Towel Pull-Ups

Towel pull-ups: hardcore, or waste of time?

Towel pull ups involve grasping a towel in each hand while performing the pull-up. But why do people choose to use a towel instead of just grabbing the bar? The addition of the towels increases the intensity of the exercise by requiring the individual to utilize additional grip strength. The chin-up is quite possibly one of the best exercises you can do for your back. The standard chin-up is done with a wide grip, but it is thought that wrapping a towel around the chin bar and performing chin-ups while holding the towel instead of a bar will activate the forearms and middle back to a greater extent than standard chin-ups. Previous research has shown that there is no difference in muscle activation as a result of grip width. A different study has found that wide grip chin-ups activate the lats to a greater extent than the narrow grip. For example, Youdas et al. (2010) determined that no significant differences exist in the primary movers (i.e., latissimus dorsi, biceps, or trapezius) between a traditional pull-up and chin-up with hands supinated.

Researchers recently reported in the Journal of Kinesiology that towel chin-ups might not be as useful for back as trainer’s thought. Researchers hooked up electrodes all over participant’s back and measured the electrical activity of the muscle being worked with various chin-ups. The purpose of the study was to compare the muscle activity of the lats, posterior deltoid, middle trapezius, and biceps while performing three variations of the pull-up

The participants did:
– Traditional pull-ups
– Suspension machine pull-ups, and
– Towel pull-ups.

So what was the verdict on doing towel chin-ups? There were no differences in latissimus dorsi EMG, biceps, and posterior deltoid with any of the three exercises. However, middle trapezius EMG amplitude was higher in the traditional pull-up compared to towel pull-ups, and also traditional chin-ups tended to produce greater EMG amplitude than the machine pull-up variation. In conclusion, only one muscular difference existed between the exercise variations and all versions examined of the pull-up, based on the current literature, the standard chin-up is the superior exercise for exercising the lats.

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Youdas JW, Amundson CL, Cicero KS, Hahn JJ, Harezlak DT, Hollman JH. Surface electromyographic activation patterns and elbow joint motion during a pull-up, chin-up, or perfect-pullup™ rotational exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Dec; 24(12):3404-14.

Snarr RL, Hallmark AV, Casey JC, Esco MR. Electromyographical Comparison of a Traditional, Suspension Device, and Towel Pull-Up. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2017;58:5-13. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0068.

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