Upside Down Pullups for Strength, Size, & Performance

Blast Your Back and Improve Your Dips with Upside Down Pullups

Dr. Joel Seedman, Ph.D.

This upside down pullup is an unusual but highly effective movement for targeting the pulling muscles of the upper back and arms.  In addition to triggering hypertrophy in the upper torso, your abs and spinal stabilizers get absolutely crushed as you’ll need to fire every muscle in your core to maintain balance and lock in your position.  

To successfully complete this challenging movement there are several technique cues you’ll want to implement.

 1. Hollow your core and brace your abs in a similar fashion as you would see a gymnast do.  Think of doing a hollowed core leg raise position where you pull your abs in while firing your hip flexors.  

 2. When lifting your legs up and moving into the upside down position, rather than stopping once the legs are perpendicular to the floor, go slightly further (i.e. pull them slightly in back of you).  Besides engaging your abdominal musculature even further this subtle but significant adjustment will maximize your body leverage through a more rigid and hollowed core position.

3. Dorsiflex your feet and ankles by pulling your toes towards your body and engaging your anterior tibialis.  This stretches and lengthens the hamstrings to a greater degree which produces reciprocal inhibition.  As a result, the opposing muscle groups namely the quads and hip flexors achieve greater activation.  This further helps dial in the hollowed body position. 

 4. In addition to activating the feet and ankles, try to squeeze your grip as tightly as possible.  The combination of these factors produces greater neural drive and tension throughout the body via concurrent activation potentiation and irradiation.  In other words you’ll be able to produce more force on the row with increased firing throughout your primary muscles namely the lats, back, core, and arms.

5. Don’t over-row at the top of the movement as this can pull the shoulders into internal rotation.  In essence the angle and alignment of the humerus/upper arm should be very similar to that of the torso.  This is true not only of this variation but for most rows in general. 

6. The upsides down pullup can be performed on a straight bar, parallel dip bars or rings.   However, the ring variation requires greater core stability and motor control as even the slightest form of cheating, shifting, or use of momentum will cause you to lose balance.

The Perfect Pairing with Dips

Besides triggering functional strength and hypertrophy throughout your pulling muscles, the upside down pullups is also very useful for pairing with upper body pressing exercises such as chest presses. 

In fact, if you’re looking for the perfect exercise matchup in terms of grouping antagonistic movements together (i.e. rows with chest presses, pullups with overhead presses, etc.) the upside-down pullup is truly the counter opposite yet antagonistic equivalent to the standard dip.  If you took the video of the upside-down pullup and flipped it over it should look nearly identical to normal dips and visa versa.

In fact one of the best technique cues for dips is to think about mimicking a row or in this case an upside-down pull-up.  Just as you would never perform a row with a flexed spine or rounded shoulders, the same principles apply to the dip. With this in mind I often pair rowing variations and dips together to activate the reciprocal muscles involved in the dip as this helps to clean up technique. 

During the eccentric portion of the dip as the chest, shoulders and triceps lengthen, the back, lats, and biceps must work in synchrony to pull the body into the appropriate position.  The more this is practiced with rows the easier it will be to incorporate during dips. The upside down pullups transfer particularly well to reciprocal muscle activation on dips due to the similarity of movement mechanics. 

In fact, once you’ve mastered upside down pullups, don’t be surprised if your dip strength starts to skyrocket particularly if you’re able to transfer and apply the aforementioned mechanics.