As a personal trainer, I recommend the wide grip pull-up for building muscle. For maximal latissimus muscle recruitment, pull-ups should be done with a wide hand placement, with the bar in front of the head.
A wide placement puts more tension on the rotator cuff muscle/tendon group, so be acutely aware of this; feel out the wide placement if you’ve never done it before. Don’t overdo it until your body is fully adapted to the wide hand placement.
To build up latissimus size, you should make the rep-max range 8-12. If you can do more than 12, then a weight should be added. This can be done with a waist belt (“dip belt”) or by holding a dumbbell between the upper thighs or with the feet, though with the feet may be quite troublesome.
Holding the extra weight with the feet is distracting and lengthens the resistance arm, changing the dynamics of the movement. Inserting a dumbbell between the thighs will feel more natural, and it’s less likely to fall.
The caveat is that a partner will be needed to place and remove the dumbbell if you can’t reach the pull-up bar. If no partner is available, use a stool.
It’s far more effective to do fewer pull-ups of complete range of motion, than a higher number of incomplete range. Many trainees don’t pull up high enough. The chin should go over the bar.
Next, the bottom of the movement means a dead hang or near-dead hang. For some folks, this will be uncomfortable to the shoulders, especially with a wide grip. To overcome this, practice just hanging for 10-20 seconds, several sets, several times a week. This will loosen and strengthen the structures of the shoulder joints.
Five pull-ups of full range of motion will do more to build muscle than 10 pull-ups in which the bottom of the movement consists of bent arms or the top of the exercise means that the bar is level with the individual’s eyes.
One may start out with an over-the-bar chin, and notice that as the set continues, they are no longer able to pull the chin over. This is fine; at least you were gunning for this at the start of the set; fatigue is expected.
However, put ego aside and lower to a full hang or near-hang, no matter how difficult it is to get back up. If you can’t pull back up, the set is over, even if it’s three reps.
To do more reps, have a partner help by supporting your legs. Resistance bands can aid by subtracting bodyweight. Don’t train with a gravity-assist machine; this mars the biomechanics.
The options are to 1) End the set when you can’t pull up from a full or near-dead hang, 2) Have a partner give support to the legs (or waist), and/or 3) Use tension bands.
If you’re struggling to gain muscle or simply want a great exercise for building muscle, include wide grip pull-ups in your program.