Awesome Pullup Variation: Iso Holds

Posted on by Ben Bruno

First off, if you missed yesterday’s Good Reads, be sure to check it out.

Moving on…

Two weeks ago, I shared an inverted row iso hold that was inspired by Dan John’s “Batwing” exercise (you can read the post HERE). It is great exercise to work the upper back is horizontal plane, and I am not surprised that I have received some good feedback so far.

Today I want to spin off that post and share a similar exercise in the vertical plane: pullup iso holds. On the surface it’s pretty simple: just pull up and hold it. However, there are many different ways you could do these by varying grip style, grip width, body angle, etc.. After much experimentation on my part, I believe that the best way to do them is with a pronated (overhand) “false” grip with a slight rearward body angle. Let me explain why.

First there’s the issue of grip style. Essentially you have three options: pronated, supinated, and neutral. When it comes to the full range of motion exercise, I typically prefer either a supinated or netural grip because it feels better on my shoulders in the stretch position. When you are doing an isometric hold at the top, however, the stretch position is not an issue. As such, I do not experience shoulder issues with any of the three grips. With a supinated grip, I feel it almost exclusively in my biceps, and with a neutral grip I feel it far too much in my forearms. I feel the pronated grip most in my upper back and lats (which is what I’m shooting for) so this grip wins out. I like a medium width grip because too wide and I feel it mostly in my rear delts, and too close I feel it mostly in my forearms.


What’s more, I prefer to use a “false” grip, which means that rather than hook the thumbs underneath the bar, you rest them on top with the other fingers. This helps takes the forearms out of it to a greater extent, placing more emphasis on the muscles you are trying to work. You are literally turning your hands into hooks and letting your back do the work. Bonus.

So there’s my rationale for choosing the grip I do. Here is what it looks like in action. Here I am doing these at the end of my upper body workout for one extended 45 second isometric hold with 30 lbs. added.

The goal here is to keep your chin above the bar the whole time (I prefer to pull to my upper chest) with the shoulders pulled down and the elbows pulled back. Squeeze the upper back as hard as you can throughout the set. You also want to make sure to squeeze the abs and glutes to help maintan proper body alignment. This is actually quite a core exercise as well.

I am using these holds as a “finisher” after doing my regular workouts. I set a time limit and add weight each time I reach my time goal. So far, it’s been working great.

This is purely speculation, but I also think these isometric holds could be used by people that are struggling to do full pull-ups to work up to it. In this case, you would just use bodyweight and increase the length of the holds over time as strength increases. This may be particularly helpful in conjunction with band assisted chin-ups to help build strength in the top portion of the reps, where the bands do not offer as much assistance. I have not tried this out personally yet, but it might be something to consider.

Give these a try for yourself and see how you like them. Please also remember to subscribe to my You Tube channel HERE for more cool ideas.

  • Grant Lofthouse

    Iso holds are great finishers.

    You can use them also in stretched positions to help lengthen the muscle under tension. Some say they are the best way to stetch after training.

    Good work Ben

  • Robert

    Cool stuff, Ben.

    I do the same exercise on rings, which allows me to use a grip that's between neutral and pronated. My own experimentation has shown me that this angle fires my lats the best. Bill DeSimone also has an excellent video on performing pullups for optimal shoulder health and lat activation and he recommends a similar exercise (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHs_peIheJ8).

  • Chris

    Hey Ben, just wanted to start out by saying I love stopping by and checking out all the awesome exercises you post here. I've found many new favorite exercises from this blog.

    Second, I just wanted to let you know that since your site isn't split up into multiple pages (just one continuous list) it's hard for older computers to access. My buddy can't access it because loading all the videos at once freezes his computer (his machine is only around 5 years old). If you want to make the site more friendly for everyone you could try splitting it up to just several posts per page. Just a suggestion, either way keep up the good work!