What Muscles Do Hammer Pull-Ups Work? – Grip, Lift, Repeat!

Pull-ups, a staple in many fitness routines, come in various forms, each targeting specific muscle groups. Among these variations, the hammer pull-up, also known as the neutral grip pull-up, stands out for its unique grip and the muscles it emphasizes. Let’s dive into the anatomy of this exercise and understand its benefits.

Hammer pull-ups, otherwise known as neutral grip pull-ups, are a variation of the traditional pull-up where the palms face each other, similar to the grip in a hammer curl. This grip variation not only offers a fresh challenge but also shifts the focus to certain muscles, particularly the brachialis, which is targeted more prominently.

The Mechanics of the Movement

The movement for hammer pull-ups remains consistent with the standard pull-up: hang from a bar and elevate your body until your chin is level with your hands. The distinguishing factor is the hand and arm posture. With the palms facing each other in the hammer grip, there’s a notable shift in muscle activation. The biceps, middle deltoid, and upper pectoral muscles are more engaged compared to the overhand grip, while the lat and neck muscles experience reduced stress.

Muscles Targeted

  1. Lattismus Dorsi (Lats): The primary muscles engaged during the motion, responsible for the broadness of the back.
  2. Biceps: Particularly the brachialis, a muscle lying underneath the biceps, gets more emphasis in this grip.
  3. Trapezius and Rhomboids: These muscles, located in the upper back, assist in the pulling motion.
  4. Brachioradialis and Brachialis: Forearm muscles that play a crucial role in flexing the elbow.
  5. Deltoids/Rotator Cuff: Though a pulling motion, the shoulder muscles are still partially involved.
  6. Pectorals: Engaged due to the element of shoulder extension.
  7. Core Muscles: Including the Rectus Abdominus and Obliques, which stabilize the body during the pull-up.

Benefits of Hammer Pull-Ups


  • Variation: Introducing different grips and exercises can prevent plateaus and repetitive strain injuries.
  • Forearm and Grip Strength: The neutral grip enhances forearm activation and grip strength, beneficial for exercises like deadlifts and barbell rows.
  • Functional Strength: Pull-ups, in general, are a testament to one’s ability to lift their body weight, reflecting genuine functional strength.
  • Shoulder Safety: The neutral grip is gentler on the shoulders, making it a preferable option for those with shoulder issues.

Perfecting the Technique

  1. Positioning: Start by hanging freely from a parallel pull-up bar with arms extended.
  2. Engage: Keep your head up, core tight, and pull yourself upwards, ensuring your elbows don’t flare out.
  3. Peak: Your chin should at least reach the height of the bar before you descend.
  4. Descend: Lower yourself in a controlled manner, maximizing muscle engagement.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

workout mistakes

  • Using Momentum: Swinging or using momentum to hoist oneself up can lead to injuries and reduces the effectiveness of the exercise.
  • Incomplete Range of Motion: Ensure you go through the full motion, from a complete hang to chin above the bar, for maximum benefits.

Always be careful when you’re working out and be sure to stretch, as you can cause pain in your lower back.

Alternative Exercises

While hammer pull-ups are excellent exercise for targeting specific upper body muscles, there are several other exercises that can offer similar benefits or provide variation to your workout routine. Incorporating these alternatives can help prevent plateaus, reduce the risk of overuse injuries, and ensure an extensive upper body workout.

1. Traditional Pull-Ups:

Traditional Pull-Ups

The classic pull-up, with an overhand grip, primarily targets the latissimus dorsi. It’s a great way to diversify your back workout and engage the muscles differently than the hammer grip.

2. Chin-Ups:

With a supinated or underhand grip, chin-ups place more emphasis on the biceps. They’re an excellent choice for those looking to enhance bicep strength and size.

3. Lat Pulldowns:

Using a cable machine, lat pulldowns can mimic the pull-up motion. They’re especially beneficial for beginners who might find pull-ups too challenging initially.

4. Inverted Rows:

Inverted Rows

Performed with a barbell set on a squat rack or using TRX bands, inverted rows target the mid-back, traps, and rear deltoids. They’re a horizontal pulling motion, offering a different angle of muscle engagement.

5. Band-Assisted Pull-Ups:

For those working their way up to unassisted pull-ups, using resistance bands for assistance can be a stepping stone. The band provides support, making the exercise more accessible.

6. Negative Pull-Ups:

Negative Pull-Ups

Focusing on the eccentric or lowering phase of the pull-up, negative pull-ups build strength and muscle endurance. Start at the top position and slowly lower yourself down.

7. Wide Grip Pull-Ups:

By taking a wider grip on the bar, this variation places more emphasis on the outer lats, providing a broader back appearance.

8. Towel Pull-Ups:

Holding onto towels draped over the bar, this variation significantly challenges and improves grip strength. It also intensifies the engagement of forearm muscles.

9. Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows

Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows

Using a bench and a dumbbell, this exercise targets the lats, mid-back, and traps. It’s an excellent unilateral exercise, ensuring both sides of the body are equally strong.

10. Body Rows

body rows

Using rings or TRX bands, body rows are a scalable exercise that targets the back, shoulders, and biceps. The angle of your body to the ground determines the difficulty.


What distinguishes hammer pull-ups from traditional pull-ups?

Hammer pull-ups, also known as neutral grip pull-ups, are characterized by the palms facing each other, similar to a hammer curl grip. In contrast, traditional pull-ups use an overhand grip with palms facing away from the body.

Why should I incorporate hammer pull-ups into my workout routine?

Hammer pull-ups target specific muscle groups, particularly the brachialis, which lies underneath the biceps. They offer a fresh challenge, reduce strain on the shoulders, and can be a more accessible pull-up variation for beginners.

Are hammer pull-ups easier or harder than regular pull-ups?

For many, hammer pull-ups are perceived as easier, especially for beginners. The neutral grip emphasizes the biceps and brachialis more, which can make the movement feel more manageable than the traditional overhand grip.

I struggle with pull-ups. Are there any alternative exercises I can try?

Absolutely! If you find pull-ups challenging, you can start with exercises like lat pulldowns, inverted rows, or band-assisted pull-ups. These alternatives help build the necessary strength and muscle endurance to progress to unassisted pull-ups.

How can I ensure proper form while performing hammer pull-ups?

To maintain proper form, start by hanging freely with arms extended. Keep your head up, core tight, and pull yourself upwards without flaring your elbows out. Ensure your chin reaches at least the height of the bar before descending in a controlled manner.

Can I build a strong upper body with just hammer pull-ups and their alternatives?

While hammer pull-ups and their alternatives are powerful exercises for the upper body, it’s beneficial to incorporate a variety of exercises for a balanced and comprehensive upper body workout. Combining different movements ensures all muscle groups are targeted and developed evenly.


While hammer pull-ups are undeniably effective, it’s essential to incorporate a variety of exercises to ensure balanced muscle development and prevent workout monotony. The alternatives listed above can be rotated into your routine, providing both challenge and diversity. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned gym-goer, these exercises can help you achieve a strong, well-defined upper body.