How to do Pull-ups – 3 Exercises that Will Help

I often get asked how to do a pull-up.

Let me help you do your first pull-up or improve the number of pull-ups you can do. Here are a few exercises that will help:

Exercise #1 to Help with Your Pull-Up

I like to do single DB rows so I can address muscle imbalances.

NOTE: I always train my weak side first since you’ll always have a strong and weak side. With continued training you’ll lessen the gap of strength differences.

It’s imperative with this movement that you protect the lower back and learn to isolate the latissimus dorsi. Support one knee and one hand on a bench and flatten the back so that your chest is parallel to the floor. If you’re too upright, you’ll work the upper trap, an area that usually needs less development than the lat, the lower trap and rhomboid muscles. Imagine what the pull of gravity is: basically a straight line from the DB to the floor. Allow the DB to hang to the floor while maintaining this flat back position. Bring the DB to the ribs and bring the scapula, or shoulder blade, in towards the spine. Return the DB to the full hanging position and allow the shoulder blade to slide away from the spine.

A common error is using the muscles of the arms exclusively to pull the DB into the ribs; this is the same mistake that folks make when trying to do a pull-up. You need to find the back muscles and engage them in pulling the DB towards the body. Then allow the DB to extend towards the floor with the arm fully extended.

Exercise #2 to Help with Your Pull-Up

I’m a big fan of my suspension trainer. It basically uses body weight as resistance. You can increase or decrease the amount of resistance by changing the angle of pull with your foot position. It’s really a brilliant idea. Another benefit of the suspension trainer is the need for core stability with its use.

The suspended back row is a very basic row, and is helpful in strengthening the back and improving your pull-ups. One thing to keep in mind is to maintain a long neck, keep the shoulders down and don’t let them creep up to the ears. Many people elevate the shoulders unconsciously.

A second pointer is ensure that you drop the hips slightly; don’t lead with the hips and arch the back. You’ll feel more through the middle back, and less through the arms if you have a slight hip flexion.

Exercise #3 to Help with Your Pull-Up

Not surprisingly, core strength is helpful to increase your pull up prowess. A strong core helps maintain the proper body alignment in order for you to engage your back muscles.

A good way to train the core and at the same time increase grip and back strength is to do hanging leg raises. Many people tend to just work their hip flexors when doing leg raises. The point of the leg raise is to contract the abdominal wall and allow the hips to roll. It’s a matter of pressing the belly button in towards the spine to contract the core and not just lift the legs up.

Last Key Ingredient to Pull-Ups

The last component I’d like to address is rest. I’m my own worst enemy at times where this is concerned, once I get a goal in mind. For example, my elbows ached for a few weeks after I worked the human flag daily.

Umm, not a good idea.

The same goes for you and your pull-ups.

Your body needs rest and recovery. If your muscles are still sore and you have a workout planned, you may want to postpone the training of the sore muscles until you feel recovered. I’m not giving you permission to slack off, I’m reminding you that an important part of your training is allowing your body to recover fully. You need to listen and know when you’re just slacking off and when you really need an extra day to recover. Maybe you’ll do a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout or a workout finisher, something different than strictly strength work and pull-ups.

The pull-up is clearly one of the most impressive body weight movements that can be done. With proper training and a mind towards injury prevention, you’ll be more likely to succeed at increasing your pull-up power and not your aches and pains. You can check out Shawna’s pull-up program here.


About Shawna Kaminski

Shawna Kaminski is in her late 40′s but she can kick most 20 year old’s butts when it comes to pull-ups, push-ups and human flag. In order to help people improve their pull-ups, she put together a program that helps improve your pull-up, gets you to perform your first pull-up and improve your push-up. You can check out her Challenge Workouts here.