Why Do I Not Feel Pull-Ups in My Back? Unveiling the Secrets to Achieving Optimal Engagement

why do i not feel pull ups in my back

Why Do I Not Feel Pull-Ups in My Back? Unveiling the Secrets to Achieving Optimal Back Engagement

Pull-ups are highly effective for developing upper body strength and overall fitness. However, some individuals struggle to feel their back muscles working during this exercise, which can hinder progress.

This article explores reasons behind the lack of back engagement and reveals secrets to achieving optimal activation. By understanding pull-up benefits, identifying relevant muscles, and implementing effective training strategies, you can maximise pull-up results and unlock the potential of your back muscles.

The question “Why do I not feel pull ups in my back” will become a thing of the past, so let’s get straight to it…

Why Do I Not Feel Pull Ups in My Back?

Many individuals may not feel pull-ups in their back due to several reasons. One of the primary factors is the size and strength of the back muscles compared to other muscle groups involved in the exercise. The back muscles, particularly the latissimus dorsi (lats), are larger and more powerful than the muscles in the arms or shoulders. This significant difference in size can make it challenging to feel the activation of the back muscles, especially if the mind-muscle connection with the back muscles is not well-established. Developing a strong mind-muscle connection through focused concentration and visualisation techniques is crucial for maximising back engagement during pull-ups. Additionally, other factors such as gripping technique, correct form, body weight, and scapular retraction can also affect back engagement during pull-ups. By addressing these factors and implementing appropriate training strategies, individuals can enhance their ability to feel the pull-ups in their back muscles and optimise their workout results.

Understanding the Benefits of Pull-Ups

Before delving into the reasons behind the lack of back engagement, let’s first establish why pull-ups are worth pursuing. Pull-ups offer a range of benefits, including improved upper body strength, increased muscle mass, enhanced grip strength, and improved posture.

By engaging multiple muscle groups, especially the back muscles, pull-ups provide a comprehensive upper body workout that can transform your physique and overall fitness level.

Muscles Utilised in Pull-Up Exercises

To understand why you may not feel pull-ups in your back, it’s crucial to identify the muscles involved in the movement. While pull-ups primarily target the back muscles, particularly the latissimus dorsi (lats), they also engage other muscle groups such as the biceps, forearms, and core muscles.

By understanding the roles of these muscles, you can focus on optimising back engagement during pull-ups.

Back Muscles: Why Size Matters

One reason you may not feel pull-ups in your back is the size and strength of the back muscles compared to other muscle groups. The back muscles, particularly the lats, are larger and more powerful than muscles in the arms or shoulders.

This can make it challenging to feel their activation, especially if your mind-muscle connection with the back muscles is not well-established. Building a strong mind-muscle connection through focused concentration and visualisation techniques is essential for maximising back engagement.

Factors Affecting Back Engagement in Pull-Ups

Several factors can affect back engagement during pull-ups. Let’s explore some common issues and techniques to overcome them:

Gripping Technique

The way you grip the bar during pull-ups can significantly impact back muscle activation. Gripping the bar too tightly can shift the focus to the forearm and biceps muscles, reducing back engagement.

Instead, consider using a hook grip or experimenting with alternative grip widths and thumb placements to optimise back muscle activation.

Correct Technique and Full Range of Motion

Using proper form and achieving a full range of motion are crucial for targeting the back muscles effectively. Ensure you engage the scapulae by retracting them before initiating the pulling phase. Maintaining a controlled descent and avoiding swinging or kipping movements can help you maintain tension in the back muscles throughout the exercise.

Making sure that you lower yourself all the way back down, ensuring your arms are straight will make sure the full range of motion is being executed correctly.

Body Weight and Assistance

Your body weight plays a role in back engagement during pull-ups. If you find it challenging to engage your back muscles due to excessive body weight, incorporating assistance or modifications can gradually build strength and enhance back muscle activation. Over time, aim to reduce assistance gradually as you develop greater strength.

Scapular Retraction

Proper scapular retraction is essential for activating the back muscles during pull-ups. Failing to retract the scapulae can limit back engagement and lead to compensatory movements. Practice scapular retraction exercises to strengthen the related muscles and improve your ability to activate the back muscles effectively.

Related: How Do I Fix My Uneven Lats?

Training Strategies to Enhance Back Engagement

Now that we understand the factors influencing back engagement let’s explore some effective training strategies to enhance your back engagement during pull-ups:

Pre-Exhaustion Technique

Pre-exhausting the lats before performing pull-ups can enhance their activation during the exercise. By pre-fatiguing the back muscles through isolation exercises such as lat pulldowns or bent-over rows, you can increase the recruitment of the lats during pull-ups. Incorporate these exercises into your warm-up routine to stimulate the back muscles before the main pull-up workout.

Mind-Muscle Connection

Developing a strong mind-muscle connection is key to feeling the back muscles working during pull-ups. Concentrate on visualising the activation of your back muscles as you perform the exercise. Focus on initiating the movement from the back and consciously engaging the lats throughout the entire range of motion.

Many professional athletes use this technique before major competition and have seen great success with it, so give a try yourself.

Addressing Weak Lats

Weak lats can contribute to a lack of back engagement during pull-ups. To address this, incorporate specific exercises and training techniques that target the lats. Lat pulldowns, assisted pull-ups, and rowing exercises can help develop the necessary strength and endurance in the lats.

Consistent training and gradually increasing the intensity will lead to stronger back muscles and improved engagement during pull-ups.

Additional Strategies to Enhance Back Training

In addition to the aforementioned strategies, the following techniques can further enhance your back training and engagement during pull-ups:

Proper Warm-Up

Before starting pull-ups, it is essential to warm up the back muscles to increase blood flow and prepare them for the exercise. Incorporate dynamic stretches and mobility exercises that specifically target the back muscles. This helps to improve flexibility, range of motion, and overall performance during pull-ups.

Breathing Technique

Proper breathing technique plays a significant role in optimizing back muscle activation during pull-ups. Exhale during the pulling phase and inhale during the lowering phase to maintain intra-abdominal pressure and stability. This controlled breathing pattern ensures efficient oxygen supply to the working muscles and enhances back engagement.

Progression and Variation

To continuously challenge your back muscles, incorporate progression and variation into your pull-up routine. Gradually increase the intensity by reducing assistance, adding weights, or incorporating advanced variations such as wide grip or close grip pull-ups. These variations target different areas of the back and promote well-rounded development.

Stretching and Mobility Exercises

To improve flexibility and range of motion in your back muscles, include stretching and mobility exercises in your training regimen. Perform exercises like cat-cow stretches, thoracic rotations, and shoulder dislocations to promote optimal mobility and enhance the effectiveness of your pull-up training.

Seeking Professional Guidance

If you continue to struggle with feeling pull-ups in your back or need assistance in optimizing your technique, consider seeking guidance from a qualified fitness professional or trainer. They can assess your form, technique, and individual biomechanics, providing personalised advice and recommendations to enhance your back muscle activation during pull-ups.

Related: Why Do I Feel Pull Ups In My Chest?

Workout To Increase Lat Engagement

Here’s a workout that can help increase lat engagement over time:

  1. Lat Pulldowns: Start with lat pulldowns, which specifically target the latissimus dorsi muscles. Sit at a lat pulldown machine and grasp the bar with a wide overhand grip. Pull the bar down towards your upper chest while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Focus on engaging your lats throughout the movement. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
  2. Assisted Pull-Ups: If you’re unable to perform full pull-ups yet, assisted pull-ups can help build the necessary strength. Use an assisted pull-up machine or resistance bands for assistance. Start by placing your knees or feet on the platform or stepping into the resistance bands. Perform the pull-up motion, focusing on engaging your lats. Gradually reduce assistance as you gain strength. Aim for 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
  3. Bent-Over Rows: Bent-over rows are an excellent compound exercise that targets the lats, as well as other back muscles. Hold a barbell or dumbbells in front of you with an overhand grip. Bend at the hips, keeping your back flat, and let the weights hang straight down. Pull the weights up towards your lower chest, leading with your elbows and squeezing your shoulder blades together. Perform 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
  4. Inverted Rows: Inverted rows are a bodyweight exercise that can be performed using a suspension trainer or a bar placed at waist height. Lie underneath the bar or suspension trainer, holding it with an overhand grip. Keep your body straight and pull your chest up towards the bar while engaging your lats. Lower yourself back down with control. Aim for 3 sets of 10-12 reps.
  5. Dumbbell Pullovers: Dumbbell pullovers are a great exercise to further target the lats. Lie on a bench with your upper back supported and hold a dumbbell with both hands. Start with the dumbbell above your chest and slowly lower it back behind your head while keeping your arms slightly bent. Feel the stretch in your lats, then bring the weight back to the starting position. Perform 3 sets of 12-15 reps.

Remember to gradually increase the weight and intensity as your strength improves. Consistency and proper form are key to enhancing lat engagement. Incorporate this workout into your routine at least twice a week, allowing adequate rest and recovery between sessions.


Why can’t I feel my back when I do pull-ups?

Not feeling your back during pull-ups can be attributed to several factors. One possible reason is the size and strength disparity between the back muscles, particularly the latissimus dorsi (lats), and other muscle groups involved in the exercise. Additionally, a weak mind-muscle connection and improper technique can hinder back muscle activation. By focusing on developing a stronger mind-muscle connection, optimizing your technique, and implementing effective training strategies, you can enhance back engagement during pull-ups.

How do I activate my back during pull-ups?

To activate your back muscles during pull-ups, focus on proper form and technique. Start by retracting your scapulae (shoulder blades) before initiating the pulling phase. Concentrate on pulling from your back muscles rather than relying solely on your arms. Engaging the lats and maintaining tension throughout the exercise will help you activate and feel your back working during pull-ups.

Should you feel pull-ups in your back?

Yes, you should ideally feel pull-ups in your back, particularly in the lats. The back muscles, including the lats, are the primary targets of pull-up exercises. Feeling the activation and engagement in your back is crucial for maximizing the benefits of pull-ups and developing a strong, well-defined back.

Should you feel pull-ups in your core?

While the primary focus of pull-ups is on the back muscles, there is some activation and engagement of the core muscles as well. The core muscles provide stability and support during the exercise. So, while you may not feel an intense burn in your core during pull-ups, there should be some activation as you maintain proper posture and stability throughout the movement.

Where should you feel pull-ups?

During pull-ups, you should primarily feel the engagement and activation in your back, particularly the lats. The pulling motion should be initiated from the back muscles, and you should concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades together. While other muscle groups like the arms and shoulders are also involved, the back muscles should be the primary focus of the exercise.

Is 20 pull-ups a day good?

The number of pull-ups you perform in a day depends on your fitness level, goals, and individual capabilities. Twenty pull-ups a day can be a challenging goal for many individuals, as pull-ups require significant upper body strength. If you can comfortably perform 20 pull-ups with proper form and full range of motion, it can be a good goal to aim for. However, if you are just starting or find it challenging to achieve that number, it’s advisable to gradually build up your strength and endurance over time. Remember to prioritise quality over quantity and listen to your body’s capabilities to prevent overexertion or injury.

Final Thoughts…

Achieving optimal back engagement during pull-ups can be a challenging but rewarding journey. By understanding the benefits of pull-ups, identifying the muscles involved, and implementing effective training strategies, you can overcome the common issue of not feeling pull-ups in your back.

Remember to focus on the mind-muscle connection, address weak lats, and optimise your technique to unlock the full potential of your back muscles. With patience, consistency, and the strategies outlined in this article, you will be well on your way to feeling the burn in your back during pull-ups and reaping the rewards of a strong, well-developed upper body.

Do you struggle to feel pull ups in your back and have these tips helped? Let me know in the comments below.

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Until next time, all the best…

Beginners Upper Body Kettlebell Workout


Founder – Sport CBDs

Featured Image Attribution – Image by bublikhaus on Freepik

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