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The Ultimate Guide To Pull-Ups

This ultimate exercise of upper body strength is one of the re-emerging most popular functional exercises. Here is how you can improve your pull up, how to correctly perform a pull-up and how to progress towards being able to perform a pull-up!

What It Is

Synonymous with chin-ups, this great exercise is a functional compound movement. The objective is simple; hanging from your hands on a bar or other object, pull your entire body upwards, lifting your head and neck beyond your hands.

How To Do It Correctly

To get this exercise done correctly, you’ll need a structure that you can completely hang from. Palms should be facing forwards for the purpose of this standard movement. Hands should be slightly outside your shoulder-width.

To initiate the movement, start with your shoulder-blades pulled down your back, stabilizing the shoulders. Then continue to pull your weight vertically, bringing your chest towards the bar.

Avoid swinging, kicking and any other movement that might give you momentum. Keep your abdominals tight and feet together. Once you have passed the bar, lower yourself down with control, to a fully extended hanging position.

How To Learn To Perform A Pull-Up Correctly

Pull-ups are on the most-wanted list for men and women. There is something about the ability to pull one’s own weight around that spells ‘Fit’. There are several progressions that you can do to learn to do a pull-up. Being predominantly a strength movement with very little technique, two things matter most: Your strength – more strength means being able to move more weight.

  1. Your strength – more strength means being able to move more weight.
  2. Your weight – your bodyweight is what you have to move, making every pound count. If you are carrying a lot of extra weight it can take longer to get your pull up.

Here are the progressions to get to a pull-up from the most basic (lightest load) to the more specific. Work your way through each one, mastering it, then moving onto the next. Unfortunately, improving strength and to get your pull-up is not always linear. Expect bumps, setbacks and a lot of repetition.

Step 1: Low Bar Pull-Ups

This involves pulling your weight up but keeping the weight of your legs and lower half supported. Imagine using a barbell on a squat rack, and pulling yourself up using that bar, with your feet resting on the floor. This de-loads the weight that you will have to move but you still get the same exact muscle recruitment because the position of the body is virtually the same.

To master this technique, perform 3 or 4 sets of 5 to 10 reps. Place your feet farther away to increase the load in your arms. Once you’ve mastered this, try a band pull-up.

Step 2: Band Pull-Ups

This involves using giant elastic bands designed to hold a lot of weight, supporting you as you dip, alleviating some of the weight to be lifted over the bar. Anchor your band to a chin-up bar. Different bands have different levels of resistance which is usually indicated by a color. Try out a few if you aren’t sure how much help you will need. Place one foot into the band and the other crossed over the outside. You will feel a considerable amount of weight lifted as you pull yourself up.

To improve here, perform band pull-ups to failure at 5RM or so. If you can easily whip out 7 or more repetitions, the band is likely too strong, making your body too light to see strength improvements.

Step 3: Negative Pull-Ups

Negative doesn’t refer to any emotion here, just to the actual action you’ll be focused on! What is referred to as “negative” is the eccentric contraction of the movement? This is the descent part of a pull-up. This is contrary to the “positive” or concentric contraction when your body moves upwards.

Stand on a platform, and suspend yourself in the finish position. That is, with your chin over the bar. Start here, then, with control and precision, lower your body downward on a count of 4 to 5 seconds. Move smoothly and evenly. Perform 3 sets of 5 negatives to master the negative pull up.

Step 4: Weighted Negatives

If you have mastered steps 1 to 3 with no improvement, you can try to add a layer of difficulty by strapping or carrying extra weight as you perform negative pull-upss. This can help to accelerate strength gains as your body suddenly needs to adapt to control a greater load.

Finally, remember that there is really no telling how quickly or slowly you will progress. Every person progresses in a unique way. Simply being consistent and perseverant is the surest way to get your pull-up!

Variations Of Pull-Ups

Pronated Grip

We have described pull-ups with a pronated grip (palms facing forwards) as the standard, but this is just the gymnastics style of pull-ups. Working with this grip enhances the work of the lats and restricts the movement of the biceps.

Supinated Grip (Chin-Ups)

Alternatively, using a supinated grip with palms facing yourself, or backwards, reduces the load on the lats and engages the biceps more.

Weighted Pull-Ups

If you feel that the load is too light, you may also choose to strap weight to yourself using a weighted vest, or by attaching weight to a weight belt. You can also hold a small weight, around five to ten pounds, between your feet or knees. This helps to improve strength once you are able to do more than 7 pull-ups with just your own weight.

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