Updated: Jul 15
Let's be honest with ourselves here, a good looking Pull-Up is an impressive sight.
To be able to hang from a bar and pull the finger at gravity as you move towards the ceiling is pretty badass! So here's a few tips to improve the amount of pull-ups you can do or maybe even smash out your first one!
Resistance bands have become a must-have piece of kit for gyms in the last few years, and for good reason, as they're extremely versatile and relatively inexpensive. Applying them pull-ups adds assistance at the hardest part of the movement, allowing us to practice the technique and reduce the amount of gravity we feel. Performing band-assisted pull-ups is
Ok so I can hear some people asking what the difference is between chin-ups and pull-ups, and fair enough, but what it really comes down to is the grip.
For the Chin-Up, your palms are going to be facing you as you hold on to the bar and pull yourself through. This is the easiest variation of the vertical pulling movement as you'll find you have a bit more help from your biceps as you perform it- just remember that we want this to be a back-dominant exercise and not an arm exercise.
This means that your palms are going to facing each other as your grip the bar, this is the second easiest way to perform this movement and can be more friendly on the wrist and shoulders if you've had any issues there previously.
The traditional pull-up grip has our palms facing forward. This can be the most challenging but limits the amount of bicep involvement and recruits more from the back muscles. The width of your grip is another factor that can influence the difficulty of the movement, but typically I'd recommend sticking with a standard shoulder width grip as we don't want to stress the shoulder joint any more than we have to.
Also known as pause reps or Isometrics, holds require you to pause at a particular part of the movement (usually at the top) to help gain strength and ensure you're engaging the right muscles for the job.
Use a box or a bench to allow you to start at the right height set it underneath the bar.
Get your grip and jump slightly so that your chin is over the bar (but not so much that your legs swing all over the place.
Hold on to this position for the set amount of time as if you're hanging off the side of a cliff or a tree branch in an action movie.
Once you're done you can lower yourself back to the box, let go and rest before your next rep.
The key to this is to make sure you are predominantly using your lats (those big muscles on your back underneath your shoulder blades). We don't want to rely on your arms alone, those big muscles have a job to do here. If you're training with a partner, help them out by giving them a light poke in their lats as they hang on, this acts as a bit of feedback for their brain give them a good indication as to whether or not they're using them properly.
Eccentric, also referred to as 'negative', means the lowering phase of a movement and is crucial to building true strength. For the pull-up this means you can get better going up by getting better going down.
To perform eccentric or negative pull-ups with any grip, set up a box as described above. This time instead of holding at the top, you are going to lower yourself slowly.
In a program it should be clear how slow, for example a 3 second eccentric is asking you to take 3 seconds to lower yourself all the way down before stepping on the box and resetting for another rep.
Work On Your Rowing Variations
When performed correctly, most pulling or rowing variations are going to help us develop our upper body, in particular our back muscles which by now you know are crucial for the pull-up. Prioritising rowing or pulling exercises in your program can have a whole bunch of other benefits on your resting posture, shoulder health and overall strength.
The TRX row is a favourite of mine when it comes to developing the strength and control that we need for pull-ups, we can progress it easily and it also translates well by helping us develop strength and awareness of our next point, core strength.
One thing we don't often hear when we discuss pull-ups is the involvement of your core muscles. When you are hanging from a bar, it is much easier to pull yourself up if you are one strong unit rather than a tense upper body trying to lift a loose lower body.
When you're not aware of this, it will feel like you're trying to lift a lot of 'dead weight' which will make the pull-up so much harder. Instead, aim to mimic a kind of 'hollow hold' position where possible, it won't necessary look like that as you're moving but it will help create that one strong unit that will make it easier to pull yourself to the bar.
Remember, the body is one piece, so like most exercises, it's best to think of this as another moving plank variation. Keep it strong and move as one unit and it will be much smoother for you!
So there it is, a basic breakdown on how to make progress on a simple but difficult movement. Whether you're going from 0-1 pull-ups or maybe you're heading into double digits, all of these techniques when applied properly can help you make progress. Typically I would pick one variation and work on it for a few weeks until you feel you've made good progress before jumping on to another one.
Feel to reach out if you have any questions, comments or suggestions. As always, please share with those you feel will benefit!