A power tower is a multi-purpose piece of exercise equipment found in most gyms; it works great at home too.
Using your own body weight it can provide a good upper body workout, and this article provides a tutorial and instructional videos of a power tower workout & its exercises.
What is a power tower workout?
A power tower workout typically consists of performing all of the bodyweight exercises available on that particular power tower, and usually include:
- Pull up (pronated grip)
- Chin up (supinated grip)
- Dip – chest version
- Dip – triceps version
- Vertical chair knee raise
- Low incline push up
- Ab crunch
This workout routine activates all of the upper body muscle groups: back, shoulders, chest, triceps, biceps, & abdominal muscles.
In the sections ahead I’ll get into all things power tower, including exercise demonstrations, descriptions of correct form, workout routines, and answer the power tower’s FAQs.
Up next I’ll show you a few popular examples of power towers made for home use.
Science resources included
As is my custom here on heydayDo, I will provide links to all of the relevant sports science and medical resources, clinical studies, & nutritional data used in this article.
Power tower home gyms
The list below are the 3 best-selling home gym power towers on Amazon these days.
Click on their names if you want to look at them or read their owner reviews.
If you’re new to power towers, note how similarly-built they are.
You’ll be able to do all 7 of the power tower exercises I go over in this article on any of them, thanks to this common design.
They all cost about the same too — around 200 bucks.
Power tower exercises
OK, let’s get to it.
Here are the most common exercises performed on a power tower.
You can build a nice upper body workout from these seven basic exercises, providing you do them correctly & with sufficient training volume (i.e., sets & reps).
If you’re not strong enough, lifting your own bodyweight may prove difficult.
However, some of these exercises have either easier versions that you can do, or have ways you can assist yourself using bands.
I’ll list those lite alternatives where appropriate.
The ExRx links below are 10-second demonstration videos with descriptions, and open in an adjacent window/tab.
1. Pull up
The first station on the power tower we’ll look at is the pull up & chin up bar.
It’s usually found on the side of the tower opposite from the captain’s chair/dip stations.
This allows for an area open enough to perform pull ups & related exercises.
Primary muscle groups worked:
This is one of the best exercises in all of strength training, period.
The standard pull up uses a pronated grip (hands on the bar facing away from you) that is a little wider than your shoulders.
2. Chin up
Primary muscle groups worked:
Usual grip width for a chin up is from just a little narrower than shoulder width to shoulder width.
By switching to a closer, supinated grip (meaning your hands are facing you on the bar), more of the biceps muscle is engaged.
Compared to the pull up, the altering of the hand position for the chin up also shifts the amounts of emphasis among the different back muscles and that’s why the pull up & chin up are good to train together.
Here’s a short tutorial video showing & discussing correct form for the pull up and chin up, as well as illustrating poor form.
Need a little help with pull ups?
As I alluded to earlier, pull ups are a pillar in any muscle building program.
And once you’re past the very beginning in your strength training life, you’ll want to aspire for at least 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps of this important exercise.
But those numbers are difficult to impossible for beginners and most intermediate strength trainees to achieve.
So how can someone go from zero pull ups to that?
How to get stronger at pull ups
One way is by performing what we used to call negatives back in the day.
Using a bench, a partner, a chair…whatever, get to the top of the pull up then fight gravity for a 5-count on the way down.
Try doing 2 or 3 sets of at least 5 reps of these a couple of times per week.
Here is a short (about a minute and a half) video that teaches how to do just that – negatives with a pull up – so that you can increase your strength with that exercise over time (works for chin ups too).
Note: These aren’t real easy to do, even if you can perform a couple of decent pull ups.
If you can’t perform a pull up, or you can but your form is bad, don’t bother trying these “negatives” for the time being.
You may be wondering, “So what do I do now?”
Enter the assisted pull up
If you’re not strong enough to do a pull up or chin up with correct form, no worries.
You can still perform these exercises correctly & effectively with a little help, and I’ll share a couple of options with you in a sec.
First though, the main thing is definitely don’t bother trying to do a rep any way you can, no matter how bad your pull up form is.
It’s not worth it: poor rep quality can develop bad habits and worse, you could injure yourself.
Use only good form as you get stronger
A far better approach is to use excellent form while getting some assistance so you can get up to the bar the right way.
As you get stronger over time, you can reduce the amount of help you need, and eventually you’ll be able to do a perfect pull up with just your own strength.
The three most common ways to do an assisted pull up or chin up are:
- Using a resistance band or pull up assist band
- Using a training partner
- Using a machine**
(Note: All of these pull up assist methods work with chin ups as well.)
Pull ups with a pull up assist band
This is the easiest option, since you can do them alone at home.
This link below opens a short (10 second) demonstration video on how to perform a pull up using a pull up assist band, and it includes written instructions as well.
They’re cheap & very useful: you can use them for other exercises of all kinds, including the two types of dips you’ll be doing in my power tower workout.
Assist bands are usually sold in a set of different strengths that are color-coded so you can pick how much assistance you need for each exercise.
A typical assist band set.
And here’s a 2-minute video tutorial that shows how to attach the band, which band to pick, etc.
The trainer is helping the woman with the strap for teaching purposes, but you can do all this yourself – it’s easy.
Chin ups with an assist band
This 14 second video from ExRx is a good illustration of how you can perform a chin up with perfect form using an assist band.
Note how the guy is using the band with both of his feet inside the band. Both the 1-foot & 2-feet in the band methods work fine.
Just keep in mind that if your legs aren’t limber, both feet inside the band will be harder to dismount from than having a free foot & leg to stabilize you when you’re done with your set.
Partner-assisted pull ups
If you’re training with a partner, you two can help each other complete a good set & rep routine with your pull ups & chin ups.
It’s easy: the person doing the pull ups bends their knees and tucks their feet straight back.
Their training partner holds onto their shoes or ankles and helps lift them as needed.
The person doing the pull up lowers themselves on their own and the process repeats.
Here’s a 10 second video showing what that looks like:
Here’s a more detailed explanation of the partner-assisted pull up, along with a 10 second demonstration video:
(Remember, these work with chin ups too.)
**Ghost In The (Pull Up) Machine
I’m not going to talk about the pull up & dip assist machine that some commercial gyms have, for two reasons.
First, this article is about a power tower workout not a machine circuit workout.
Second, I just don’t like those pull up machines 😄.
Ever since they started popping up in gyms about 25-30 years ago, I’ve watched thousands of people use them.
I made it a point to try & remember if any of those people ended up getting strong enough to graduate to real pull ups.
I didn’t see that strength increase occur.
Bottom line: I think it’s real easy to let the machine do too much of the work.
It’s far better to do dips like her:
3. Dips – Chest version
On a power tower, the dip station is typically attached to the front of the captain’s chair.
The two parallel dip bars are usually welded to the same part of the frame that has the chair’s arm pads attached on it.
Primary muscle groups worked:
4. Dips – Triceps version
Primary muscle groups worked:
I’m guessing all dips must look about the same to the untrained eye.
And most people do them not targeting one muscle group over another.
They just climb aboard and bang out their reps however they can.
But you can target more of your chest or more of your triceps if you want to, as you’ll see below.
And I think it’s a great idea to put into practice if you want a complete power tower workout.
You can focus on the chest version of the dip for a few sets, then switch to a triceps focus for a few.
Chest dips vs. triceps dips
In simple terms, you can emphasize the chest in a dip by
- slightly tilting your upper body forward
- flaring elbows out slightly on the descent
- getting elbows a hair above shoulders
- squeezing chest at the top using inner arms
To emphasize the triceps in a dip, you can
- keep upper body vertically straight
- keep elbows close to your body
- finish with straight locked arms
- squeeze triceps at the top
This video from top-notch pro athlete trainer Christian Thibaudeau gives a good overview of the basic overall dip, and he also goes on to point out the subtle body position differences between the chest dip & the triceps dip.
0:00 An overview starts the video.
2:04 begins his tutorial on the chest dip.
2:48 is where the triceps dip is explained.
Note: At 2:28 Christian has the guy put his straightened legs forward as part of the chest dip body position.
This is an advanced move and will be too hard for some people.
A totally acceptable alternative is to instead bend your knees so that just your upper legs point forward & down and align your feet under your body.
Band assisted dips
As with the pull ups & chin ups, dips can be a difficult bodyweight exercise for some people to do a lot of reps of.
But dips can also be performed using some help, which comes most often in the form of:
- band assisted dips
Here’s a 30-second video tutorial on how to perform the band assisted dip:
And here are ExRx’s detailed descriptions with 10 second demonstration videos for both the band assisted chest and triceps dips:
You can use a bench, a box, a chair, whatever – to help make your dips easier to do too.
I like the resistance/assist bands more than these options, because these can make the dip too easy to do sometimes.
Using assistance for difficult bodyweight exercises like pull ups, chin ups, dips, etc., will allow you to train with the sufficient volume (meaning, sets & reps) necessary to make significant gains with your muscle & strength building program.
5. Vertical chair knee raise
Now we’ll move onto the 3rd station on a power tower, the captain’s chair.
An abdominal exercise study conducted by the ACE (the American Council on Exercise) found that the captain’s chair exercise – when performed correctly & without momentum – activated the abdominal muscles 212% more effectively than the traditional crunch (2).
The most common exercise performed on the captain’s chair is the vertical knee raise, aka the VKR.
This exercise has many names and even more variations.
And it’s the same one that the ACE study I mentioned calls the Captain’s Chair Exercise that’s better than crunches for working your ab muscles.
Here’s a video demonstration & description of how to do it effectively for your ab development:
Bringing the knees up into the chest and slightly tilting the upper body forward in a mini-crunch at the top directly engages the rectus abdominis muscles, hence this exercise’s effectiveness.
Each rep should always start from a stationary position.
Harder isn’t always better
Here is a harder version that you’ll see some people do, using straightened legs.
However, note that it does NOT work your abs as well as the good old vertical knee raise we looked at earlier. In fact, the main muscle that’s bringing their straightened legs up is their iliopsoas.
And that’s not even an ab muscle, it’s a hip flexor.
6. Low incline push ups
Down near the bottom of the power tower frame is another exercise station of sorts.
It’s really just two handles welded parallel to each other several inches from the floor, on the pull up bar side of the power tower.
These handles are for performing slightly inclined push ups.
Obviously you can perform push ups anywhere, but since we’re talking about a complete power tower workout, we’ll be doing them right here.
The low incline and the neutral grip used due to the parallel bars make this push up a little easier to perform than the standard push up.
Here’s a 12 second video demonstrating the low incline push up with a neutral grip:
Easy version of the push up
If you can’t do a push up (or a couple of sets of several reps’ worth of push ups), no problem.
You can still crank out a bunch of push up reps using an easier, modified form of the exercise.
All you need to do is put your knees down on the floor, as shown & described here on ExRx:
(The version in this video is done with hands down on the floor. As I mentioned earlier, by using the power tower’s slightly raised handles, this will be easier to perform than this standard knees’ version.)
7. Ab crunches
As with the push ups, crunches can be performed anywhere.
But like I said, this is a power tower workout. 😄
And so as with the push up station, the crunch “station” on a power tower is down at the bottom of the frame.
It’s actually just a humble little crossbar about a foot or so off the floor.
This is to hook your bent legs over to stabilize your lower body while doing your crunches.
In that power tower image I pasted earlier, you’ll see the crunch bar joining the two tall vertical bars.
So position yourself inside the two long parallel “feet” and drape your legs over the crunch bar so that the crook of your legs sit on it.
Crunch away with good form so you build your ab muscles and don’t stress your low back in any way..
In case you’re unsure of the ab crunch’s correct form, here’s a minute-long tutorial that clearly lays it all out for you:
Power tower workout routine
Here we’ll look at a couple of power tower workouts to consider.
My training background is in muscle building, so that’s where I’m going with these sample workout routines.
3-day beginner power tower workout
There’ll be a 3-day split for beginners, with lighter volume (i.e., less sets) but you’ll be doing this entire workout 3 days per week.
The load in this power tower workout is light enough so that you can do your legs on these same 3 days.
That way you can preserve those 4 days per week of no strength training to recover, as your body acclimates to your muscle building workouts.
Power tower workout in a 4-day split
Then for the experienced intermediate & otherwise muscle-hungry people, the second program features power tower workouts that will be part of a bigger Upper Lower 4-day workout split.
They feature higher volume, so you’ll be doing them twice per week as your “upper day” workouts, and you’ll do whatever leg workout you want twice per week too.
Tip: Those assistance/resistance bands I discussed earlier can be used to make your bodyweight squats & other leg exercises much more effective.
Power tower workout for beginners
* Do this 3 times per week, never on consecutive days.
* For example, Mon-Wed-Fri, Tue-Thu-Sat, or Wed-Fri-Sun all work great.
* Do your leg workout on these 3 days as well.
- 10 minute warmup
- Pull ups – 1 set x 8-12 reps
- Chin ups – 1 set x 8-12 reps
- Chest dips – 1 set x 8-12 reps
- Triceps dips – 1 set x 8-12 reps
- Incline push ups – 1 set to failure
- Ab crunches – 1 set to failure
- Vertical knee raises – 1 set to failure
Power tower workout in a 4-day split
This is an Upper Lower 4-day workout split with the power tower handling the Upper days. For example, its 7-day schedule could be something like this:
- Mon Upper
- Tue Lower
- Wed Off
- Thu Upper
- Fri Lower
- Sat & Sun Off
Day 1 & Day 4 – Upper
- 10 minute warmup
- Pull ups – 4 sets x 8-12 reps
- Chin ups – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Chest dips – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Triceps dips – 3 sets x 8-12 reps
- Incline push ups – 1 set to failure
- Ab crunches – 2 sets to failure
- Vertical knee raises – 2 sets to failure
Day 2 & Day 5 – Lower
(Glutes, Upper Legs, Calves)
Day 3, Day 6, & Day 7 – Off
Here are a couple of important ideas I’d like to gently suggest…
Quality reps only
Go for reps that are slow, controlled, and in proper form. Ultimately, the number of reps isn’t as important as the quality of reps is.
Strict 60 second rest between sets.
Start timing as soon as the last rep is complete, and be in place to start the next set before the 60 seconds is up.
The 10 minute warmup I included at the start of each workout should include dynamic stretches & movements that wake up all the muscles & joints and get the blood flowing.
A good example of this type of warmup is this one put together by Jeff Cavaliere at AthleanX:
Power tower FAQ
Here’s a quick primer for those of you new to strength training, or who might’ve seen a power tower at your gym but have never used it. These are among the most common questions asked about power towers.
What is a power tower?
The power tower is a type of fitness equipment that is typically built by combining three other popular pieces of bodyweight equipment into one unit:
- Pull up bar
- Parallel dip bars
- Captain’s chair
Some models may have a couple of other minor things attached, like raised handles for incline push ups or a crossbar for ab crunches, like the model below:
But the three stations for the dips, pull ups, & knee raises are the foundation of the vast majority of power towers you’ll come across.
It’s an inexpensive piece of fitness equipment that is common to most gyms, and is well-suited for home gyms as well.
What is a power tower used for?
Between the pull up bar, dip bars, & captain’s chair, you can perform an entire upper body workout.
By slightly adjusting either your grip, your body position, or your movement, you can emphasize different muscle groups.
For example, the dip bars can be used to activate more of your chest muscles or your triceps, depending on the technique variation.
And a wider pronated* grip on the pull up bar will mostly target your back’s lat muscles, while a closer supinated* grip will shift some of the main emphasis to your biceps as well.
* pronated – hands facing away from you
* supinated – hands facing towards you
What are the benefits of a power tower workout?
One of the best things about a power tower is that it offers you a full circuit of exercises for upper body muscle building.
All of the main power tower movements mentioned in this article are compound exercises.
This means that each of them engages more than just one muscle group.
Compound exercises are foundational to strength training and provide the following benefits, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
- burn more calories since they use more muscle
- improve muscle coordination & flexibility
- provide more cardiovascular benefit than isolation exercises
A power tower workout can be completed using just your own bodyweight, without the need for any other equipment.
Can save time
At busy gyms, you can usually get on a power tower when your favorite dumbbells, bench, or machine are occupied.
Are you a progressive resistance lifter like me? I use training cycles that last 2-3 months, with week-long breaks in between cycles.
Light workouts on the power tower are a nice change-of-pace way to engage the upper body muscles a little during those in-between recovery weeks.
Power tower benefits for home use
Power towers are an inexpensive way to get all the home gym equipment you need to work your upper body, if bodyweight exercises are something you want to get into.
I think that most decent models start around a hundred bucks.
Bigger models with more exercise attachments get up into the $400-$500 range.
Most are fairly portable
They’re not super light since they need to be sturdy & stable enough for bodyweight exercises.
But most power towers aren’t too heavy either, if you need to move it somewhere after assembly.
Not too big
A power tower is a 3-in-one exercise station that doesn’t require a ton of room to use.
That model I showed a pic of earlier in the article has floor dimensions of about 3 ½ feet x 4 ½ feet, with a height of 7 feet.
By combining the dip, pull up, & captain’s chair stations into a single unit, they take up less space than many all-in-one home gyms.
I hope that this article covering the exercises in a power tower workout is useful to you, and I wish you well on your fitness journey.