When it comes to back exercises there's little debate that the pull-up, particularly the wide grip weighted pull-up is king.
Here's the thing... as a beginner you can't just jump onto a bar and smash out pull-ups with less resistance, as if you were using a machine such as the lat pulldown on a low weight setting.
You need to have immense core strength to be able to hold your body in the correct position for the duration of the exercise, not to mention a powerful back to be able to pull through to clear your chin over the pull-up bar.
This is where Australian pull-ups come into the equation.
Australian pull-ups are THE BEST exercise newcomers (or anyone that cannot perform a set of regular pull-ups) can do in the gym for their back.
Forget the assisted pull-up machine.
Forget the lat pulldown.
If your end goal is to build a tapered, wide back and also have the strength to smash out set after set of body weight pull-ups this is your starting point.
How To Perform Australian Pull-Ups Correctly
Adjust your smith machine with the barbell at waist height.
Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder width, place your heels firm on the ground and maintain a straight body.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together as your move your elbows down and back, forcing your chest up toward the bar.
Pause and contract at the top before lowering yourself back down until your arms are fully extended.
Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
Common Mistakes When Guys Perform Australian Pull-Ups
Using Partial Range Of Motion
Each repetition should begin with your arms fully extended below your torso and end with the barbell up against your torso with your shoulder blades squeezed together.
Jerking Your Body To Complete The Repetition
The duration of the repetition should be slow and controlled, the top (contraction) portion of the repetition is by far the hardest, and if you're jerking your entire body to get the contraction this is a clear sign it's time to lower the number of repetitions per set.
Not Squeezing The Shoulder Blades Together
Every back exercise comes down to getting the correct contraction - the contraction is a result of squeezing your shoulder blades together and tensing your back muscles as you've pulled the weight towards your torso. You cannot get this contraction without squeezing the shoulder blades.
I feel as if I repeat this point far too often, however for years I was merely training my back without contracting the muscles correctly... needless to say for a few years my back lagged behind the rest of my physique in terms of both size and strength.
Progressions & Regressions
Want To Make Your Australian Pull-Ups Easier?
In order to make this exercise easier (assuming you're unable to perform a meaningful number of repetitions as the exercise is prescribed above) you can increase the height of your barbell in your smith machine.
The higher the bar is the easier you'll find this exercise.
If you're using a bar that is not adjustable for Australian pull-ups you can also opt to slightly bend your knees instead of having your legs fully extended, this will allow you to place your feet reasonably firmly on the ground - reducing some of the load you will be pulling - if you opt to use this regression work your way to slowly reducing the bend until you are able to perform these with straight legs.
The final regression option we have, is to use a reverse grip - i.e. have your palms facing towards you while pulling yourself up to the bar.
Palms facing towards you will increase the amount of biceps activation - assisting your back in this pulling motion. Now, this is listed as the last option as I highly recommend you use the two regressions listed above until you're able to perform them with text-book form.
Want To Make Your Australian Pull-Ups Harder?
Once you've mastered hitting consistent sets of 10+ reps utilizing the form listed above it's time to increase the difficulty.
The optimal way to do this is to raise your legs off the floor slightly.
I recommend beginning using a small calf raise block and eventually work up to a small box jump sized box - you'll find the closer to horizontal your torso becomes the harder your Australian pull-ups are!
Australian Pull-Up Variations
Here's a few different variations to mix into your regime, slightly changes in grip and tempo can make quite a big difference on exactly what muscle is being targeted.
Utilizing a wide grip will place greater emphasis on your lats, I recommend working your way up to performing your Australian pull-ups with your feet elevated before delving into these grip placement changes - not to mention you'll find wide grip quite a bit harder than the standard width grip.
Don't have a barbell or dumbbells to do curls with and want to blast your biceps?
Face your palms towards you - this greatly increases biceps activation. You'll likely find you're able to smash out more reps too!
Increased weight on your torso will increase the difficulty of your Australian pull-up.
Either have a partner balance a 45lb plate on your torso or wear a weight vest.
Want to increase the explosiveness of your pulling power?
Pull yourself up to the bar, quickly release your hands before catching yourself by grasping the bar once again and lowering yourself back down - perform these with a padded mat or crash pad underneath when you begin learning them as you'll be susceptible to hitting the back of your head on the floor if you miss the bar or fail to re-grab it in time.
Do This Superset For The Ultimate Back & Chest Pump
- 10 Australian pull-ups immediately into 10 push-ups.
- Rest for 30 seconds between rounds.
- Repeat for 10 rounds.
You'll get an insane chest and back pump, and you did it without using a barbell, dumbbell or isolation machine - this is proof all you need is a bar and some mental intensity to get it done.