How to do Pull-ups Correctly and Safely
The pull-up has long been regarded the king of upper body exercises. The pull-up is to the upper body what the squat is to the lower body. The ability to pull yourself up from a cliff, for example, is one of the most functional movements you could do. If you cannot yet perform a pull-up, you must accomplish this task.
PULLUPS FORM VIDEO
BENEFITS OF THE PULL-UP
Strengthens all of the back muscles including the lattisimus dorsi, the rhomboids, the mid trapezius and the posterior shoulders. It also strengthens your forearms, your grip, and your arms.
Requires very minimal equipment. Anything you can hang from is sufficient to train this large compound exercise.
Can easily be scaled to your level, as different variations can provide different levels of intensity
WHAT MUSCLES DO PULL-UPS WORK?
PULL-UPS VS CHIN-UPS
The difference between a pull-up and a chin-up is the orientation of your palms. In a pull-up, your palms are facing forward. In a chin-up, your hands are supinated and facing you. Chin-ups place your arms in full external rotation, keeping your shoulders in a healthy position.
Chin-ups emphasize the arm muscles more while Pull-ups emphasize the back muscles. Because chin-ups allow you to use your arms (especially biceps) more, they tend to be easier than pull-ups. You can use either variation, but it's a good idea to become proficient in both.
HOW TO DO A PULL-UP CORRECTLY
Find a pull-up bar that allows your entire body to be suspended in mid-air
If your feet touch the ground, or you have to bend your knees, the bar is too low
Either jump up and grab the bar or use a box/bench to reach the bar
Establish a grip that is slightly wider than shoulder width with your palms facing forward
You can wrap your thumbs around the bar, or have them above the bar. A full grip is stronger, but some may find the thumbs over grip more comfortable.
From this position, keep your feet close together and pointed forward
Then, externally rotate your shoulders so that they are screwed back into the shoulder sockets
Take a big breath, squeeze your glutes and engage your core
Begin pulling yourself up and focus on BRINGING YOUR CHEST TO THE BAR
Keep your head neutral - DO NOT THROW YOUR HEAD BACK to bring your chin over the bar
If you cannot clear your chin over the bar, just stop and reverse back down
You will reach the end range once your arms cannot bend anymore- your chin should naturally clear the bar at this point
Slowly lower yourself back down and repeat
The Best Exercises To Help You With Pull-Ups
One of the best exercises you can do to get started on doing your first pull-up is negative pull-ups.
This entails jumping up to the end range of a pull-up and slowly lowering yourself down in a controlled manner. See this video.
You can also start out with Horizontal Pull-ups, which is an easier variation. We have an entire tutorial on that exercise as well, which you can find here.
I do not recommend using the Assisted Pull-up Machine (where you rest your knees on a pad and it helps lift you)- This will throw your mechanics off as your knees are bent. Instead, have someone help support your feet or your legs to help you do the movement more naturally.
COMMON PULL-UP MISTAKES
THROWING YOUR HEAD BACK TO COMPLETE THE MOVEMENT
This is inefficient and will only cause neck strain. The goal is not to get your chin over the bar, the goal is to train your back muscles and your ability to pull yourself up. If you cannot clear your chin, then stop and reverse the movement. * See the video above*
LETTING YOUR SHOULDERS INTERNALLY ROTATE
This happens when your focus on trying to bring your chin over the bar without regard to your shoulder and spine position. Lock your shoulders back into their sockets and concentrate on bringing YOUR CHEST to the bar. This will keep your shoulders in a healthy position.
BENDING YOUR KNEES OR CROSSING YOUR LEGS BEHIND YOU
This will throw your spinal alignment off and not allow you to activate or engage your core or your glute muscles. Remember, this is a compound exercise that requires you to use as much of your body as possible.
NOT PERFORMING A FULL RANGE OF MOTION
When lowering yourself, go all the way down. Performing half repetitions is only cheating yourself from the benefits of this great exercise
HOW CAN I INTEGRATE THE PULL-UP INTO MY TRAINING?
Check out our workout template for busy people to learn how to incorporate this exercise and every other functional exercise into your training routine.
Men: Perform 15 reps in 1 set, or 8 reps with a weight vest
Women: Perform 8 repetitions in 1 set