This one is going to be simple. There is only one contender—a hollow position pull-up, strict and heavy.
Note that “hollow” does not mean hollowing your abdomen/sucking in your stomach. The hollow position is a posture from gymnastics designed to maximize your strength: tensed and shortened abs, tensed glutes, a tucked-in pelvis, flared shoulder blades, and a slightly concave body shape. The grip is secondary; the posture is primary.
The hollow posture sets up a lat synergy with the anterior muscles—pecs, serratus, abs, and obliques. This type of synergy is used in a great many athletic situations:
- Consider gymnastics. All elite ring feats like the iron cross are performed in a hollow position.
- Consider a punch from an expert in any-stand up fighting art.
- Consider two wrestlers facing off. You will not see a puffed-up chest and pinched scapulae of a bodybuilder.
The Bodybuilding Pull-up
To drive the point home, you need to feel it. Jump on the bar and do a few bodybuilding pull-ups—bent knees, a big chest, and retracted scapulae. To exaggerate the effect, cross your ankles and turn your knees out as far as they will go. And use the anatomical breathing match: expand the chest as your going up.
If you have good body awareness, you will notice that the external hip rotation took the load away from the front of the torso, making it stretched and weak, and shifted it to the middle and lower back. An entirely different type of a lat synergy.
Does it mean that this exercise is no good? No. The bodybuilding pull-up may be a poor choice in the general strength category, where the goal is high carryover to the greatest range of athletic and on the duty or on the job situations, but it has its uses, primarily as a postural correctional exercise.
The Best Upper Body Pull: The Hollow Position Pull-up
Studs and duds alike need correctives to stand straight. Athletes from many sports, gun carrying professionals, and people with physical professions acquire what Ori Hofmekler calls the “warrior posture.” You know the look: a slightly sunk-in chest and flared scapulae, a mild kyphosis, a neck that does not quite look happy where it is. I remember teaching kettlebell skills to a high-level acrobat. His lats could have been folded wings of a pterodactyl, while his rhomboids were nowhere to be found.
Which brings us into the correctives territory. We will go there another time, when we discuss rows.