

  1. I learned this back in bootcamp. I had small arms, but my back was pretty developed due to being on the drumline in marching band.  Carrying drums with carriers helped me out there. Anyway, I started working on the muscle groups to perform more pullups. Later, as I got stronger, I started to widen my grip.

    Perhaps it is personal preference, but I found it easier and faster to do pullups in this manner. Some say that it’s a shorter distance to the bar and when you come down, your arm are already fully extended.  Another ‘technique’ is to drop down quickly after your chin breaks that plane as you use less energy that way, but you tend to pick up forward momentum a little, so you’ll require someone holding their arm out to prevent you from rocking.  The faster you can knock these out, the less energy you expend. 

    I use to work on pullups everyday during chow because I wanted to develop my upper body strength and when it came to PFTs, I wanted to try to get more than just 20, with wide grip. I achieved this goal in probably about 10 months. You just have to work at it. Bendover rows, pulldowns, dips, weighted dips, diamond pushups, weighted pullups, etc.  

    What also helps is knowing the Marine Corps order on the evaluation of a Physical Fitness Test.  Word by word. What is considered ‘kipping’, when to begin, what will be counted and what won’t. I had a lot of younger Marines drop off the bar at ’20’ but not have it count because you have to come back down to a regular dead hang.  Of course they pull themselves over the bar, so many PFT monitors give them the credit for it. Me, however, like to go by the book and I make sure to read them the order before the PFT so they know ahead of time. 

    There isn’t anything else to add that was already said in the original article so I’m off. Semper Fi

  2. Richard Moore says:

    Mr. Chittum is very much correct. His described “negative” pull-ups are exactly the exercise I used years ago to be able to do one arm pull-ups. It really dies work with fast results.

  3. Richard Moore says:

    re: Mr. Chittum’s comment #2 –
    That is the exact method I first used to do one arm pull-ups. He, of course, is correct – significant
    progress may be seen in a very short time.
    Thanks, Gary, for the go back in time.

  4. Garry Chittum says:

    While in MSG School I increased my pull ups in a matter of weeks by (1) Training on the bars with the larger diameter since we wouldn’t have a choice on which bars we would be tested on. This proved to be most beneficial since grip strength increased significantly and fortunately final testing was done on the smaller diameter bars. (others weren’t so fortunate having trained on the smaller diameter bars yet having to be tested on the thicker bars)
    (2) Doing negative pull-ups especially when one can only do a minimal number of pull ups to begin with. ie Jumping up and holding the position chin above bar as long as possible then resisting lowering to extended arms. This can be done over and over with significant gains within weeks.

  5. Richard Moore says:

    To Pull-Up or to Chin-Up:

    Personally I do 1 set of 10 each
    back-to-back. I then wait 15
    minutes and repeat the 2-set.

    This allows the various muscles
    to stay in shape. I’m 67 and, so,
    am not looking to be in the shape
    I was when I was 25 (back then I
    could do 20 one-arm pull-ups with
    either arm – not any more!).

    As far as the old “who can do more”
    issue, be careful on this one. My
    kids (42 & 36) found out the hard way
    on this one. They are both 6 feet
    tall and weigh around 180. I’m 5’8″
    and weigh 140. Physics dictates that
    less weight and less distance to pull
    equals more pull-ups than a taller,
    heavier opponent. This assumes, of
    course, that both people are in pretty
    much the same physical condition.

  6. PI Marine 57 says:

    Wish someone told me that at basic 20 years ago! Good to know now though.

  7. Junr says:

    Why would you want to do 85? That is just a waste for the PFT. Good for training though.

  8. Ricky Recon Sgt says:

    Choose your grip by determining which way you can do more. I like to change it up and work both ways equally. They say not to change ur grip but they are stupid and i bet they cant even get a 300 pft. I like to do 5-10 pullups or chinups then hang for 1 min, then do another max set either way, then hang for 1 min, then another max set, then hang for as long as you can without touching the ground. What they dont understand is if you had the grip strenght to hang on the bar for an hour you would get 100+ easy. Remember there is no time limit during a PFT. I once watch a Sgt get 83 pullups(20pulls,20chin,10pulls,10chin,10pull,5chin,5pull,3chin) It took him over 10 min and the instructor was tell him to drop while he was hanging and letting the blood flow back into his arms but when he was done all that instructor could say was wow, ive never seen a Marine do more then 35. If you still cant do pull ups go to

  9. allanonmage says:

    If you can’t do many, it sucks. While on deployment, I went from 2ish to an easy 10+. No secret, I just kept at it. What helped was the pyramid though: 1, then 2, then 3, …up to 5, then back down to 1. If you can’t do more than a few at a time, increase the number of sets that you do. ie set a goal to do 20, and don’t call it done till you do. You can work the sets in with other exercises to allow for greater recovery time too.

  10. D DeLavern cpl veteran says:

    I wish I could do one either way…

  11. palms says:


    Nett, dass man sich hier mit dem Thema wenigstens mal ordentlich beschaeftigt. Habe die Ausfuehrungen dazu foermlich verschlungen (-:…