Pull-ups are an amazing compound, full body exercise which works a large number of muscles in your back, arms and shoulders – all at the same time. Not only are they a fantastic exercise to increase strength they also promote your core muscles to actively work and engage as well as burning a great number of calories. Plus they look awesome when you can master them correctly!
Due to the action of a pull-up it takes a great deal of power within your latissimus dorsi (lats) and connecting back muscles (rhomboids, infraspinatus, subscapularis, teres major and trapezius) as well as your rear deltoids. On the downward phase, your lower back muscles (thoracolumbar fascia, lumbar triangle and external obliques) and core also assist within the movement. If you don’t have enough strength to support your bodyweight yet, then these 5 ways stated below will help to improve your ability to perform the pull-up movement.
1 – Practice Lat Pulldowns
The lat pulldown machine is basically the same movement as a pull-up that is completed statically whilst sat down. You can choose the amount of weight that you pull down meaning this exercise can be performed by any individual regardless of your strength in association with your bodyweight. This exercise is a brilliant way to increase your strength within the muscle groups that a pull-up requires as you can build up your muscles’ power within the same movement whilst being comfortably seated. This however will not work your core or lower back muscles as much as a pull-up will.
2 – Go as wide as you can
Whether you’re a beginner starting off with lat pulldowns or a pro at underarm chin-ups wanting to enhance your overhand pull-ups, whenever you’re practicing whichever exercise in association to pull-ups; you must train your body to go as wide as you can in your grip. This means you hold onto the edge of the bar as widely as possible for you to perform the movement. Not only will this further aid your strength in all the correct muscles, it will also make your pull-ups eventually easier when it comes to lifting your bodyweight slightly narrower than trained.
3 – Experiment with the Assisted pull-up machine
The assisted pull-up machine will aid your pull-up strength by taking away some or most of your bodyweight, in order for you to perform the movement with less strain on your muscles. You can adjust the amount of weight that is taken off which will range usually from a tiny 2.5kg to the majority or your weight (up to 80kg on most machines) – depending on your gym’s equipment. This enables you to work your way up through strengthening all the correct muscles for the pull-up movement, whilst your knees are gently rested on the machine which thus allows you to pull-up as you would do in a bodyweight pull-up. Once you’re able to go down to the lightest weight on the machine, it means you are ready to start practising partial bodyweight pull-ups.
4 – Partial Bodyweight Pull-ups
This requires you to have initially moderate strength in comparison to your bodyweight already built up – whether it is natural or from lat pulldowns or the assisted machine – as you will learn to complete the pull-up in small broken up movements. You start with gaining the strength in the lower part of the latissimus dorsi (your ‘wings’) by standing one legged on a bench and gripping overhand widely on a bar above you and simply pulling yourself up only a third of the way to the point of where you are on your tiptoes on the foot of the leg standing on the bench. You need to attempt this small but effective movement for 10 repetitions on each leg – you must swap legs. Next, you work from the top to the bottom – this can be done by either jumping up to reach the bar or using a high bench to stand on in order to reach the bar and start off at the top of the pull-up phase – you must now have your chin over the bar and arms fully engaged. Once your hands are firmly over the bar you slowly move down as if you were finishing off a pull-up and end the movement when your arms are straight and locked (back to the starting phase of a pull-up). Repeat this movement by jumping up again or using the bench – which ever you are able to do and complete 10 repetitions for 3 sets.
5 – Practice makes Perfect
When it comes to mastering a pull-up I will always recommend practicing one or two of the above three times a week. If you are just starting out and can only lift a small amount of the lat pulldown machine then I recommend practising this exercise twice a week. Training back with isolated back exercises will help improve your strength and ability to utilise your back muscles and should therefore be completed at least once a week in your gym routine. If you’re fairly strong and have build up a good base strength but simply struggle with pull-ups because of your bodyweight, then I recommend practising a mix of the assisted pull-up machine and the partial bodyweight pull-ups for a maximum amount of three times per week. You can then move onto lowering the weight used for the assisted machine and jumping up to reach the bar for the partial pull-ups. Additionally, hanging at full arm’s length on a bar will increase your forearms as well as your hand strength which is vital when it comes to completing a number of repetitions of pull-ups. You also may start to see calluses build up on your hands but don’t worry you’ve earned those bad boys! So next time you’re in the gym and frustrated at the thought of not being able to even get close to completing one (let alone 10) pull-ups, then take a moment to realise whether any of the above exercises are already incorporated within your weekly gym routine, and if they aren’t then there is no time like the present to start including them in. You’ll be thankful later on when you notice your waist is slimmer, abs are stronger and upper body is leaner! Let me know hoy you guys get on!