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Pull Ups 101: How to Do the Perfect Pull Up

Pull-ups are an excellent addition to your workout routine and should be a staple exercise for anyone wanting to build a good physique. Once you’ve mastered the pull-up, you’ll have great addition to your tool box of effective bodyweight exercises, which can be used during those rare occasions you can’t make it to the gym.

However, for many people – even experienced trainers – pull-ups can be quite difficult to perform. In this post, we’ll discuss three key exercises that will take you from a beginner to a pull-up master in no time!

EXERCISE TYPE 1: BACK STRENGTH AND MUSCLE DEVELOPMENT

First and foremost, in order to do a pull-up you need to make sure all the muscles that contribute to the movement are developed enough to shift your body weight. These are your lats and arm muscles. Your core muscles – both front and rear – also help stabilise your body and allow your main movers to produce force more effectively.

This means free weights and machines are still effective ways to help isolate and develop the correct muscles to support you in your quest for pull-up mastery.

In this regard, the most logical exercises to practice are those that pull in the same direction as you would while doing a conventional pull-up. The lat pull-down machine is perfect. The important thing here is to make sure you can perform the movement properly and you’re activating the right muscle groups. A simple way to ensure you’re doing this correctly is to use resistance band pull-downs to really get a ‘feel’ for your back muscles contracting effectively, before you move onto a heavier load.

Other back exercises you should focus on are seated rows and low rows using a cable pulley machine. Then of course we have barbell and dumbbell bent over rows, which all effectively target your lats and other muscles in your back.

When using these exercises, you want to work across a number of repetition ranges (from 5-20+ reps) in order to develop overall strength and build some muscle to help you with your pull-ups. For exercises where you may struggle to target your back muscles, aim for a higher rep count and ensure you have lots of control on the lift to get those muscles thoroughly engaged.

EXERCISE TYPE 2: PULL-UP VARIATIONS

As well as using the above exercise, you want to work on getting your body used to ‘pulling’ in a manner that replicates pull-ups – having to coordinate arm and shoulder movement while keeping the core of your body strong and stable. Use exercises like TRX rows and chin-ups, which may be an easier exercise to master if you’re a complete novice. Just use the same principles outlined in this article!

There’s also Australian Pull-up variations. These can be progressed from an almost standing rowing position, right through to a position where the body is perpendicular to the floor or elevated on a bench or box to make it more challenging.

EXERCISE TYPE 3: ‘CHEAT’ PULL-UPS

To fully familiarise yourself with the pull-up movement and allow co-ordinated ‘specific’
movement, you can use a number of assisted pull-up variations. Our gyms have assisted pull-up machines, which have a platform to kneel on that is counterweighted to give you an extra boost. Or you can try resistance bands – just loop them from the bar under your knees/feet to help give you some extra ‘spring’ at the bottom of the movement.

If you don’t have access to bands or assisted pull-up machines, you can still work on the lowering portion of the pull-up. Start by standing on a box/bench and use this as a platform to reach the top of the pull-up… or carefully jump up! Once in this position work on holding your body unsupported for a few seconds before lowering yourself as slowly as possible until the arms are nearly fully extended. Then simply place your feet back on the box/bench and return to the start position. Repeat this 10-15 times for 3-4 sets.

This is a great way to get your body used to controlling the movement and the muscles working in the right patterns. Once you have mastered holding at the top and lowering very slowly, then you can start the pull-up about ¼ of the way down. Focus on finishing the top of the pull-up, keeping the overall range of movement small and in positions where muscles/levers are in a stronger position. Progress this step by step to ½ pull-ups, ¾ pull ups and eventually to a full pull-up. Only progress from one position to the next when you can perform at least ten repetitions.

SUMMARY

The road to a perfect pull-up can be a long one especially for beginners, but a little bit of structured programming combining back strengthening and development exercises, pull-up variations and ‘cheat’ pull-ups will get you there in no time. Start by training the exercises outlined here twice per week, combining 2-3 strength and muscle building exercises, with 2-3 pull-up specific movements. Do these first in each session while you’re at your strongest! Try to beat your number of reps and lift a little more weight each week. Finally, and most importantly, if you’re struggling with any of the exercises here or don’t know how to execute them properly, then always ask for help from our trainers who will be happy to help!


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