Have you ever been in the gym and see that person over in the corner at the pull up bar just jump up and bang out 10 pull ups like it’s nothing? Do you find yourself saying “I would love to be able to do that” or “I’ll never be strong enough to be able to lift my whole body weight”? Although pulls ups are a very hard exercise to perform, it is the best exercise for building back strength all while working the arm, shoulder, forearm, and core muscles as well as grip strength. Pull-ups are classified as pulling your head up over the bar with your wrists in a pronated grip (facing away from body) and are one of the ultimate tests of your strength to body weight ratio. This is not a feat that can be accomplished overnight, but if you set your mind to it and train specifically with the goal of performing a proper pull-up in mind it’s do-able for almost anyone!
Similar to learning and mastering any other exercise, you want to build up your strength by performing and perfecting easier versions of the “goal exercise”.
Add these exercises to your regular upper body strength training routine, but try to perform these exercises close to the beginning of your workout while muscles are still fresh. Perform each step for 1 week, completing 3-4 times per week for 4 sets of 6-8 reps (in step 2, 3, and 5 perform as many as you can until muscle failure). If you do not feel completely comfortable with a step after performing for 1 week, then stay in that step for a 2cnd week before moving on to the next.
-perform both exercises if your gym has both pieces of equipment and possibly spend 2 week at this stage building up basic back and arm strength (this depends on your starting strength level). Choose a weight that is VERY heavy and are struggling to complete the 6-8th rep of each set.
Step 2: Low bar in squat rack or smith machine
Step 3: Rubber band assistance on the pull-up bar or grab a friend
-wrap a rubber exercise band in a loop around a pull-up bar so that it hangs down in a “U” shape. Place one knee in the tube and the band will act as a counterweight to assist you while doing the pull-up. If you don’t have a band but have a great friend or trainer, have them stand underneath you holding your feet to give you a little extra boost.
Step 4: Negatives
-if necessary stand on a box or chair and hop directly to the top position of the pull-up, then lower your body down as slowly as possible (at least 3-4 second count) Once these get easy, add a weighted vest or weight belt to increase difficulty and further challenge and increase strength.
Step 5: Perform a pull-up your first pull-up!
-even if you can only do one, get under that bar and attempt to pull yourself up! Even if you can only perform one properly, you are further ahead than you were 6 weeks ago and keep at it, even if you are just attempting the movement you are still working your muscles while practicing.
Mistakes to avoid while doing pull-ups:
-don’t use momentum to get yourself over the bar
-avoid locking out your elbows and keep a small bend at the bottom range, but still bring your body down low enough to develop strength through the full range of motion
-don’t hold your breath!
Still can’t pull your body up? Try:
-doing chin-ups instead (underhand grip with wrists facing you), these are generally easier and will help you build up to performing a proper pull-up
-if you are above your healthy weight, perhaps add a weight-loss component into your workout routine (decrease calorie intake or add HIIT cardio program for increased fat burn) as generally a lighter body is easier to pull-up.
-be patient and don’t get discouraged, depending on the strength level you started with some people might take a little longer to get to the pull-up than others; however, be happy that you are building your base strength and keep trying until you get it!
Email Michelle@CORE-Condition.com for more information on how to build up to performing a proper pull-up.
Michelle Roots BA KIN, CSCS, PES