The pull-up is a fantastic foundational exercise for all upper body strength regimes.  The ability to orient ones body through space in a steady and controlled manner has tremendous carryover to other upper body exercises.  Think about it, if you perform any of the following exercises then you should be doing pull-ups.

  • Bench Press
  • Barbell Rows
  • Dumbell Rows
  • Military Press
  • Deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Curls
  • Tricep Extensions
  • Abdominal Exercises
  • Grip Exercises

This list could be much bigger, but there is no need, you get the point.  All of the exercises listed above benefit in some way shape or form from doing pull-ups.  With that said, why don’t more people do pull-ups.  I always see people doing lat pulldowns, and that is a great start; but the never progress to the bar.  I believe one reason is because pull-ups are very hard and as humans, whenever we are not good at something, we simply choose not to do it.  However, I also believe that people were never really taught how to do pull-ups correctly.  Therefore, bad habits, over time, have caught up and created an exponential plateau that seems impossible to climb from.  Being naturally concerned, I wrote this post with the intent to teach people how to do pull-ups.  Let’s now take the journey back to square one and fix your pull-ups.

Pull-up Preparation

Although this is not exactly necessary, it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!  These exercises will help greatly with your pull-up strength and progressions.  Thus, saving you time by helping you train smarter.

Lat Pulldown

Lat-Pulldown

This is the most basic platform to start on for somebody who either cannot do a pull-up or has not tried to yet.  Simply grab the bar attached to the cable and pull the bar down to the front of your face in a straight line just below your chin.  Since you are using a machine you can manually adjust the weight appropriately.  You want to aim for 2-3 sets of 5-10 reps with moderately heavy weight.  Do not try to blow up your ego, remember this is just a step in the process, not the end result.

Inverted Rows

Inverted-Row

This exercise is one of my favorites.  not only are we training a large amount of muscle groups, but we are also learning about body leverage.  A smith machine, gymnastics rings or TRX can be used for this.

Simply grab whichever device with your hands just outside your shoulders, brace your core and pull your body up until your chest touches the bar.  Make sure that your body is kept in a straight line throughout each rep.  Try to go for 5 sets of 10 reps with GREAT FORM.

Barbell Rows

Barbell-Row

Although almost identical to the inverted row, the barbell row provides one added benefit, weight can be added.  Unlike the inverted row which requires the lifter to have a general understanding of his/her body leverage, the barbell row can have small weight increases week after week to keep making progress.

Stand with feet hip width apart and grab the bar with your conventional deadlift grip, with palms facing away from you.  From here, flatten your back and drive through your heels as if initiating a stiff legged deadlift.  This allows the hamstrings to pull some weight out of the bar.  Now, initiate the pull with your arms keeping your elbows tucked in and pull the bar up to your chest then lower it back to the ground.  Aim for 3 sets of 5-8 reps.

Scapula Pull-ups

Snap-Pullup

If you see people doing pull-ups starting and ending with bent elbows, it is because they are not engaging their scapula.  The scapula retractors play a vital role in the lockout bottom position of the pull-up.  Therefore, this exercise assists with the bottom position of the pull-up.  For reasons of shoulder health, the scapula retractors should not be overlooked.

To perform this exercise, simply hang from a pull-up bar and pinch your shoulder blades together as if you are trying to pinch a quarter between them and pull your shoulders down towards the floor while keeping your arms straight.  Shoot for 2-3 sets of 15 reps.

Static Pull-up Holds

Static Pullup-Hold
 
This helps to work the end range of motion for the pull-up, specifically the top portion of the exercise.  To perform this exercise, grab a stool or bench to stand on.  Then jump up to the top of the pull-up position (your chin should be above the bar).  Now just hold this position for max time.  Make sure you grip is secure, your abs are tight and your neck is neutral.  Aim for at least 3-5 sets for 30 seconds each.

Negatives

Now were working the full range of motion of the exercise, except were still just holding on, were not actually doing any pulling yet.  Using a box or bench, simply jump up to the top of the pull-up bar just like the previous section.  Except this time slowly lower yourself down until your elbows are at full lockout, then jump back up and repeat.  Start out slowly with these, try to lower yourself in 3 seconds first, then try 5 seconds; eventually you should work up to 10 seconds.

Attempting The Pull-up

If you have been patient and done all the nitty gritty prep work in the last section, then attempting pull-ups should be much easier than you think.  Simply hang from the bar, pinch your shoulder blades together and pull yourself up in a straight line until your chin is over the bar.  Lower yourself under control until your arms are fully locked out.  Try just doing one at a time until you feel yourself getting stronger.  Then try doing 2 or 3 reps.  As you can see, you just need to add reps as you get stronger, it’s as simple as that.

 

Conclusion

The biggest problem that I see with the pull-up is how under appreciated the exercise is.  People spend more time trying to increase the size of their biceps that they ignore joint integrity and muscle imbalance.  As a result, exercises that increase athletic potential are ignored for cosmetic exercises.  Never sacrifice performance for image.  Performance is what keeps you in the game ready to take all the punches life throws in your face.  With that said, take your time, master the prep exercises and crush your pull-ups.


Tony G
Tony G

Anthony is a fan of all things gym related. Growing up very overweight and out of shape, Anthony whipped himself into shape and stunned his entire community becoming a "fitness guru". Tony then set his sights on strength sports (Weightlifting/Powerlifting/Strongman) and learned all about body mechanics, mobility work and injury prevention. Tony found his true love in the strength sports, particularly Olympic Weightlifting. He earned a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree from Fitchburg State University in Exercise and Sports Science. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the NSCA.

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