The pull-up is a brutal upper-body compound movement that should be a staple in any decent training routine. It’s the exercise you hate while you’re still at the point where you can’t perform a single pull-up with correct form, but it’s also the exercise that will make you king of the gym once you become able to execute ten great reps!
In other words, although pull-ups are one of the hardest exercises you can do, mastering them comes with enormous benefits to your back and upper body. And the greater the effort, the greater the reward.
As one of the greatest mass builders of all time, the pull-up works a large number of major muscle groups, primarily recruiting the latissimus dorsi, but also working the rhomboids, trapezius, deltoids, pectoralis, brachialis and the triceps to a great extent. Additionally, it helps strengthen the entire core, correct posture and tremendously improve grip strength.
Pull-ups are a closed kinetic chain exercise, which means that you move your body through space while your hands in a fixed position. Because of that, the movement requires multiple muscle joints and opposite muscles to work together with an impressive level of coordination. And what’s even better, the stronger you become at pulling your entire bodyweight, the stronger you will be at pushing, and the final result will be substantially improved performance at all major lifts and upper body pressing exercises.
Performing pull-ups as a part of your regular training routine will ensure overloading of your upper-body muscles and optimal production of anabolic hormones, as well as helping you achieve that sough-after ‘V’ shaped look. Knowing all of this, you can’t help but wonder why is it that you don’t see people doing pull-ups at the gym all the time?
It’s because many people give up on pull-ups at the very beginning, declaring the exercise as ‘too difficult’ for them. It’s true that this movement requires a great deal of upper body strength, but it’s also true that with the help of a few techniques, anyone can learn how to do it right. Read the rest of this article to find out how to build strength and improve the quality of your pull-ups!
1. Negative pull-ups
Still struggling to do a single pull-up? Retrace your steps and begin with negative pull-ups. Negative pull-ups are a popular progression exercise that involves performing only the eccentric (lowering) portion of the movement, used for developing the strength needed for the full pull-up. They’re a great place to start because the lowering portion of the exercise is easier than the pulling phase and can help you develop the skills required for progressing to a proper pull-up very quickly.
- Grip an overhead bar and get into the top position of the pull-up exercise (flexed arms and chin above the bar).
- By bracing your core and engaging all upper body muscles, slowly lower yourself down in a controlled manner until you reach the ‘dead hang’ position (arm fully extended).
- Get back to the starting position (jump or climb to the bar) and repeat.
The key part is to perform the lowering movement as slow as possible and avoid dropping your bodyweight on the ground.
2. Paused pull-ups
Paused reps are another great way to increase the effectiveness of your regular pull-ups and stimulate greater back growth. Simply pause at full extension, i.e. the bottom part of the movement and increase the time spent under tension. This will make it impossible to use momentum, thereby causing a massive hypertrophy in the lats. Perform as many reps as you can with this method and you’ll be surprised by the results. If you’re looking to get a better contraction in the lats and increase your pulling strength, try pausing for a one-second hold at the top of each rep.
The most important thing is to have patience and practice pull-ups regularly. As your form improves and your strength increases, you’ll start seeing huge improvements in the effectiveness of the workout, and soon enough, your pull-up prowess will become the center of attention at the gym!