How to Do More Pull-Ups (Updated Edition)
It’s no secret we take enormous pride in both our instruction and outcome of member pull-ups at P360. It’s also no secret that we don’t kip here. Never have, never will. No interest in hating on it, we just like ’em strict. So the development of being able to do a single pull-up, or add multiple reps to your total takes some time, but the ability to do crisp, full range of motion strict pull-ups is among the highest expressions of strength in fitness, and we encourage each and every one of you to list them on your 2020 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.
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: 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.
Use the bands. They are your friend.
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. Improve Your Barbell Strength
Have we mentioned that the lats are important yet? Well the barbell movements we predominantly use: the squat, row, press, deadlift, and clean all train your lats to be stronger on some level. Some of them use the lats as prime movers (row, clean), some of them use them as stabilizers (deadlift, squat, press). All of them require and develop lats that are strong and able to do pull-ups. Focus on progressively overloading your barbell movements just a little bit more and you should see an improvement in your upper body pulling strength as a benefit.
4. Improve Your Kettlebell Strength
Particularly, the Russian Kettlebell Swing and the Farmer Walk. Both movements target the hell out of your lats and your grip strength, the two most necessary components to being good at pull-ups. These are also two movements that you can go far heavier than you think without compromising safety, so level up.
5. Incorporate Pauses and Load
Pauses at the top for a one Mississippi count are a great way to overload the lats without adding extra resistance. Most pull-ups are missed at the top end range and in essence, this is “beyond the range” training, like a deficit deadlift helping a pull that is stuck off the floor. Develop that finishing power to help “pull” you through those top end sticking points. As the band contracts it assists you less and less, so that top end hold is entirely on you, this will really help develop that strength, the band will get you up but won’t keep you there. Additionally, add pauses at the bottom if you are advanced to ensure you create every rep with the lat tension we discussed in the set-up above.
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.