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Pull-Ups: How to do them Properly

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A widely used resistance workout in many workout programs is the Pull-Up which many folks struggle to be able to do.  Are you one of them?  Do you want to make sure you are doing it correctly?  Then this post is meant for you.

Why are they so hard for many folks?  Well you are pulling up your entire body weight using your upper body!  That can be tough for many people.  So lets first look at the proper way of doing one and then we can explore some modifications to help you work up to doing a full unassisted Pull-Up.

What exactly is a pull-up?

A pull-up is a exercise that involves a large number of big and small muscles, most notably lats (back) and biceps. In addition to working multiple muscles at the same time, the pull-up is also a multi-joint movement, an exercise that causes more than one joint to move. During a pull-up, your wrists, elbows, and shoulder angles all change.

Why Should You Do Pull-Ups?

  1. Functional Strength: We all perform a wide range of movements on a daily basis, including standing, walking, pushing, pulling, twisting, turning, lifting…  By improving your functional strength through dynamic compound exercises like pull-ups, you strengthen the relationship between your nervous and muscular systems.
  2. Posture Improvement: As you strengthen your back and core muscles, you can achieve better posture. When your posture improves, you appear longer and leaner.
  3. Back Pain Alleviation: A lot of people sit on the drive to work, sit in front of a computer all day, and then sit driving home. You might even sit on the couch once you’re home. All of this cumulative sitting increases the load on your back. By strengthening your back and core muscles with the pull-up, you reduce your chances of future pain and injury.
  4. Better Looking Physique: Want to look great in that tank top? Pull-ups help define your back and biceps and work your core. All of this makes your waist look smaller. For guys, it can also help create the “V” shape. 

How do I do a pull-up?

You should use a pronated (overhand) grip. (An underhand grip = supinated = chin-up). The first part of the movement calls for scapular retraction. This is a fancy term for what it means to draw your shoulder blades together and down.

To do this, imagine someone’s hand in the middle of your back. Try to pinch that hand with your shoulder blades. You can practice this while standing freely or by hanging from your pull-up bar and bringing those shoulder blades in. This movement engages your lats, the large set of muscles in your back, that are critical supporting muscles.

After you retract your scapulas, you want to pull your body upward toward the bar. This requires flexion of the elbow joint, or the bending of your arms. In order to flex the elbow joint, the biceps and supporting arm and back muscles are called into action.

Finally, you need to lower yourself back to where you began. For this, your triceps and shoulders kick into gear. And let’s not forget the grip strength needed just to hold onto the bar.

What if I can’t do 1 full Pull-Up?

There are modifications you can use while you build up to being able to do a regular Pull-Up.  Another option is that if you cannot do too many regular pull-ups, I like to start with the regular pull-ups and then move to one of the following to complete the number of reps you are trying to get to.  This helps build up your strength.

  1. Resistance Bands.  Use of resistance bands are used by those that can’t perform (yet) a full Pull-Up and for those that do not have a Pull-Up bar.  Resistance bands come in a variety of tensions so you can start with ones that are easier to pull and move up to thicker/higher-resistance ones as you gain strength.  You will need to anchor your band on something secure such as a hook on a piece of exercise equipment or they make door attachments which are easy to use.  You need to make sure though that it is secure for safety reasons.  You want to mimic the move as much as possible to the angle you would have if you were doing a Pull-Up.  One way is to kneel on one knee, lean forward a bit to get the angle similar to doing a regular Pull-Up.  Another option is to kneel on on knee but have your chest up like you are vertical and pull the band to your chest.  Varying the angle of your body hits different parts of your back/lats.  I like to hold for 1-2 seconds in the contracted mode to really keep pressure on the back muscles you are working.  Go at a pace that is slow and controlled.
  2. Assisted Pull-Ups.  You can use a chair and place one leg on the chair to help take some of the weight off your upper body and perform the Pull-Up as normal.  The less pressure you put on the chair the harder.
  3. Pull-Up Assist Band.   You can purchase these at Beachbody, where you hook the assist band to the pull-up bar and put 1 leg in it to help reduce the weight you will be pulling up.  I like these much better than using a chair as the resistance is constant up and down.

As you can see there are a number of options to use so do not skip doing Pull-Ups as they will really help you get to the strength and physique you want.

Interested in your thoughts as usual.  Please post below.

-Coach Mike

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