How To: Commando Pull-Ups

Table of Contents

Key Takeaways

    1. Pull-ups are a great way to make bodyweight workouts tougher and should be an integral part of any strength training focused on upper body strength.
    2. There are various types of pull-ups, such as the butterfly pull-up, kipping pull-up, archer pull-up, clapping pull-up, chin-up, and L-sit pull-up.
    3. Commando pull-ups are a type of pull-up where you grip the bar with one hand facing the other hand (palms facing), and you hang in line with the pull-up bar perpendicular to a normal pull-up.
    4. Performing commando pull-ups helps develop strength in the upper body, particularly the triceps, latissimus dorsi, biceps, forearms, and core muscles.
    5. Tightening the core is crucial when performing commando pull-ups to prevent unwanted rotation around the vertical axis.
    6. Commando pull-ups are great for building grip strength and increasing power in the forearms.
    7. The movement pattern of commando pull-ups heavily targets the biceps and requires significant core strength to prevent swiveling around the pull-up bar.
    8. Commando pull-ups are challenging and add to the overall difficulty and effectiveness of a workout routine.
female athlete doing pullups

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Sounds military – sounds tough! Have to try these! That is what I thought first when I read “Commando Pull Ups” a few years back.

In fact, commando pull-ups are really used by a lot of military units as one variation to spice up their exercise program.

But it is not only the military who adopted that wide range of pull-ups that we also got to know in all its painful and exhausting glory.

Pull Ups are a great way to make any body weight workout a whole lot tougher and in fact the pull-up should be a basic and integral part of any strength training targeted at upper body strength.

commando pull-ups: athlete doing archer pull-up

Crossfit and The Pull-Up

As a Crossfitter, I very well know what pull-ups are! Usually, we are getting bashed for our butterfly pull-ups. Even kipping pull-ups let all Crossfit-haters out there kick into high gear and spill out their wisdom about “all these ridiculous Crossfit pull-up variants”.

But the real truth is: there are lots and lots of pull-up versions out there and the butterfly pull-up or the kipping-pull-up are just sub-categories with their own unique goals when it comes to which muscles should be worked.

athletes doing pull-ups

Lots of Pull-Up Variations

Most people know the regular pull-up. But how about the archer pull-up? Or the clapping pull-up? Or how about chin-ups? Or the l-sit pull-up? Have you tried your luck doing a one arm pull-up already?

All the calisthenics people out there know very well what I am talking about, but the regular athlete most probably has never utilized the commando pullup or other more advanced pull-up variations.

Today, let´s talk about the commando pull-up, its benefits, and how to do it properly. Finally, let us also talk about which muscles are worked by the commando pull-up.

So here we go…

athlete doing l-sit pull-up
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23 Hardcore Upper Body CrossFit Workouts

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What is Commando Pull-Ups?

A commando pull-up is a kind of pull-up exercise where you grip the bar with one hand facing the other hand (palms facing).

You hang in line with the pull-up bar – perpendicular to a normal pull-up.

Commando pull-ups are quite demanding and help you develop strength in your upper body. The special hand placement targets various muscles, including your triceps, latissimus dorsi, and core muscles.

Another challenge that comes with this pull-up exercise is the increased lateral instability that you will experience.

Keeping your body steady in line with the pull-up bar while performing the commando pull-up is a unique challenge.

To perform commando pull-ups, begin in a dead hang position with an overhand and underhand grip on the bar.

Pull yourself up towards the bar while moving your head to one side of it at the top position, then lower yourself back down and repeat the motion.

the commando pull-up
a Crossfit gym

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How To Do Commando Pull Ups

The starting position for commando pull-ups will see you standing below the pull-up bar and in-line with the bar.

Grip the bar as described above – both hands face each other and grab the bar using an overhand grip (aka “pronated grip”), but from opposite sides.

If you are new to this exercise you might want to choose the height of the bar so that you can just barely stand while holding on to the bar.

If you are already an advanced athlete, start in a dead hang position.

Before starting to pull, make sure to tighten your core.

One major challenge of commando pull-ups is keeping your body from rotating out of line. That is why you need to keep your core tight in order to prevent unwanted rotation around the vertical axis.

Now pull yourself up until your head reaches a position next to the pull-up bar. Avoid hitting the pull-up bar with your head on the way up!

Lower yourself back down into the dead hang position. Make sure to use full range of motion!

On the next repetition move your head to the opposite side of the bar as you perform your pull-up.

animation of the commando pull-up

What Muscles Do Commando Pull-Ups Work?

The standard pull-up primarily works lats and back, and also your deltoids, rhomboids, and core.

The chin-up (supinated grip) also attacks your bicep muscles harder than the pull-up.

Now add commando pull-ups. Will you work even more muscles with this specific variation?

Well – any of these exercises have their own unique benefits.

What commando pull-ups will specifically do for you on the muscular side apart from the back and shoulder muscles:

pull-up resistance bands header

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Grip Strength

This is one of the major benefits, nobody really talks about but the grip variation used in commando pull-ups is great for building grip strength.

If you are doing any kind of strength sports, you will appreciate a well-developed grip strength. Nothing is more annoying than being able to lift heavy weights but finally failing because your grip strength just isn´t there.

gripping the barbell


Together with training grip strength comes increased power in your forearms. Hold on tight to that bar while pulling yourself up! Your forearms will thank you later…

a strong forearm

Bicep Muscles

The movement pattern of commando pull-ups involves a lot of work on your biceps. Whereas other pull-up variations heavily target your lats and back muscles in general, commando pull-ups make heavy use of your biceps.

the bicep


Once you start doing commando pull-ups you will quickly recognize just how much core strength is needed to prevent your body from wildly swiveling around below that pull-up bar.

This not only adds to the overall difficulty of this exercise but also to its effectiveness!

an attractive toned core

Last Thoughts

Commando Pull-Ups are perfect to spice up your workout routine! It´s not like pull-ups ever get boring, but commando pull-ups just add another level of difficulty and effectiveness to the pull-up exercise world.

Basically, pull-ups should be an integral part of bodyweight workouts and as we should always try to challenge ourselves with new exercises over and over again, why not add commando pull-ups to your repertoire?

fit guy doing elbow plank

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