The assisted pull up machine is a fantastic way to strengthen your back (as well as your shoulders, biceps and forearms), and is ideal for both beginners and those looking to build muscle effectively.
In this exercise guide, we outline everything you need to know about using the assisted pull up machine, including proper technique, muscles worked, benefits, and things to consider.
We’ve also included an example workout template, and tips on selecting the most suitable weight.
How to Use the Assisted Pull Up Machine in Your Gym
To use the assisted pull up machine:
- Start by selecting a weight. This will counter-balance your weight so the more weight you select, the easier the exercise becomes.
- To begin with, try selecting a weight slightly less than your own body weight and adjust accordingly.
- Stand on the support step and grab hold of the bar (using either an overhand or underhand grip) and place your knees/feet (depending on the machine) on the bar/pad.
- For an overhand grip, hold the bar wider than shoulder-width apart. If you opt for an underhand grip, a closer grip will likely be more comfortable.
- Keep your back straight, chest up and head looking forward.
- Squeeze your lats and biceps to pull yourself up towards the bar, as you would a regular pull up, until your chest is in line with your hands.
- Pause for a moment before lowering your body back down.
- Repeat for repetitions.
- Step off the bar/pad onto the support step and let go of the bar with your hands.
Coach’s Tip – Assisted pull up machines will vary but the above instructors should be relevant in most cases. The main difference we’ve seen is that some require you to stand on a bar, while others require you to kneel on a cushioned pad. This doesn’t influence the fundamental movement.
The assisted pull up machine primarily works the muscles of the back, including: the latissimus dorsi, trapezius and the erector spinae. The exercise will also work the biceps, shoulders, forearms and your core.
Pull Up Vs Chin Up on a Machine
Assisted Pull Up Machine Benefits
Regression for Regular Pull Ups
One of the most significant benefits of the assisted pull up machine is that is offers a regression for regular pull ups, i.e., it makes the exercise easier. This means beginners and those who are new to strength training can get started without feeling overwhelmed or disheartened.
Pull ups are a fantastic exercise, but they aren’t easy… and if you’re struggling to do them, the assisted pull up machine offers a simple and effective way to work similar muscles without needing to lift your entire body’s weight.
As you get stronger over time, you can select a lighter counter-weight so you lift more of your own weight. You may find you work all the way up to using no counter-weight and are therefore doing a full, non-assisted pull up!
As far as assisted pull ups go, we think using a machine is the most practical solution for most people, compared to using a resistance band.
Focus on Form
Due to the machine providing a counter-balance to your weight, it means you can focus on form… which is really important if you’re just getting started.
Like any exercise, the benefits of pull ups are reserved for those who execute the movement properly.
This means keeping your shoulders down, back straight, core braced, head straight and lats engaged.
The machine will encourage a slower movement, giving you time to think about how you are engaging your muscles and your movement path.
Increased Range of Motion
As previously mentioned, we tend to recommend using an assisted pull up machine (if you have access to one) over resistance bands for assisted pull ups because they are easier to set up, but they also mean you can measure and track your improvements.
Each week, you can try and use a lighter weight to counter-balance your body’s weight and see how you get on.
The ability to track your progress is really important for maintaining motivation and understanding how your training is paying off.
If you’re struggling to see any sort of improvements over a long period of time, you may want to use a PT to help offer guidance and support to help you overcome a strength plateau.
Hypertrophy (Muscle Growth)
You don’t just have to use the assisted pull up machine as a way to progress to regular pull ups… the machine offers a great way to target the back and leverage eccentric repetitions that are a great addition to any sort of muscle building workout routine.
Even if you can do a full, non-assisted pull up, you may still want to consider adding assisted pull ups into your routine due to the ability to increase time under tension and eccentric repetitions (slow, lowering phase).
Try and aim for a 3-4 second eccentric phase (lowering) of each pull up to maximize the benefits that this has on muscle growth.
Performing the eccentric phase of the pull up slower means the muscles have to work harder and this is therefore a great way to further stimulate muscle growth.
We discuss the benefits of this type of training in more detail in our guide to negative pull ups.
Similarly, the ability to pause at the top of the movement and really squeeze your lats is something that is very challenging to do in working sets of regular pull ups.
Strengthen Lats, Shoulders and Biceps
Although a regular pull up will challenge the lats, shoulders and biceps more, using an assisted pull up machine will still help target these muscle groups.
Particularly for beginners, the machine and exercise offer a simple way to strengthen the back, without needing to use free weights, such as barbells or dumbbells.
Hand Placement and Grip
Assisted pull up machines allow you to use different hand grips, which will influence how your muscles are engaged.
A traditional pull up is performed using an overhand grip, which maximizes the engage of the lats and muscles in the back.
A chin up is simply a pull up that uses an underhand grip, which engages the forearms and biceps more than using an overhand grip.
Try both options and see how you get on and decide if you have a natural preference.
The best grip for an assisted pull up machine really depends on your personal goals and other exercises you are doing in your weekly fitness routine.
You could also use a tool like Angles90 hand grips to provide a more natural rotation of the shoulders as you pull yourself up. You can simply wrap these around any sort of bar, including those found on an assisted pull up machine.
Selecting a Weight
Deciding what weight to use on the assisted pull up machine is probably one of the main questions you’ll ask yourself when you start using it.
The more weight you select, the more counter-balance the machine is giving you, which ultimately makes the exercise easier.
If you select a weight that is too light, it won’t offer you enough support and you might struggle to complete a pull up. If you select a weight that is too heavy, the machine is providing too much support which means you’ll move upwards regardless of engaging your muscles at all.
If you select a weight that is heavier than your body weight, you may also find the machine doesn’t lower you as it should, because the counter-weight is more than your bodyweight.
If you struggle to do 6 repetitions, it might suggest you’d benefit from adding more weight to help you reach 8-12 repetitions.
Selecting a weight slightly less than your own bodyweight is perhaps a good place to start to see how you get on. You can then adjust the weight to make it easier or more challenging, depending on how you found that. A bit of trial and error might be needed during your first set to gauge what sort of weight is best for you.
How to Calculate your Lift
It’s worth noting, different machines will have different pulley systems, and this might impact the weight recommendations… so the calculation for what weight is best suited to your bodyweight is far from an exact science and you may find some machines naturally offer more assistance with less weight.
If you want to see faster improvements in your strength and overall fitness, we’d recommend trying to incrementally lower the weight you are using on the assisted pull up machine over time. It’s important not to try to lower this too quickly, but try and stick to a plan that involves these weight increments.
A very simple method would be to simply place the pin in the weight above the one you are currently using and see how you get on.
Assisted Pull Up Machine Workout Template
We would recommend using the assisted pull up machine on a day you train your back or you do “pulling” movements. Alternatively, if you do full body workouts, it’s a great exercise to include due to the number of muscles engaged during the movement.
3 sets of 8-12 repetitions is a good template to follow.
This will also help you select the most appropriate weight. If you fall outside the 8-12 repetitions range, you might benefit from adjusting the weight.
Things to Consider
We think the assisted pull up machine is a great option for beginners and a simple way to develop a baseline level of strength in your back and biceps.
One important thing to consider is to try and focus on engaging your muscles and not getting comfortable with a heavy counter-balance weight. If you can do 12+ reps with relative ease, it’s likely you need to use a lighter counter-weight to ensure you’re challenging your muscles.
Each workout, try and lower the weight to see how you get on.
It’s also perhaps worth noting, each assisted pull up machine will use slightly different pulley systems, so the weight you select on one might be different on another. This is just something to bear in mind if you exercise in different gyms.
Ultimately, we think the assisted pull up machine is great piece of equipment in the gym and can be used to help improve your regular pull up, as well as offering an effective solution to build muscle in the back.
Try to do 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions… and focus on slow, eccentric movements and see how you get on. It could well become one of your regular exercises in your weekly fitness routine.