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Do Pull-Ups Burn Fat or Help with Weight Loss? (The Answer)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 17, 2022

In my coaching experience, pull-ups are an indispensable part of every strength training since they activate multiple muscles and gradually pile on muscle mass.

Since it is a complex exercise, I wanted to investigate if it could also play an important role in burning calories and be a part of weight loss workout plans.

So I conducted my research by recording the results of five of my clients over the 100-day pull-up challenge, which I incorporated as a regular drill.

Here are my insights.

Quick Summary

  • Performing the correct pull-up exercise form will activate not only arm and back muscle groups but also abdominal muscles to keep the body from swaying, which requires a decent amount of energy.
  • Pull-ups burn around 4.5 calories with each moderate pull-up and 6.5 with a vigorous form, but the number of calories burnt also depends on your body weight.
  • To lose fat, you should combine this exercise with cardio or HIIT exercises.

Do Pull-ups Activate Abdominal Muscles?

Man with great back muscles performing pull ups

Pull-ups activate abdominal muscles as they are constantly engaged to prevent the body from swinging while vertically moving up and down.

A study from 2018 revealed abs are the most engaged muscles throughout the pull-up motion; in the execution of a proper pull-up, your abs must stay active during both concentric and eccentric movement [1].

Pull-ups aren't ab-isolation exercises, but to perform them correctly, you should try isolating your core and let abs do the most of the job.

As my clients became used to pull-ups and started to miss the sore abs feeling, we did an 'upgraded' variation that loaded more tension to this muscle group and performed the L-pull-ups.

The revamp form is almost the same - catching the pull-up bar with an overhand grip shoulder-width apart.

The main difference is bringing your legs in front of you without bending your knees with legs parallel to the floor and body forming an L-shape. 

This way, abdominal muscles will have additional work, further activating the lower abdominal muscles and helping burn more calories.

How Many Calories Do They Burn?

Doing pull ups while lifting legs

How many calories you will burn doing this pull-up bar exercise depends on your body weight, muscle mass, and intensity.

Pull-ups are a compound movement like many other bodyweight exercises, so they activate more muscle groups requiring more calories.

For example, if you have 155 pounds, you will burn around 4.5 calories while performing a moderate-intensity pull-up, and if the intensity is dynamic, you will burn about six calories [2].

It's not the most effective exercise for fat burning, but you should remember that weight training has a long-term effect since building muscle helps raise daily energy expenditure, which adds up over the long term, and it also improves overall metabolism.

To lose one pound of body fat, you must burn a surplus of 3,500 calories, and Harvard Health publication recommends burning around 250 calories through exercises daily to get to your healthy weight [3].

As far as the results of my testing go, pull-ups did help burn some additional fat for my clients, especially visceral fat around the abdomen, but still, they are not as effective as cardio exercises or those explicitly designed for losing weight.

What Exercises Should You Combine With Them to Burn Fat?

A woman performing sit ups

Exercises you can combine with pull-ups to burn fat could be high-intensity interval training (HIIT), simple pull-up bar workout variations, or cardio for weight loss.

Pull-up bar workout variations may include leg lifts, one leg lift, windscreen wiper, toes to bar, L-sliders, or hanging crunches.

Also, you can, from time to time, execute chin-ups or push-ups for stomach fat loss as other exercise combinations to burn calories effectively and lower the same muscle group tension.

If you are in good shape and love HIIT, you can try variations like burpee pull-ups where all muscle groups are engaged for effective weight loss.

But if your goal is solely to lose weight, the most effective routine to reduce belly fat is to combine strength exercises with a cardio workout.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity each week combined with at least two days of strength training to lose fat efficiently [4].

FAQs

Do Pull-Ups Make Your Waist Smaller?

Yes, pull-ups can make your waist smaller because this exercise hits your lats and rhomboids, creating a sleek V-shape that will give a look of a smaller waist. Regular pull-ups can also help you lose belly fat and tone up your upper body, which also sculpts your abdomen.

How Many Pull-Ups A Day To Burn Belly Fat?

You should do about 84 minutes of moderate-intensity or 50 minutes of vigorous-intensity pull-up exercise daily to burn approximately 250 calories daily.

Harvard Health publication recommends burning 250 calories a day throughout training daily and consuming 250 calories less daily if you aim to lose belly fat.

Are Pull-ups an Effective Way to Lose Weight?

Since pull-ups are a compound bodyweight exercise, they are a decent option for burning calories and fat loss.

However, it is also a strenuous exercise, so it's questionable whether you will do enough pull-ups during the day to burn fat, as only a handful of my clients could complete the 100 days challenge.

My experience showed that combining cardio, strength exercise, and a healthy diet enhanced with a stimulant-free fat burner as a supplement option will lead to the fastest results.


References:

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/331402880
  2. https://community.plu.edu/~chasega/met.html
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/simple-math-equals-easy-weight-loss
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm

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