Building your pull-ups 101

In Strength Training by Chelsea LaGrasseLeave a Comment

The first part of this blog is for those who want to build up strength to be able to do body weight pull-ups. The second part is for those who can do body weight pull-ups already, but want to increase the amount of reps they can do. Both of these goals take time and consistent training, so be patient with the process.

The elusive pull-up. Everybody wants to be the one to waltz into the gym and bust out some pull-ups like nobodies business. But few actually have the strength to pull their own body weight up, even just one time. We all know how great of an exercise it is for building the upper body, but using the assisted pull-up machine just doesn’t seem to have the same effect.

The most important thing you can do before attempting your pull-ups, is to thoroughly warm-up your shoulders and back muscles. Do some shoulder rolls, shoulder shrugs, external rotation, and a torso twist. Do each of these for about 30 seconds a piece. Your muscles, tendons, and ligaments will thank you and likely perform more efficiently after you warm them up.

Here are two methods you can use, outside of the assistance machine, that will help you improve your pull-up and get you closer to your goal. You should incorporate these moves into your routine at least once a week to see improvement.

  1. Hanging inverted row. There are lots of ways to do this row. Using a barbell or TRX strap is my favorite way. The more inverted you are, the harder the exercise is. The more upright you are, the easier it is. Find a position that is challenging but doesn’t cause you to lose your form. Start with your arms extended and your body completely straight. Don’t let your hips sink too low or go too high. Pull your chest all the way up the bar and keep your body straight and core tight. Extend your arms and lower yourself back to the start position, slow and controlled. Repeat for 3 sets of 15 repetitions.

Band assisted pull-up. Using a resistance band will help reduce some of the weight you are pulling up. Find a resistance band that is the right amount of resistance for you and strap it to the pull-up bar. The more resistance you have on the band, the more assistance it will give you. Place your feet or your knees in the other end of the band and grab on to the bar. Pull your chest all the way up to the bar and then slowly extend back down to the start position. Repeat for 3 sets of 15 repetitions.

Negative pull-ups. Find a chair or stool so you can jump yourself up into the pull-up position, with your chest to the bar. Then, as slowly and as controlled as possible, lower yourself down to the starting position and repeat 15 times. This allows your body to give your muscles the tension of lowering into position, without the strain of pulling yourself up.

You can continue to strengthen the back and shoulder muscles along with managing your weight to improve your pull-up as well. Exercises such as bent over rows, lat pull downs, and push-ups should be part of your strength building routines. Obviously, the less you weigh, the easier the pull-up will be because you’re pulling up less weight. Another important part of pull-ups is core strength, so make sure you are adding in core workouts throughout your week as well. Any form of plank or hanging leg raises are my go to core exercises.

If you are able to do body weight pull-ups already and you want to increase the amount of reps you are doing, there are a couple things you can do to accomplish that.

Added weight between the legs with a weighted ball

Adding weight to your pull-up. You can do this with a weight belt or just putting a weight between your legs or feet. Start by adding 10 pounds for your first set and do as many repetitions as you can. If that’s too easy, then add 10 more. If you’re not able to complete more than 3 reps, then you need to decrease the weight used. Overtime, you will build up more strength and more reps, then you can increase the amount of weight you are using again.

Switching up your grips and hand placement. Try using different grips and varying how wide or narrow your grip is. Do close grip one time and then wide grip another. Do chin ups one week, then switch back to pull-ups. Variety is key in building strength and not plateauing on your progress.

Building the strength to do pull-ups with perfect form takes a lot of strength and practice. You won’t get there overnight. But if you practice these moves consistently, along with your other strength training routines, you will improve and be able to show off those pull-ups.