Pull-ups are a fundamental, compound movement that strengthen your upper body, grip strength, and can quickly raise your heart rate. Pull-ups can be performed in multiple variations: overhand wide grip, overhand close grip, reverse grip chin up, and as negatives (to be explained later), and the best part is…they can be performed in a gym, at home, or at a park. Pull-ups are a classic exercise that prove to be effective, time and time again. No fancy gym equipment needed when it comes to performing this essential bodyweight exercise.
Pull-ups require your back, shoulders, and arms synergistically working together in order to perform the exercise. You are hitting multiple muscle groups at one time, which is a great way to burn more calories and get stronger overall.
If you struggle with pull-ups at the current moment, I have some good news for you…this can change! You have the power to take control of your current fitness level and improve every single day. It will take some work but hey, nothing worth having comes easy right?
How to start:
Find a bar…and no, not the kind with music and foofy drinks. You can practice at the gym, they have multiple pull-up bars scattered near the squat racks or cables. Parks generally have monkey bars you could use. Or you can order a pull-up bar online to stick on your doorframe. Whichever you prefer or have access to will work. If you are just beginning, you are going to want to build up your grip strength. Start by seeing how long you can hang on to the bar without trying to pull yourself up. Try 10-second increments, then 30, then 1 minute! This will get your hands stronger and make performing pull-ups easier.
Once you feel comfortable hanging on the bar, the next step is to pull yourself up. Gyms have assisted pull-up machines where you can offset your weight and slowly increase the amount of your own body weight you are pulling up. Just think, the more weight you have chosen on the machine, the less of your own body weight you are pulling up. This makes training to do a pull-up very effective, because you can track your progress each week. Start off choosing a weight where you can comfortably perform 15 pull-ups for 3 sets. Rest 2-3 minutes in between each set.
If you are not in a gym and don’t have access to an assisted pull-up machine, rubber resistance bands are the way to go. By looping one end of a band around the bar, and the other end around your knee or foot, the band’s elasticity helps to carry you up towards the bar. This is a great way to practice the full range of motion that is required to perform a pull up without any machinery.
If you do not have access to a machine or a band, grab a partner! Have them hold your feet while you are pulling yourself up (not recommended for beginners). Bend your knees and push against their thigh as you pull yourself up. This can give you that little extra boost you need to get up to the bar.
Now the different types of pull-ups…
Regular (Overhand) Pull-ups: Here your palms face away from you, as shown above in the photo. Start with your hands a little wider than shoulder width. Slowly begin pulling yourself upwards until your chest almost touches the bar. (fyi: this is called the concentric motion). Avoid swinging your legs or arching your back. You want this to be a very controlled motion. Then slowly lower yourself down to where you started (without completely relaxing). Repeat until failure. This type of pull-up really targets your Latissimus Dorsi or lats and helps to gain width and give that “V-taper” look. The wider your hands are placed on the bar, the greater the difficulty level so initially, start a little bit wider than shoulder width and work your way out.
Reverse Grip Chin-ups: Begin with your hands about shoulder width on the bar with your palms facing you. Although this movement requires all the same muscle groups as the overhand pull-up, there is a greater contraction of the Biceps Brachii. You will feel a greater burn and quicker fatigue in your biceps performing a “pull-up” this way. Same idea applies, avoid swinging and arching your back, pull yourself up, getting your chin above the bar, and then slowly lower yourself back down and repeat until failure.
Negatives: This describes the descending phase of the pull-up. The eccentric motion that occurs when your body is lowered from the top of the bar to the starting position of the pull-up is also called the “negative” motion. During this phase, you are helping your body become stronger by performing a range of motion that may not yet be possible concentrically. Practice this by jumping up above the bar from a box and slowly lowering yourself back down. A couple sets of this and you’ll be completely fatigued.
So whether you’re trying to improve overall strength, tone your arms, grow your lats, OR you just want the bragging rights, go ahead, find yourself a bar, and get started! Every day YOU have the capability to get stronger and stronger. Enjoy the process and celebrate your progress. Happy pull-ups!