You’ve seen the works….every type of pull up out there….whether it’s done right or not…most likely not, but that is my case in point to help you understand today.
From seeing all sorts of ridiculous variations like half pull ups, jumping, kipping, “leg ups”(pull ups with more leg movement than Usain Bolt during his gold medal performance), and “agony” pull ups(flailing for the bar and trying to do whatever it takes to get your head up to it, even if it means popping a blood vessel in your neck).
Whatever the sight you may see, I challenge you all to try a strict pull up. A strict pull-up involves proper scapular retraction and core engagement so that your torso stays neutral and your ribs stay down during the movement.
There is a lot to be said for those who can accomplish such….and here is a basic chart on the levels based on performance:
A true pull-up does NOT involve trying to lift your chest to the bar to shorten your range of motion. You actually have a goal of trying to keep the ribs down and involve a great deal of core strength to lift yourself upwards.
Here, the pull up basically looks like hell. The individual is relying more on wrist flexors than core/back strength to pull himself up, while also creating momentum with his legs….another fault in proper kinematics.
This picture above shows the proper form of just how the pull up should look.
Now, lets get into the fun stuff….
How can I IMPROVE on my pull up strength, Mike?
Ok, well for MANY, the reason you SUCK at pull ups is either a weakness in core strength OR a faulty activation of the lats.
I love the Single Arm Lat Pull Down/Hold where the goal is to focus on pulling the ribs DOWN and retracting the shoulder blades. You can even put your opposite hand on your ribs to ensure they stay put!
Another GREAT exercise to do is the Hollow Hold. This is a crucial component of the pull up as it elicits true anterior core strength and stability….both needed for a good strict pull up.
In addition to the core, your shoulders and back to be working in line which is where many fall short. I see so many individuals using so much bicep and pec minor when the main objective of the pull up is to engage the lats.
For this, you can do simple dumbbell external rotations, band pull aparts, and even hanging scapula retractions where you essentially just “teach” the lats to engage rather than biceps. I love the cue “squeeze apples under your armpits” for this, to help clients realize where the movement should be starting from.
Yes, I know…a lot to get better at ONE exercise….but nothing tells the overall body strength of a human than the strict pull up. It’s exclusive and defined by our earliest workout junkie ancestors and will be a staple to programs and strength development for decades to come.
The only way to get better at pull ups is to PRACTICE them. So often, people forget that they didnt learn to ride a bike by trying once a week. They were out there falling face first on the pavement day after day until they got it!
Same goes for pull ups! You got to keep at it, at least 3-4 times a week. I had a game for when I wanted to get better at pull ups….I bought a doorway pull up bar and put it in my house. Every time I would walk by it I had to do a set….all the way to failure. I would rest 30 seconds and do it one more time. After a while that number will go up. Now remember when doing pull ups to technical failure….that point hits when you can no longer use GOOD form.
For those who can’t do ONE pull up….
1. Make sure they are the FIRST thing you work on in your workouts.
2. Stop jumping pull ups, kipping, and other bogus variations and focus on building eccentric strength with negatives(proper engagement), and even band assisted with correct tension in the bands and tempo.
3. DROP BODY FAT. Yes, blunt and simple, but the lower your body fat….the easier they become….thats why the 100lb marathoner can do more pull ups than you.
4. Include BACK EXERCISES. No, renegade rows are NOT a back exercise. Focus on exercises that build strength. Try Inverted rows and when you can do 3×8-12 reps, ADD external weight.
5. Fall in love with the T Bar Row & Lat Pull Down. These two exercises can be great additions to programs when added right and trained effectively. When using BOTH, control the lowering of the bar/weight!
6. Get your nutritional needs. You wont get stronger if you are not eating protein and getting the correct MACROS you need to build muscle. This goes for ANY exercise you want to master.
7. MASTER carries and dead hangs! Grip is a MAJOR component to the pull up and why many women can’t hang with men in the category. SO pick up some heavy shit and cary it! haha…..I love loaded carries for conditioning purposes and strength. Also incorporate hangs on the bar for extended period of time. This can be a great way to earn those calluses and make you proud to have them.
Now go get pullin’ my friends!