Trainer Tip: Improving Pull-Ups

Pull-Up Tips

Post by Personal Trainer Teri-Lynn Nelson

The pull-up is a compound pulling exercise that mainly targets the latissimus dorsi muscle in the back. Other muscles of the back, shoulders, arms, and abdominals are also utilized in this movement.

A standard pull-up uses a palms forward grip (facing away from you), with hands just outside of shoulder width. Starting with elbows fully extended at the bottom and active shoulders, pull yourself up until your chin is over the top of the bar.

Getting Your First Pull-Up or Stringing More Together

Whether you are working on achieving your first body weight pull-up, or are wanting to string several together, try these training methods and tips to improve your pull-up:

  • Build back strength. Do other back strengthening exercises such as TRX or ring rows in order to prepare your back for the bar. Focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together.
  • Practice. You need to practice consistently in order to improve. Schedule your practice time in at least 3x per week.
  • Engage your lats. When pulling up, think about trying smash the bar off the ground by pulling it down as hard as you can. Think of driving your elbows to the floor. Squeeze your abs and glutes too.
  • Keep active shoulders at hang. Practice the hang position at the bottom. Hold it while working on keeping your shoulders active. This means that your shoulders will be engaged and down, and not into your ears.
  • Work on negatives. Use your legs to jump up to the top position, then slowly lower yourself down. This eccentric portion of the movement (lowering) is key to building up your strength.
  • Use assistive bands. Loop a band over the bar, and put one foot in the strap, with your other leg holding it in place overtop. Keep both legs straight. Use the band to assist you in pulling up so you can do more reps. As you get better, use a thinner band.
  • Try holds. Get your chin up over the bar, and work on holding yourself up over the bar with shoulders down, lats, abs, glutes, and quads tight. Increase your hold time as you get better.

Once the traditional pull-up is mastered, you can try other versions such as:

  1. chin ups (palms facing you)
  2. wide grip
  3. mixed grip
  4. one arm
  5. kipping or butterfly (using momentum from other parts of the body)
  6. archer
  7. chest-to-bar
  8. muscle up
  9. L-sit
  10. rings
  11. weighted (with a weight belt or dumbbell held in legs)
  12. different tempos

If you’d like to work on your pull-up with Teri-Lynn, please contact her here.


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