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Sternum Pull-ups : Can You Do The Most Humbling Pullup?

What counts as a full rep pull-up?

Some will say chin over the bar, others will argue chest over the bar.

However these are just, arbtirary answers that are just based on convenience of measurement.

The full range of motion of the pull-up, should be the full range that is anatomically capable.

That include complete depression and retraction of the scapula and your elbows as far back as possible.

That was what Vince Gironda thought, after seeing plenty of sloppy half ref pull-ups at his own gym back in the 70s

“The biggest mistake I have observed in lat work is not completing the movement or full contraction. This habit produces a flat back with no trapezius development or thickness." - Vince Gironda

What are sternum pullups?

Sternum pullups are a variation of pullup that work the entire range of movement of the pullup.

You start from a dead hang and end at a full retract and depression of your scapula and arms pulled back as far as possible until your sternum touches the bar.


Who is Vince Gironda?

Vince Gironda was an American professional bodybuilder, personal trainer, author, and owner of the Vince's Gym where countless bodybuilders such as Frank Zane , Lou Ferrigno and Arnold Schwarzenegger would go to train.

His nickname was the "Iron Guru". and he was the trainer for celebrities such as Will Smith, Clint Eastwood and Denzil Washington.

He was also the first and few to comment that sit-ups don’t contribute much to ab development showing us that he was way before his time.

"The way I advocate chinning for lats is to pull upwards to the overhead bar so that the nipples touch it. I realise this isn’t practical for women because they lack the arm strength of men (although I have seen a number of women in my gym who could outchin the men!). Men should always try and pull to complete contraction (that’s what builds the lats) instead of just pulling up until the chin is level with the height of the bar.” - Vince Gironda

How to Perform the Sternum Pull-up

  1. Start with a dead hang with shoulder width grip. Any grip is acceptable although neutral grip is the easiest.
  2. Depress your scapula and as you retract your scapula and pull yourself closer to the bar, you push the head back and away from the bar, arching your spine in the process.
  3. Pull until your sternum touches the bar
  4. Slowly come back down to a dead hang

Sternum Pullups Benefits

Better translation to front levers and deadlifts

Since a sternum pullup is a pullup, front lever pull and a row put all together. The movement will translate well over to front levers and deadlift (which are similar mechanically to front levers)

Better translation to rows

Since a sternum pullup is a pullup, front lever pull and a row put all together. The movement will translate well over rows.

Larger Range of Motion

In a sternum pullup your center of mass is moving a great distance. Since you are oving your body a greater distance, you are performing more work per rep.

More Muscles Worked

In a sternum pull-up, you are activating your triceps specifically the long head resposbiel for shoulder extension more since you are performing a pull over

You are also activating your traps and rhomboids at the top of the movement where you are performing a horizontal pulling movement.

Lastly, you are activating your core, since they must be used to stabilize your legs during the top portion of the repetition where you are horizontal.

“Sternum Pull-ups are the undisputed king of compound exercises for the upper back."- Charles Poloquin

Sternum Pullup Programming

Putting the Sternum Chin first in your routine is usually a good idea as its so taxing and also it helps to engage the often allusive mind-muscle connection when it comes to training the back.

Perform 3-10 reps of Sternum Pullups for 3 sets 1-2 per week.

How To Progress to Sternum Pullups

If sternum pull-ups are too hard, try performing them on the lat pull-up down machine

You can also try assistance via resistance bands, but this is not ideal as the bands don't help much with the top portion of the movement , which is actually the hardest part of the setnum pullup.

Closing Remarks

If you think you’ve mastered the pull-up, prepared to be humbled by an extremely challenging but effective pull-up variation.

This variation will teach to the better  activate the lats, and helps improve the last ROM of the back muscles that are often neglected.

About the Author

Remy started calisthenics in 2014 and has mastered advanced movements such as the one arm pull-up, front-lever, one arm muscle-up and more.

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