Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Pull-Ups

Pull-ups are a very common exercise you might see in the gym, but for many, this can also be one of the most difficult movements to master. 

Whether you’re new to working out, or you’ve been at it for years, here’s everything you need to know about pull-ups, including its benefits, how you can reach your goal of properly achieving this movement, and workouts that incorporate pull-ups:

What is a Pull-Up?

Not to be confused with a chin-up, a pull-up is an upper-body strength training exercise that can be completed by hanging from a bar and pulling yourself up until your chin reaches above the bar, then slowly lowering yourself back down. A chin-up, however, is when your palms and your hands are facing toward you. 

Sounds simple enough, right? This seemingly basic movement is an advanced exercise that requires some training and know-how to do it correctly.

Benefits of Pull-Ups

If you’ve never incorporated pull-ups into your workouts before, here are a couple of reasons you may want to start:

  • Works a variety of muscles: Pull-ups are tough for a reason — they work a lot of different muscle groups all at once. When doing a pull-up, you’re strengthening your back, arms, shoulders, and core. 
  • Improves grip strength: Pull-ups are also a great way to improve your grip strength, which, according to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research is a predictor of muscular strength and overall endurance. Plus, having a stronger grip may even help you lift heavier weights in the gym.
  • Provides a challenge: If you tend to do the same exercises over and over again during every workout, you’re not doing your body any favors. Incorporating movements you don’t often do can help strengthen new muscle groups.
  • Helps improve posture: If you sit at a desk all day long, chances are your posture could probably be improved, and pull-ups are a great exercise to help with that. The movement helps strengthen and tighten back muscles, which can naturally improve posture. 

How to Do a Proper Pull-Up

  • Hang from a bar with your palms facing down and a shoulder-width grip. Your arms should be straight and your legs and feet should be in line with your shoulders. 
  • Start by pulling your elbows straight down to the floor until your chin reaches above the bar. If you can, pause in that position for a moment before slowly lowering yourself back down to the original hanging position. 

Progression Exercises for Pull-Ups

Not quite able to complete a pull-up yet? That’s ok! There are exercises you can do that will help you get stronger and train your muscles to properly complete the movement:

Scapular pull-ups: One mistake many people make when doing a pull-up is not engaging their shoulders at the start of the exercise. This scapula, or shoulder blade, movement is training essential for completing regular pull-ups and helps you develop the proper movement that pull-ups require. It’s a very small, but impactful movement. Here’s how to do it:

  • Hang from a bar with your arms shoulder-width apart and locked out, and your legs and feet hanging in line with your shoulders.
  • You’ll then want to raise your body slightly by pulling your scapula down without bending your arms. Think of it as a reverse shoulder shrug. You should be trying to bend the bar without actually bending your arms. 
  • Hold this position for a few seconds, then slowly return down to a regular hanging position.  

Plank row: This is one of the types of core exercises that work the muscles in your core, back, shoulders and arms — the same muscles needed to complete a pull-up. Here’s how to do it:

  • Start in a push-up position with a dumbbell in each hand, keeping your core tight, your hips square and your back straight. 
  • Your hands should be right under your shoulders, and your feet should be about shoulder-width apart. However, for more stability, widen your legs as needed. 
  • Keeping your core engaged and your hips square, drive the elbow of one arm back, lifting the dumbbell toward the ceiling, then slowly lowering it back down.
  • Repeat the movement with the other arm. 

With this exercise, make sure you’re using a weight that’s challenging, but still allows you to keep proper form throughout the entire movement. 

Negative pull-ups: This exercise will help strengthen the right muscles to make it easier to complete a regular pull-up. Here’s how to do it:

  • Grab the bar with your palms facing down and a shoulder-width grip. 
  • Using a box or a chair, jump up so your chin is above the bar, and slowly lower yourself back down to a hanging position. 

Workouts with Pull-Ups

Once you’ve mastered the pull-up, here are two ways to incorporate the movement into a high-intensity interval training workout:

Workout 1: 10-Minute AMRAP

Set the clock for 10-minutes and complete as many rounds as possible of the following exercises:

  • 5 pull-ups
  • 10 push-ups
  • 15 air squats

You can always replace the five pull-ups with one of the progression exercises instead!

Workout 2: EMOM

This workout is every minute on the minute, which means at the start of every minute, you should be repeating a set number of reps of an exercise and using the remaining time to rest. 

At the start of every minute, complete three pull-ups. The goal is to have about 15 seconds of rest before starting the next minute.

Repeat this for eight minutes. Feel free to increase or decrease the number of reps to match your fitness level. 

Interested in working with a trainer to improve your pull-ups? Learn more about our personal training packages here!



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