Updated: Jul 1, 2021
Pull ups or chin ups are one of the best exercises you can do. If you can do them, I honestly can’t stress enough how important they are.
They should take a much bigger priority in your pulling or back program than just about anything.
Sadly though, they are very difficult to do. In all my years training clients I’ve had very few clients how are able to even do one. Getting an out of shape person or even just an average person to pull themselves up with muscles they didn’t even know they had is a bit of a tall order.
If you can’t do a pull up/chin up I highly recommend that it’s something you work on.
So how do you do it?
If you’re looking to start doing pull ups or you want to refine your technique to get more out of them, then this is definitely for you.
What makes the pull up so good is not just the muscles that it works, but it’s the finer details like spine, neck and shoulder positioning that get over looked.
It’s not about “banging out the reps”. There are a lot of positioning details that, if you can nail, will not only help your pull ups, but help in other exercises as you have a better understanding of positioning.
The quality of a rep is not, did their chin go over the bar. Form is key.
We want to be able to perform the movement without compensating anywhere.
I’m going to be looking at doing a strict pull up as it’s these strict movements that ingrain correct mechanics and low risk of injury.
Grip the bar around shoulder with your hands around shoulder width. Wherever feels the most comfortable.
The grip is important. It’s the grip on the bar that allows you to generate torque in your shoulders and help keep your rib cage down.
We create torque same way we do on a barbell lift. It’s that same “bend the bar” idea. A bit more subtle here but similar thinking. As long as you felt the lack get pulled out of your shoulders then you’ve created torque.
Now that you’ve got your grip and are hanging, we organise the trunk. This is one of the biggest mistakes that people do.
We DO NOT want to have our back curled!
Why this seems to be ok for doing pull ups is beyond me. In no other exercise (expect bench press and flyes) is it ok to lift with your back curled. So why people do it for pull ups is crazy.
Tighten up your core the same way you would if you were doing a deadlift or any other lift.
Brace your trunk. Squeeze your glutes and pull the rib cage down.
Another thing is curling your legs. Yes sometimes this needs to be done a bit of you’ve a low bar and need to get your feet off the ground. But if that’s not an issue then your legs should be straight.
Again, this is one of those things that everyone does in pull ups and seems to be ok. It’s really not. They cross their ankles and bend their knees.
This is usually done when to stop your legs moving apart which is what can happen if you’re not strong enough to do a strict pull up. People pump their knees to towards their chest to generate some momentum.
If you set up like this you can’t squeeze your glutes like you should and set your rib cage over your pelvis which means you go into over extension. If your spine is overextended then you can’t create torque or stability in the shoulders.
So you want your legs straight and feet together. Try to point your toes if you can. Gently squeezing your feet and legs together is another way of just helping stabilise everything in you pelvis and lower body.
So you should have your core tight with your ribs positioned over your pelvis and your shoulders screwed into the back of the sockets with the armpits facing forward.
Keeping all the tension and torque, pull yourself up. Think about pulling using your lats and not your arms. Yes you’ll feel your arms work but they are the secondary muscle group. You back should be doing the pulling.
To help keep your shoulders and trunk intergraded, push your feet forward slightly to you start to pull. Don’t lose your tight core and shoulder position as your torso moves back.
You want to think about pulling your chest to the bar. Keep your neck in a neutral position. Don’t tilt it back just so your chin goes over the bar.
As you lower, nothing should change. You should still have a flat back, core engaged, glutes squeezed, neck neutral and your legs and feet together.
Really focus on control on the way down. You don’t have to go really slow. Just be in full control as you lower your starting position.
As I said at the start, pull ups are very difficult. Most people can’t do them. But there are ways that you can build up to doing them.
Obviously working the relevant muscle groups will help. The bigger and stronger they become should help with getting a pull up.
But what about the pull up itself?
One of the best ways is to use a resistance band. Attach a resistance band to the pull up bar and put the other end around your feet.
The resistance will aid in pulling you up while you maintain proper technique.
Another great method is to focus on the negative and isometric parts.
Use a box to help jump and pull yourself up to the top position. Then try to hold for a short time at the top to build that isometric strength.
Then focus on trying to lower very slowly. Maintaining good positions in the shoulders and core control yourself all the way down and then repeat.
Focusing on the negative aspect is a great way of building strength. I get clients to do the same thing if they can’t do push ups.
Adding resistance bands or focusing on the negative part of the movement is great even if you can do pull ups. If you find yourself hitting a bit of a wall in terms of reps, then these two methods will help you progress your reps if you’re stuck.
Just always remember. Form and technique above reps.