How to do jackknife pull ups

Jackknife pull ups is an upper body exercise that will strengthen the back and shoulders and is also an introduction to pull ups.

What are jackknife pull ups?

The jackknife pull up is an upper body bodyweight exercise. This exercise is great for beginners to build the required strength for pull ups. These two exercises work the same muscles and have similar movement patterns. It’s much easier because it uses less body weight as you’d have to hang on the bar with your legs placed on the chair (or something else like a bench), which reduces the strength needed to pull yourself up.

Benefits of jackknife pull ups

Jackknife pull ups have many benefits, here are few of them

Practice for pull ups

Pull ups are one of the harder bodyweight exercises. If you can’t do them already, you can start with jackknife pull ups. It works on the same muscle groups as regular pull ups. They’re great to build muscle strength and prepare for pull ups.

Improve your posture

Jackknife pull ups engage muscles responsible for the forward head posture and rounded shoulders. By strengthening them you can avoid muscle imbalances and improve your posture.

No equipment needed

Jackknife pull ups don’t require any weights or machines to do them. That makes them great for home workouts. You can do them anywhere, you only need the waist-high bar to grab and something to place your legs on.

Muscles worked during jackknife pull ups

The jackknife pull up works most of the major muscles in the upper body

The primary muscles worked in jackknife pull ups are:

  • latissimus dorsi
  • rhomboids
  • middle trapezius
  • biceps brachii

Additional secondary muscles worked include:

  • forearms
  • glutes
  • core

Step-by-step guide on how to do jackknife pull ups

  1. Sit under the bar with your legs straight
  2. Place your legs on a chair or box to support your legs
  3. Grasp the bar keeping your arms straight, your hips steady, scapula retraced, and your spine in a neutral position. The feet should rest chair
  4. Keep your core and glutes taut
  5. Inhale and exhale, pull yourself to the bar until it is as close to your chest as possible
  6. Lead the elbows tightly against the body
  7. With a breath in, lower yourself to the starting position, controlling the movement
  8. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions

Jackknife pull ups tips

Here are a few tips to help with your training

Lean back

To make this exercise easier lean back. Leaning back will use vertical as well as horizontal pull movement, which makes the exercise easier.

Raised legs

The higher your legs are placed the harder the exercise will be. When it’s getting easier for you, just put your legs higher.


Proper technique is much more important than the number of reps. Training is not about the number of reps, but a slow and controlled movement to feel the muscles.

Common mistakes

  • training without the warm up
  • Not fully extending elbows
  • moving too quickly
  • not keeping elbows close to the body

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