Do you know what vertical pull exercises are? Do you know why they’re important for a balanced training routine?

If not, then rest assured you have come to the right place.

Learning about weight training and how to create your own workouts can be overwhelming and certainly confusing.

A few years ago, I was in your exact same position. I didn’t know how to create workouts that would get me the results I wanted, while not injuring myself. I also didn’t know about vertical pull exercises and why I needed them in my workouts.

But don’t worry by the end of this post you’ll know exactly what vertical pull exercises are and why they’re crucial to include in your training routine. So you can use this knowledge to create your own workout routines that will get you results safely.

What are vertical pull exercises?

Vertical pull exercises

Vertical pull exercises are the exercises that target your latissimus dorsi (lats). With these exercises you pull the weight towards your body in a vertical line. Vertical pull exercises are one of the 6 basic movement patterns. The other 5 are:

Hip dominant

Knee dominant

Vertical push

Horizontal push

Horizontal pull

There are a few other categories, but these are the most important and the ones you should focus on. Movement patterns are vital because they help you structure workouts that are balanced.

Each category of exercises targets specific muscle groups. Therefore, if you select exercises from each category you will train all the different muscle groups. This means you’ll be able to build overall strength and muscle plus you’ll be able to avoid muscle imbalances.

And who doesn’t want that?

Why are horizontal pull exercises important?

Vertical pull exercises work your back muscles but specifically your lats. Training these muscles are important because they can help you build a strong back.

A strong back is critical for weight training since your back muscles support your spine and help you during most exercises. Building your lats will also help you create a wider back which will create the illusion of a smaller waist.

Combine vertical pull exercises with knee dominant and hip dominant exercises and voila you have built yourself an hourglass figure. Of course, it will require consistency and good nutrition, but you get the point.

The Vertical Pull exercises

Lat Pull Downs

Lat pull down

You can do lat pull downs with a variety of different grips, including the wide grip, close grip and underhanded grip. The different grip varieties help to target your muscles in a different way. Underhanded grip lat pull downs are my favorite because they give you a bigger stretch in your lats.
But you can do whichever variation gives you the best activation in your lats.

Pull Ups

Pull up

Full disclosure: pull ups are extremely difficult to perform. You will probably have to start with other vertical pull exercises to develop your strength before you tackle this beast. In addition to performing the other vertical pull exercises you can also practice performing assisted pull ups which will help you progress to bodyweight pull ups.

Assisted Pull Ups

Assisted pull  up

Think of assisted pull ups as the pull up’s little helper. They are called assisted pull ups because they have some support or resistance to help you complete the movement. They also help you progress to the full pull up because they still develop the muscles necessary to do a proper pull up.

Assisted pull ups can be performed with an assisted pull up machine or with resistance bands. Practice these until you have developed some strength and feel that you can perform regular pull ups.

Single Arm Cable Pull Down

This exercise is performed with a cable machine and the horseshoe attachment. Single arm cable pull downs are a unilateral exercise which means you work each arm one at a time.

They are an excellent exercise to help you correct a muscle imbalance in your lats because you’ll be able to focus on each side individually.

Which means, you can perform more sets on the weaker side to help the weaker side catch up. Single arm cable pull downs are also a brilliant way to help you focus on the lats if you struggle to activate them during a lat pull down.

Chin Ups

Chin ups and lats pull downs are like siblings. The difference between the two is your grip. With a chin up you are holding the bar with an underhanded grip. The benefit of a chin up is a greater stretch in your lat and they are slightly easier to perform because you get more assistance from your biceps during the exercise.

If you want to work your way to a pullup, practice performing a combination of assisted pull ups, lat pull downs and chin ups until you have built the strength to do a normal pull up.

Bodyweight Vertical Pull Exercises

Towel pull ups

If you find yourself in a position where you can’t go to a gym or you don’t have a pull up bar at home, then you can try towel pull ups. You will need a sturdy door and a towel to perform this exercise.

Step 1: Make a knot in your towel as close as possible to the middle of the towel.

Step 2: Place the knot on the outside of the door with the other two pieces hanging on the inside and close the door.

Step 3: Pull the two sides of the towel to ensure the knot is pulled snugly against the door. And then start pulling like you would with a normal pull up.

Resistance bands

Lat pull downs and single arm cable pull downs can both be performed with resistance bands that have handles and an anchor. Make sure the anchor is safely secured in your door and pull away. It’s best to perform them kneeling to ensure there is enough space to get a nice stretch and to make the exercises effective.

Chin ups and pull ups can both be performed with resistance bands.

Step 1: Select a band that has enough resistance to provide support and tie the band around the top of your pullup bar.

Step 2: Grab onto the bar with both hands and step inside the resistance band.

Step 3: Start pulling yourself up and return to the starting point. You may need to adjust the band to a heavier or lighter band depending on how strong you are.

What’s the next step?

Try out the different exercises and see which ones you like best and add your favorites to your training routine. If your goal is to do a full pull up practice assisted pull ups. Start with the heaviest band you can get your hands on and work your way to the lightest, and eventually an unassisted pull up.

Time to pull yourself to the gym and practice these exercises.

Don’t forget to check out the free resources section for some useful guides and cheat sheets.

Happy lifting!

Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC
Anna Mathis, CPT,CNC

Anna is a certified personal trainer, certified nutrition coach, and science junkie who has a passion for teaching women about weight training, nutrition, and wellness.