The pull-up may be one of the most difficult exercises out there but it is both equally functional and a permanent fixture in any legit muscle building or strength training regimen. That being said, the position of your hands during a pull-up greatly changes the muscle activation, range of motion and difficulty of the exercise itself. When it comes to muscle activation, both will recruit the latissimus dorsi of the back but the close grip variation will utilize the biceps as a synergist while the wide grip pull up will decrease the overall range of motion and place more stress on the rotator cuff.
As far as difficulty, the wide grip pull-up does offer a higher degree of difficulty. This is only because the narrow grip puts the arms, shoulders and elbows in a position where they have a greater mechanical advantage and can be used as synergists. Not only that, but it also distributes the load in a way that is more natural. What this means in a practical sense is that you should be able to do more reps and more volume in the narrow grip than in the wide grip. Lastly, this does not mean that wide grip pull-ups are better or more advantageous than the narrow grip—it really just means that they are harder.
Here are some of the exercises that will help you work up to being able to accomplish this challenging exercise.
Using a band, machine or even a partner, you can start mastering the pull-up immediately by reduceing your body weight’s resistance. If using a band, start by wrapping it around the center of the pull-up bar. You can use different bands to provide varying levels of assistance. Pull the end of the band down, and place one bent knee into the loop to ensure it won’t slip out. Take a medium to wide grip on the bar. This will be your starting position. Pull yourself upward by contracting the lats as you flex the elbow. The elbow should be driven to your side. Pull to the front, attempting to get your chin over the bar. Avoid swinging or jerking movements. After a brief pause, return to the starting position. If using a partner, have them stand behind you and grasp your legs, which should be bent at 90 degrees behind you. They can manually reduce resistance off of your body weight.
Stand on a bench, step or box and place yourself at the top of the chin-up movement with palms facing out shoulder-width apart. Lower yourself over six seconds until your arms are fully extended, then step onto the bench. Raise yourself to the start position and repeat. Concentrate solely on perfecting the lowering phase of the movement. Over time, the muscle damaging eccentric potion of the exercise will increase strength and improve your ability to lift yourself up without assistance.
Some EMG research has indicated that row motions show a tendency to produce more lattisimus dorsi muscle activation that lat pull-downs or pull-ups. This means that the row could be your best friend for increasing your lat strength to succeed at the pull-up.
Stand with your mid-foot under the bar in a medium width stance. Grab the bar using a medium grip width. Narrower than on bench press, wider than on deadlifts. Hold the bar low in your hands. Unlock your knees. Keep your hips higher than on the Deadlift. Bend your knees but keep them back so the bar can’t hit them. Pick your chest up and maintain a neutral spine then pull the bar towards your lower chest. Lead with your elbows and pull them to the ceiling.