There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing weighted pull-ups, what benefits can you expect?
Doing weighted pull-ups is simply doing pull-ups while you carry external weights with your body.
Popular types of pull-up equipment for this are dip belts, heavy chains, and weighted vests but in theory, you could also use a heavy backpack.
Weighted pull-ups are not for everyone. As a strength training beginner or intermediate regular pull-ups are likely challenging enough.
Once bodyweight pull-ups are not challenging enough anymore you can consider doing weighted pull-ups.
You do have to keep in mind that adding weight to regular pull-ups increases your injury risk. Make sure your pull-up technique is good before adding weights.
Some people question how useful weighted pull-ups can be but adding weights to your regular pull-ups can offer you some amazing benefits.
1. Can help you lose more weight
Losing weight is about using up body fat, which is basically energy stored. To do this you want to make sure that you require more energy throughout the day than there is coming in from food.
One way to try to make this happen is by doing a workout. By increasing the intensity of your movements for a period of time you use up more energy than usual.
Weighted pull-ups can help with weight loss since doing them generally requires more energy compared to regular pull-ups.
A big factor in how many calories you burn during a workout is your weight. To move around your body needs energy, measured in calories. The more weight you carry, the more energy you need to fuel movement.
For example a 155-pound (70 kg) person doing pull-ups for 15 minutes burns around 110 calories.
On the other hand, a 185-pound (83 kg) person doing pull-ups for 15 minutes burns around 131 calories.
There will likely be a difference in how much external weights increase calorie-burning vs the same weight in body fat but that just shows how weighted pull-ups can benefit weight loss.
Another way workouts help you lose weight is by increasing your muscle mass which in turn helps with burning more energy with everything you do. Weighted pull-ups help increase back muscle mass too.
Adding weights to your pull-ups will likely not make or break your weight loss journey but even a small improvement in a workout you do often will make a big difference over time.
Keep in mind that other lifestyle habits like what you eat are important when trying to lose weight no matter what exercise you do. You can work out and gain weight at the same time if your other lifestyle habits are not good.
2. Helps you build more muscle
Pull-ups are mainly a strength training exercise, which means they are mostly for improving muscle strength and endurance.
Extra muscle is not only beneficial for your health in many ways but it is also considered to be visually appealing.
Some of the muscles you work out with pull-ups include:
- Latissimus dorsi
Generally the more weight you have to move, the more muscle you will build with an exercise. That’s one of the reasons why people go to a gym instead of doing bodyweight exercises at home.
Pull-up statistics imply that most people will find the bodyweight version challenging enough.
That being said, individuals who are more experienced with resistance training may need the weighted version to see progress with this vertical pulling exercise.
To build the most muscle mass you want to do about 4 sets of 10-40 pull-ups depending on how advanced you are. As you get stronger, you will have to increase the weight you use to stay in this same range.
3. Improved cardiovascular health
Your cardiovascular system is the circulatory system inside of your body and includes heart and blood vessels. These transport many types of important nutrients, oxygen, and waste throughout your body.
When you move more intensely your body needs to transport these things, which means using your heart, at a higher rate.
Your heart is a muscle that can be trained by using it more intensely.
Doing weighted pull-ups makes your heart beat faster and thus helps you strengthen your cardiovascular system more compared to pull-ups without external weights.
In turn, this leads to a wide variety of other benefits (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
Do keep in mind that muscles can get injured. If you have not done any physical activity in a long time you may want to start out with low-intensity movements without external weights and build up from there.
4. Helps you build fast muscle
Not all muscle is the same, it can be made of different types of muscle fibers. These different types have different properties with accompanying advantages and disadvantages.
A common categorization of these muscle fibers is “type 1, slow-twitch muscle” and “type 2, fast-twitch muscle”.
Your muscle groups are not made of one or the other, they are made of a certain ratio of type 1 vs type 2 fibers. The way you train can influence this ratio (6).
The type 1, slow-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for longer duration workouts like jogging, swimming at a low tempo, cycling at a low tempo,… Basically activities at intensities you can do for an extended period of time.
The type 2, fast-twitch muscle fibers are generally more useful for short duration, fast body movement workouts like sprints, powerlifting, javelin throwing,…Basically activities at intensities you can only do for a short period of time.
As a strength training beginner pull-ups will initially help you build type 2 muscle fibers. Once you get to a point where pull-ups start being a less intensive exercise they will help you build more type 1 muscle fibers.
If you add weights at this point, you can continue building more fast type 2 muscle fibers.
5. Improved bone density
Exercise can help improve, and prevent degeneration of, your bone density, basically the strength of your bones (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12).
This is helpful for avoiding broken bones. Depending on your age you may not be that worried about something like this right now.
However, exercising right now can help you avoid broken bones in 40 years. The things you do today have an impact on the future.
The way many parts of your body work is that by challenging them you set in motion processes that strengthen these body parts.
A similar principle applies to your bones. By putting pressure on them in safe amounts, eating enough nutrients, and resting enough, you can make your bones stronger in the long-term.
Weighted pull-ups put more pressure on your bones than bodyweight pull-ups. This in turn will benefit your bone density in the long term.
Generally, workouts on land with a lot of jumping and strength training exercises are the best for improving bone density. Next, you have exercises that put less pressure on your bones like walking.
Lastly, you have exercise in the water like swimming which will still benefit bone density but likely not as much as the other categories.
6. Makes your pull-ups more time-efficient
Another benefit of doing weighted pull-ups is that they can help you decrease the time it takes to get in a good workout. A good workout session isn’t necessarily about duration.
For example to build muscle you basically want to put enough strain on your muscles so muscle growth processes start. This doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time out of your day.
A more intense cardio workout can train your cardiovascular system in a shorter amount of time than one at a lower intensity.
Weighted pull-ups can help with both of these things. This benefit of weighted pull-ups is especially useful if you have trouble finding enough time throughout your day to fit in a workout.
7. Healthier lungs
To move around your body needs oxygen, the more intensely the more oxygen. Your body absorbs oxygen from the air through your lungs.
By using your lungs more you can improve how well they work (13, 14, 15, 16, 17). Weighted pull-ups engage your lungs more than pull-ups without one.
Improving how well your lungs function leads to benefits like improved exercise performance and getting tired slower.
8. Improves posture
When doing pull-ups, even more with weighted pull-ups, with the right technique you train muscles that are important for a good posture.
Improving your posture will help you avoid related injuries. One small study even suggests that open non-verbal displays, which a good posture helps with, are attractive (18).
All in all, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from making one change in your pull-up routine.
One thing you need to remember is that even though there are benefits to weighted pull-ups, your injury risk is generally also slightly higher.
Make sure your pull-up technique is good before adding weights and pay extra attention to technique when adding weights.
Especially if you are more of an exercise beginner you want to start with regular pull-ups without any extra weights and build up from there.
Once you feel you can start doing weighted pull-ups, you can start with lower weights first and if that goes well go up to higher weights.
If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it.
In that case, you may need some rest, better technique, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that doing weighted pull-ups is not for you.
Also keep in mind that consistency is a big factor in a workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently.
If you like doing weighted pull-ups, great. If not, regular pull-ups can also offer a lot of benefits.