Improving your pull-up performance.

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Often regarded as one of the greatest upper-body exercises, the pull-up has been used as a measure of strength in many organisations. For example, to be accepted into the Royal Marines, one must be able to perform 5 consecutive pull-ups.

So how is a pull-up performed?

  1. Firstly, the body hangs from a straight bar using an overhand grip. Hands should be shoulder width apart, with the arms locked out and the body vertically straight.
  2. The pull-up is then performed by bending the arms and raising the body until the chest touches the bar and/or the chin is over the bar.
  3. Returning to the starting position counts as one repetition or one pull-up.
  4. Use of momentum, or kicking the legs out to aid in the pull-up is not correct pull-up technique but instead regarded as a “kipping” pull-up.

So how many pull-ups can you do? Some people can do loads whereas others cannot do a single pull-up. For these reasons I shall split training techniques into two sections.

For those who cannot do a pull-up.
If you are struggling to do your first pull-up then we can look at why this could be.

Firstly, as a pull-up is ultimately pulling your full bodyweight up, those with more weight may struggle. If you do have excess body weight you should look at reducing this.
If your weight is normal and you’re still struggling, you may need to build more strength. This can be done using assistance exercises. These could include:

  • Dead hangs – Dead hangs are a great way to improve your grip and forearm strength, this is vital for pull-ups!
  • Bodyweight rows – This exercise is a great precursor to the pull-up as it uses the same muscles, albeit at a different angle. It is also easier to do as part of the body is supported by the feet.
  • Pull-up negatives – Negative training focuses on the eccentric phase of the movement, in the case of pull-ups it is the lowering phase. Performing negatives will help to build strength to use when performing full pull-ups.
  • Chin-ups – These are similar to pull-ups with the difference being in the grip. Chin-ups use a narrower, underhand grip and put more emphasis on the bicep muscles which allows many beginners to perform them easier.

For those who can do 5 or more full pull-ups.
So you’ve got that first pull-up, as well as a few extra, and now you want even more! How can you progress? Here are some advanced pull-up exercises to use:

  • Wide grip pull-up – Wide grip pull-ups are more difficult due to the arms, shoulders and elbows being at more of a mechanical disadvantage, when compared to the normal pull-up.
  • Weighted pull-ups – Slowly add weight to your pull-ups by using a belt, vest or bag. This will vastly increase your pull-up performance by overloading your muscles.

Give these tips a try and let me know how you get on in the comments below!

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About Author

As a physical education graduate and qualified personal trainer, Mathew is very knowledgable when it comes to fitness. Outdoor training is a personal favourite of Mathew’s but he also has a high degree of gym based experience.
Location: Carlisle

6 Comments

    • That’s brilliant! Your weakest point is when your arms are straight, so it’s good to always practice the full range of motion if you want to improve. Keep up the good work!

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