Do Pull Ups Work Chest?

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Written By Dan
Dan Smullen has a Bsc. in sport science & has over 9 years of experience in personal training. Apart from training and blogging, he is also a tech fanatic & loves his coffee.

Building a large and well-defined chest is what most people are looking for from their upper body development, but it can be difficult to know exactly which exercises you should be focussing on. You might be wondering: do pull-ups work chest?

Although pull-ups primarily target the latissimus dorsi muscles across your back, they also involve the pectoralis minor – which runs just underneath the broader pectoralis major around the middle part of your chest.

Read ahead to find out how to build your chest through pull-ups as well as other great exercises for crafting a big upper torso.

Can You Do A Pull Up To Specifically Target Your Chest?

Pull-ups are a great exercise for the entirety of your upper body, but they don’t actually have as much of an impact on your chest muscles as they do on your back, shoulders, and arms.

The main chest muscles that are involved when you are doing a pull-up are known as the pectoralis minor. Unlike the pectoralis major (what most people think of as your “pecs”), these muscles are more important for posture, shoulder function, and healthy breathing than the overall size and definition of your chest.

do pullups work chest

To do an effective pull-up, you need to:

  1. Grip the bar with your palms facing outwards and your hands about shoulder-width apart.
  2. Allow your body to lower to full extension (you may need to lift your feet off the ground and cross your ankles).
  3. Pull yourself up by bending your elbows, until your chin reaches above the bar (don’t let your elbows move past the point where they are parallel to your spine).
  4. Hold for a couple of seconds, and then control your descent as you lower back to your starting position.

No matter how you carry out a standard pull-up, the main area of your chest that will be worked will be the middle to lower section, rather than the upper chest which many people like to focus on.

There are, however, a few variations to this classic movement that will engage much more of your upper chest muscles.

3 Pull Up Variations That Work The Chest


Simply rotating your hands to face the other direction changes a lot of the muscles that are being utilized by this exercise. By doing chin-ups rather than pull-ups, you will actually incorporate the middle-to-lower section of your pectoralis major throughout the movement.

Wide-Arm Pull-Ups

If you grip the bar with your hands held much further apart, you will work more of your whole upper chest, and it will even target your abs as well. This can be quite tricky to start with, so you can try slowly increasing the distance between your hands over time.

One-Handed Pull-Ups

For a really intense level of activity for one side of your upper body at a time, you may be able to progress to one-handed pull-ups. These are difficult and a real challenge for any athlete, but they certainly put your chest muscles through their paces.

Primary Exercises For Working Your Chest

No matter what kind of pull-up variation you do, it will always have more of a focus on the shoulders, back, and arms than on the chest. For that reason, it’s always worth taking the time to work some traditional chest exercises into your routine if you are looking to build mass on your upper torso.

According to a study carried out by researchers from the University of Wisconsin, the best exercises for activating the pectoralis major muscles (starting from the most muscle activation and working down) are:

  • Barbell Bench Press
  • Pec Deck Machine
  • Bent-Forward Cable Crossovers
  • Chest Press Machine
  • Inclined Dumbbell Flys
  • Dips
  • Suspended Push-ups
  • Stability Ball Push-ups
  • Standard Push-ups

Exercises That Work The Chest That You Can Do At Home

Although it often feels like you need a gym membership or a lot of complicated equipment to get the body that you want, there are a surprising number of highly effective chest exercises that you can easily do from the comfort of your own home.

Bench Press

The bench press is great for activating your chest muscles, simply because it allows you to move the most weight at one time. If you don’t have access to specialist equipment, you can still get much of the same movement using a low, sturdy table and free weights – or even filled water bottles or milk jugs.

Dumbbell Pull-Overs

Dumbbell pull-overs are an excellent way to work on your torso, and they can be done in a variety of different positions with all kinds of different weights.


The humble push-up might not seem like the most complicated or intense exercise, but it is a great way to work on your chest with no equipment whatsoever. You can also vary the exercise greatly by using suspension straps or a stability ball, and there are a number of other variants besides like elevated push-ups, weighted push-ups, or banded push-ups.


It might not be easy to find anchor points at the right height that are strong enough to hold your weight comfortably, but if you can find something to hang from then dips are an excellent way to build chest muscle in a small space.


Can pull-ups make you bigger?

Pull-ups can make your chest and arms bigger, as long as you are eating the right number of calories and taking in enough protein. Muscle growth does take some time, however, and you should make sure to vary the kind of exercise that you are doing.

How many pull-ups should you do a day?

Any number of pull-ups is good for your health, but it is always best to get a significant number of reps in if you want to see the benefits. Aiming for between 15 and 30 pull-ups in a workout is a good target for most relatively active adults.

Can the average man do a pull-up?

Although many people find it very difficult to do a pull-up, the average person can usually achieve at least one. Most men who are reasonably fit and exercise their arms regularly can do between 5 and 15 reps at a time. 


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Dan Smullen has a Bsc. in sport science & has over 9 years of experience in personal training. Apart from training and blogging, he is also a tech fanatic & loves his coffee.