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Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast seeking to enhance upper body strength or someone new to the world of calisthenics, pull-ups offer a versatile and effective way to challenge your muscles and transform your physique.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the mechanics and benefits of both basic pull-ups and the intriguing Russian fighter pull-up variation.

By understanding the specific muscles engaged in these exercises, you’ll gain insights into how these movements can sculpt your upper body and improve your overall fitness.

Let’s explore the unique journey of these exercises and discover the range of muscles they target for maximum results.


The particular Muscles engaged when combining basic pull-ups and Russian fighter pull-up exercises.

Both basic pull-ups and Russian fighter pull-up exercises primarily engage the muscles of the upper body, particularly the back and arms. However, there are some differences in the muscle activation patterns between these two exercises.

Basic Pull-Ups: Basic pull-ups primarily target the following muscles:

  • Latissimus Dorsi (lats): The largest muscles of the back are heavily engaged during the pulling motion.
  • Biceps Brachii: These muscles in the front of the upper arms assist in elbow flexion.
  • Brachialis: Situated beneath the biceps, the brachialis also assists in elbow flexion.
  • Rhomboids: Muscles located between the shoulder blades that help retract the scapulae.
  • Trapezius: The upper portion of the trapezius assists in stabilizing the shoulders and neck.
  • Rear Deltoids: These muscles at the back of the shoulders assist in shoulder extension.

Russian Fighter Pull-Up: The Russian fighter pull-up is a more advanced variation that adds rotational and asymmetrical components to the movement. This exercise engages similar muscles as basic pull-ups but with some differences due to the rotational component:

  • Obliques: These muscles on the sides of the abdomen are engaged more in the Russian fighter pull-up due to the twisting motion.
  • Rotator Cuff Muscles: The rotational aspect of the exercise engages the muscles that stabilize the shoulder joint.
  • Serratus Anterior: This muscle along the sides of the ribcage is involved in the twisting movement.

In the Russian fighter pull-up, the rotational element also requires enhanced coordination and stability from the core muscles, especially the obliques.

Both exercises engage the major muscles of the upper body, but the Russian fighter pull-up adds an additional challenge by introducing rotation, making it a more complex movement that targets a broader range of muscles.

As with any exercise, proper form and progression are important to avoid injury and achieve the desired results. If you’re new to these exercises, consider starting with basic pull-ups and gradually progressing to more advanced variations like the Russian fighter pull-up.


Let me explain further here.

Basic pull-ups primarily target muscles:


Latissimus Dorsi (Lats):

The latissimus dorsi, often referred to as the “lats,” are large, flat muscles that extend from the upper arm bone (humerus) down to the lower back and pelvis.

Latissimus Dorsi - Anatomy Muscles

Latissimus Dorsi – Anatomy Muscles

They are responsible for a variety of movements involving the shoulder joint, particularly those that involve pulling the arm down and towards the body.

During a pulling motion like a pull-up, the lats play a significant role in shoulder extension and adduction, which means they help bring the arm down and towards the midline of the body.

When you perform a pull-up, your lats are engaged as you pull your body upward.

The lats contract to bring your arms closer to your torso, and this action is essential for lifting your bodyweight during the exercise.

Strong lats not only aid in the upward movement but also contribute to stabilizing the shoulders and maintaining proper posture throughout the exercise.

Biceps Brachii:

The biceps brachii, commonly referred to as the “biceps,” are a pair of muscles located on the front of the upper arm.

Biceps - Anatomy Muscles

Biceps – Anatomy Muscles

The biceps have two primary functions: elbow flexion and forearm supination.

Elbow flexion involves bending the elbow joint, which brings the hand towards the shoulder.

Forearm supination refers to the rotation of the forearm, turning the palm from facing down to facing up.

During a pull-up, the biceps assist in elbow flexion. As you pull your body upward, your elbows bend, and the biceps contract to help lift your body.

While the lats are the major muscles responsible for the pulling motion, the biceps contribute by flexing the elbows and providing additional force to pull your body towards the bar.

It’s important to note that while the lats and biceps are key muscles involved in pull-ups, they work in conjunction with other muscles as well, including the muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and core, to perform the movement effectively.

In essence, during a pull-up, the latissimus dorsi muscles play a significant role in the pulling motion, and the biceps brachii muscles assist in bending the elbows to help lift the body. Both muscle groups are essential for performing successful pull-ups.

Let’s delve into the functions of the brachialis and the rhomboid muscles:


The brachialis is a muscle that lies beneath the biceps brachii on the front of the upper arm.

While the biceps is responsible for flexing the elbow and supinating the forearm, the brachialis is primarily involved in elbow flexion.

However, the brachialis is unique in that it plays a crucial role in elbow flexion regardless of forearm position (supinated, neutral, or pronated).

During a pull-up, the brachialis assists in elbow flexion as you pull your body upward.

While the biceps also contribute to elbow flexion, the brachialis becomes more engaged as the forearm position changes to a more neutral or pronated grip.

In pull-ups, the brachialis can help generate force to bend the elbows and bring your body closer to the bar.

Rhomboid Muscles:

The rhomboid muscles, which consist of the rhomboid major and rhomboid minor, are located in the upper back region between the shoulder blades (scapulae).

Osteopath Pointing at Rhomboid Muscle before Performing Myofascial Release Technichue

Osteopath Pointing at Rhomboid Muscle 

These muscles connect the scapulae to the spine and play a crucial role in scapular movement and stabilization.

The main function of the rhomboids is scapular retraction, which involves pulling the scapulae closer together towards the spine.

This movement is important for maintaining proper posture and shoulder stability. When you perform a pull-up, especially during the upward phase, the rhomboids contract to help retract the scapulae.

This action helps stabilize the shoulder blades against the ribcage and contributes to the overall strength and control of the pull-up movement.

In other words, the brachialis assists in elbow flexion during a pull-up, particularly when the forearm position is neutral or pronated.

The rhomboid muscles are responsible for scapular retraction, which aids in stabilizing the shoulder blades and maintaining proper posture during the pull-up exercise.

Both the brachialis and rhomboids are important contributors to the overall mechanics and effectiveness of the pull-up movement.


let’s dive into the functions of the trapezius and the rear deltoid muscles:

Trapezius Muscle:

The trapezius is a large, triangular-shaped muscle that spans the upper back and neck. It’s often divided into three distinct portions: the upper trapezius, middle trapezius, and lower trapezius.

A posterior view of the muscles of the upper back relative to the skeleton. The trapezius muscle is shown.

A posterior view of the muscles of the upper back relative to the skeleton. The trapezius muscle is shown.

Each portion has slightly different functions, but we’ll focus on the upper trapezius in relation to pull-up exercises.

The upper portion of the trapezius assists in stabilizing the shoulders and neck during various movements, including pull-ups.

When you’re performing a pull-up, the upper trapezius contracts to help elevate and stabilize the shoulder girdle.

This is important for maintaining proper alignment of the shoulders and preventing excessive shrugging or lifting of the shoulders during the movement.

The upper trapezius also plays a role in scapular elevation, which involves lifting the shoulder blades toward the ears.

While this movement is not the primary focus of pull-ups, some activation of the upper trapezius can occur as you engage the muscles necessary to stabilize the shoulder complex.


Rear Deltoid Muscles:

The rear deltoids, or rear deltoid muscles, are located on the posterior (back) side of the shoulders.

Rear Deltoids

Rear Deltoids muscles

They are one of the three heads of the deltoid muscle group, which includes the anterior deltoid (front) and lateral deltoid (side) as well.

The rear deltoids are specifically responsible for shoulder extension and transverse extension.

During a pull-up, the rear deltoid muscles assist in shoulder extension.

Shoulder extension involves moving the upper arm backward from a flexed position.

As you pull your body up during the exercise, your shoulders go from a flexed position to a more extended position.

The rear deltoids contribute to this movement by contracting to help move the upper arms backward.

Additionally, the rear deltoids help stabilize the shoulder joint and assist in maintaining proper shoulder alignment during the pull-up motion.

These muscles work in conjunction with the other muscles of the upper back to ensure smooth and controlled movement.

In other words, the upper trapezius helps stabilize the shoulders and neck during pull-ups, while the rear deltoid muscles assist in shoulder extension, contributing to the upward movement of the exercise.

Both muscle groups play important roles in maintaining stability and executing a controlled pull-up movement.

The Russian fighter pull-up muscle engagement:

Let’s explore the functions of the obliques and the rotator cuff muscles in the context of Russian fighter pull-ups:


The obliques are a group of muscles located on the sides of the abdomen, running diagonally from the ribcage down to the pelvis.

There are two sets of obliques: the external obliques and the internal obliques.

External Oblique - Anatomy Muscles

External Oblique – Anatomy Muscles

These muscles play a crucial role in various movements, including rotation and lateral flexion of the trunk.

In a traditional pull-up, the movement is primarily vertical, involving primarily the muscles of the upper body and back.

However, in a Russian fighter pull-up, an additional rotational component is introduced.

This involves twisting the body as you pull yourself up. As a result, the obliques, especially the external obliques, become more engaged in the Russian fighter pull-up compared to a basic pull-up.

The obliques play a significant role in generating the twisting motion, which is a key characteristic of the Russian fighter pull-up exercise.

This exercise challenges the obliques to work in coordination with the muscles of the upper body, adding an extra dimension of complexity to the movement.

Rotator Cuff Muscles:

The rotator cuff is a group of four small muscles and their tendons that surround the shoulder joint.

Rotator Cuff Muscles

Rotator Cuff Muscles

These muscles are the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis.

Their main function is to stabilize the shoulder joint and allow for smooth and controlled movement of the arm.

In the Russian fighter pull-up, the rotational aspect of the exercise engages the rotator cuff muscles in a unique way.

As you twist your body during the pull-up, the rotator cuff muscles work to stabilize the shoulder joint and prevent excessive strain on the surrounding structures.

These muscles ensure that the humerus (upper arm bone) stays securely positioned within the shoulder socket, reducing the risk of injury and enhancing the efficiency of the movement.

The engagement of the rotator cuff muscles is especially important during movements that involve rotation or asymmetry, as seen in the Russian fighter pull-up.

Proper rotator cuff function helps maintain the integrity of the shoulder joint and promotes safe and effective execution of the exercise.

In summary, the obliques are engaged more in the Russian fighter pull-up due to the twisting motion, and the rotator cuff muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing the shoulder joint during the rotational aspect of the exercise. Both sets of muscles contribute to the complexity and effectiveness of the Russian fighter pull-up movement.


Serratus Anterior:

I apologize for any confusion, but there seems to be a misunderstanding regarding the role of the serratus anterior muscle in a twisting movement.

The serratus anterior muscle is not directly involved in generating twisting motions; rather, its primary function is related to scapular movement and stabilization.

The serratus anterior muscle is situated on the sides of the ribcage and attaches to the scapula (shoulder blade).

Its main role is to help protract, or move forward, the scapula along the ribcage.

This movement is often referred to as “scapular protraction.” The serratus anterior is involved in activities that require reaching forward, pushing, and lifting the arms above shoulder level.

In exercises like push-ups and overhead movements, the serratus anterior plays a key role in stabilizing the scapulae against the ribcage, allowing for optimal arm movement and shoulder function.

However, in twisting motions like those found in Russian fighter pull-ups, the primary muscles involved are the obliques and other muscles responsible for trunk rotation.

It’s important to have accurate information about muscle functions to ensure safe and effective exercise execution.

If you have any further questions about muscle functions or specific exercises, feel free to ask!

A tabular on this here.

Here’s a comparison table outlining the muscles that are particularly engaged when performing basic pull-ups and Russian fighter pull-up exercises:

Muscle GroupBasic Pull-Ups EngagementRussian Fighter Pull-Ups Engagement
Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)Heavily engaged during pulling motion.Engaged for pulling, rotation, and stability.
Biceps BrachiiAssists in elbow flexion.Assists in elbow flexion.
BrachialisAssists in elbow flexion.Assists in elbow flexion.
RhomboidsAssists in scapular retraction.Assists in scapular retraction.
Trapezius (Upper)Stabilizes shoulders and neck.Provides stability during twisting.
Rear DeltoidsAssists in shoulder extension.Assists in shoulder extension.
ObliquesInvolved to a lesser extent.Engaged more due to twisting motion.
Rotator Cuff MusclesInvolved in stabilizing shoulders.Engaged to stabilize shoulder joint.
Serratus AnteriorInvolved in scapular protraction.Not directly involved in twisting.

Please note that while this table provides a general overview of muscle engagement, individual variations may occur based on factors such as exercise form, technique, and individual differences in muscle activation. Always prioritize proper form and listen to your body when performing any exercise.


Certainly! In conclusion, both basic pull-ups and Russian fighter pull-up exercises primarily engage the muscles of the upper body.

Basic pull-ups target the lats, biceps, and other upper back muscles, while Russian fighter pull-ups add a rotational component that further engages the obliques and challenges the stability of the shoulder joint.

Additionally, muscles like the rhomboids, trapezius, rear deltoids, and rotator cuff muscles play important roles in both exercises, contributing to pulling strength, scapular stability, and overall shoulder function.

It’s important to perform these exercises with proper form and gradually progress to more advanced variations while listening to your body to avoid injury and achieve effective results.

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