3 Tips To Do More Pull-Ups
The development and ability to perform one or multiple unassisted pull-up or chin-ups is among the highest expressions of strength in fitness, and we encourage each and every one of you to list them on your goals. Hundreds (literally) of men and women have walked in unable to do a pull-up and changed that. It’s not by luck, but by precise work and attention to detail in the correct muscles and movement cues. Here’s a list of five ways you can begin to immediately get better at pull-ups.
1. Learn to “Find” Your Lats
Being strong in pull-ups is all about activating the right prime movers. It is your lats, not your biceps that should be initiating the movement. Here is a helpful exercise. Next time you are on the bar or messing around before class, hang from the bar and work on drawing your shoulder blades towards the floor while keeping your elbows extended. This will help you learn to initiate with those bigger, stronger muscles. This drill is called “turtle, giraffe” and you can see our internal coach training video below where Coach Ashley explains it.
Keep the Gaze Forward: Looking up is the common mistake here. This essentially turns your pull-up more into a row. Your hips always follow your neck. You know how we are always telling you not to look up on push-ups because your hips will sag? Same thing here, only your body is vertical and not horizontal. If you look up, as you ascend your hips will shift forward causing you to recruit more bicep and less lats and kinetically it “turns off” a lot of muscle activation.
A Quick Note on Grip: If you wish to strengthen your grip in general, perform your pull-ups with your thumbs underneath the bar. Always. However, this may lead to fewer reps so if you are going for a max total, you may be better with a thumbless grip. It takes some trial and error to see what works best for you.
2. Get the Right Banded Assistance
Let us say this as clearly as possible: Bands are your friend! They allow you to perform the movement properly and activating the right muscles. Too many neglect the bands out of ego and instead do sloppy, shitty reps that never lead to doing more. But the key with the bands is selecting the right level of resistance.
The bands should be there to aid you in using and feeling your lats through the entirety of the movement. They are not there to use for bounce, use momentum, or to be out of control in your reps.
It is crucial that learn how to use your lats and develop their vertical pulling strength if you are to ever get unassisted strict pull-ups. There are many folks who insist on performing band-less reps that never train the proper muscles, out of either ego or misplaced effort.
You must, must, must feel what “finding” your lats feels like and that can sometimes only be done with help.
Like the barbell lifts and any other form of getting stronger, which is what pull-ups are, you must progressively overload. Hitting a strict pull-up is the gymnastics version of training hitting a 1R deadlift. You can’t get stronger in it unless you train in a range that closely resembles it. Track the bands you use just as you would any weighted movement, and hold yourself accountable to going to a harder level every month. Slowly, you’ll require less and less of the assistance the bands provide and you’ll be on your own.
3. Add Load
For those of you already proficient at pull-ups, you’ll want to add some weight wherever possible. It’s important to remember that the pull-up is not a unloaded movement. It’s just that it’s a “body weight” movement so you are pulling your…body weight. Unless you voluntarily change the stimulus, you will always be pulling that exact amount. You wouldn’t get stronger in your squat by squatting the same weight every time. Pull-ups follow the same overload principle. Since we don’t want you getting fat on purpose in the name of progressively overloading your pull-ups, the logical choice is to add some exterior weight. So toss a dumbbell between your toes and get to pulling.
In conclusion, pull-ups are not the daunting Goliath many make them out to be. They just require a concentrated effort over a few months and commitment to training them properly. Find those lats, feel them work, and never lose sight of getting their strength developed in all that you do.