Pectoral Muscles Involved in Pull-Ups

By Rick Rockwell , last updated March 19, 2012
Pullups directly target the latissimus dorsi, commonly referred to as "lats" for short. The lats are located on the sides of your torso from underneath your armpits toward the spine. Numerous other muscles like the pectoralis major and the biceps brachii assist in the exercise movement but are not directly targeted. Muscles that assist, without being directly targeted, are known as synergists.

Pectoralis Major

The pectoralis major is the large chest muscle located above the stomach and below the neckline. This muscle performs numerous movements of the shoulder like adduction, internal rotation and extension. The pectoralis major possesses two heads: the sternal, which is attached at the sternum, and the clavicular, which is attached at the clavicle. The sternal head, also referred to as the "lower chest," plays the role of synergist in the pullup.

Pectoralis Minor

The pectoralis minor is the smaller of the two chest muscles and is located next to the pectoralis major. The muscle is attached to the third, fourth and fifth ribs, and is responsible for the abduction and depression of the scapula. Like the sternal head of the pectoralis major, the pectoralis minor is also a synergist in the pullup exercise movement and is not directly targeted.

Other Muscles Involved

The pullup involves numerous other synergist muscles in the back, including the lower trapezius, rhomboids, levator scapulae and teres major. The lower trapezius is a portion of the trapezius muscle that's located in the middle of the back near the spine. The levator scapulae sits above the scapula and is a muscle of the neck. The teres major sits on the outside of the scapula, and the rhomboids are located between the shoulder blades. In addition to the chest and back muscles, the biceps brachii, located on the front of the upper arm, and the brachioradialis, located on the upper-outer portion of the forearm, also act as synergist muscles in the pullup.


A pullup requires a bar that's typically six to seven feet off the ground. To begin, place your hands outside of your shoulder width and grab the bar with an overhand grip. If needed, use a step or a stool to reach the bar. Hold onto the bar and slowly lower yourself until your arms are fully extended and you feel a natural pull on your shoulders. Bend your knees 90 degrees so your feet are pointed behind you to prevent touching the ground, if you are a taller person. Pull yourself up until your neck is even with the bar and slowly lower yourself. Keep your torso straight at all times and do not rock back or forth. Perform this exercise for three set of eight to 12 reps. You can add weight by using a pullup belt, which wraps around your waist and has a chain hanging down to attach to a weighted plate.


There are numerous variations of a pullup, which modify your hand placement and grip. Some variations are the chinup, which is like a pullup but you only pull yourself up until your chin is even with the bar; the reverse grip chinup, which means you grab the bar with an underhand grip; and the neutral grip pullup, which has two handles that are perpendicularly attached to the pullup bar and make your hands face each other about shoulder-width apart. None of the variations directly target the pectoral muscles — they continue to maintain their role as synergists.
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