Here’s How To Perfect Your Pull-Ups

You do not need the gym to pull off the humble pull-up. All you need is a door frame and a pull-up bar, and you are good to go. So, why is it that many of us struggle with pull-ups? It is because they are famously challenging to execute

This is why we associate pull-ups with boot camp and shredded gym fanatics. However, do not let the fact that pull-ups are difficult discourage you. With a few hacks, some persistence and a lot of elbow grease, you too can perfect the pull-up.


Why Pull-Ups?

Why not pull-ups? Sure, you may be at the gym, trying your best and wondering why you bother. You might get nervous as you imagine what the random trainer over there thinks of your efforts. Do not worry about it; they have seen worse.

The reason you should perfect the pull-up is simple. It is arguably the best exercise to increase your upper body strength. Also, a well-executed pull-up is the benchmark of a successful fitness regimen.

Pull-ups use your own bodyweight to exercise your core and your arms. As you pull your body upwards, you will work the muscles in your chest, shoulders, arms, back, and abdomen.

Anyone looking to do strength or resistance training should learn how to maximize the effect of each pull-up. Here are some tips that will help you do just that.


It Starts With The Grip

Amir Khan doing a pull-up at the gym.

Bodyweight exercises like pull-ups are great for building the strength needed for martial arts like Muay Thai, BJJ, and MMA.

The way you grip the overhead bar or doorframe determines how well you work those muscles. To start off with, hold the bar with your palms facing away from you. Your thumbs should be on the side of the bar that faces away from you, in what is known as a full grip. Also, your hands should be directly above each shoulder.

At shoulder width, your grip will force you to use your core and shoulders to lift your body. This is what you want if you are a newbie since you will need all the muscle you can get to clear the bar with your chin or chest.

Later on, you can space your hands closer together. This will leave most of the work to your arms, your biceps in particular. When you improve, you can position your hands right next to each other. This will force the muscles in your forearms to work harder. After you get the hang of that, you can experiment with different gips, the hammer grip, the mixed grip, etc.


How To Pull Yourself Up

someone doing a pull-up

Once you get the hang of the regular pull-up, start experimenting with different types of grips.

You could try to pull yourself up by the strength of your arms alone. This is one of the more challenging forms of the pull-up, so do not do that. Not yet.

Instead, help your arms out by using muscles in your chest, shoulders, and back. So start by gripping the bar and hanging there for a second. We call this a dead hang. Next, tighten all the muscles in your core. This will keep your body straight and prevent you from swinging. Now it is time to use your lats, pecs, and shoulders to lift you up.

Let us start with the chest. Flex your pectoral muscles so that your chest moves upwards and forwards. Like you are trying to pull the bar towards your ribs. This will push your body up, even as your arms pull.

Retract your shoulders by flexing the shoulder muscles downwards and backward. This action will also help to propel your body upwards.


Haul As Little Deadweight As You Can

It is harder to carry a person that is unconscious, and a fireman will confirm this. Reason being that the person’s muscles are relaxed, leaving the body completely slack. And a lot heavier. Hence the term deadweight.

It is the same when you do not engage the muscles in your core and back. When your body is slack, then you will have to work a lot harder to clear the bar. So tighten your upper body for each rep. It will keep you in good form and make your work easier.


How To Breathe


The key to pull-ups is consistency.

As you are in a dead hang, inhale deeply and hold that breath. Engage your core and as you pull yourself up, exhale slowly. Breathe in on your way down and exhale again on your way up.

As you breathe in, remember to keep your core muscles engaged the whole time.


Other Exercises That Help To Perfect Your Pull-Ups

Not everybody can do a great pull-up on their first try. To improve your form, you can use other exercises to increase your upper body strength. A few examples of such workouts are:

1. The Pull-Down

The lateral pull-down machine lets you pull a weight of your choosing towards your chest. Doing a pull-down mimics the muscle action of a pull-up. The exercise strengthens the lats, which you will need to pull your bodyweight past the pull-up bar.

To do a proper pull-down:

  • Grip the bar and lean back a little
  • Engage your core to maintain this posture
  • Pull the bar towards your chest and squeeze your shoulder blades like you are trying to make your elbows touch behind your back

2. The Negative Pull-Up

Hoist yourself so that your chin or chest is level with the bar. You can use a step or a small ladder to help with this. Now tighten the muscles in your core and slowly lower yourself to the ground.

This exercise is easier than hoisting your body upwards. It will strengthen your chest, shoulder, and back muscles. You can use it to work up to a full pull-up rep.


Work Towards A Full Range Of Motion

two people doing pull-ups

Pull ups make use of, and strengthen 13 different muscles.

If you are trying pull-ups for the first time, you may not even clear your chin past the bar. Keep trying, because the effort you make strengthens your muscles each workout session. If you keep at it, you will be able to clear the bar with your chin. Remember to focus on quality rather than quantity.

With time, you will be able to clear the bar at chest level, in perfect form. This is the end goal that you should be aiming for.


If you found this article interesting, here are some others that you may enjoy:

4 Common Strength And Conditioning Mistakes To Avoid

3 Unconventional Workouts That Will Change Your Mind About Exercising

7 Intense Push-Up Variations For A Full-Body Workout

More in Fitness

Also On Evolve