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. 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 solid and soft 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 to parallel your chest to the floor. If you’re too upright, you’ll work the upper trap, which usually needs less development than the lat, the lower trap, and rhomboid muscles. Imagine the pull of gravity: 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 towards the spine. Return the DB to the total hanging work and allow the shoulder blade to slide away from the spine.
A standard 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 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 a brilliant idea. Another benefit of the suspension trainer is core stability during its use.
The suspended back row is elementary and helps strengthen the back and improve pull-ups. One thing to keep in mind is maintaining a long neck, keeping the shoulders down, and not letting them creep up to the ears. Many people elevate their shoulders unconsciously.
A second pointer ensures 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 helps increase your pull-up prowess. A strong core helps maintain the proper body alignment to engage your back muscles.
An excellent way to train the core and at the exact time increase grip and back strength is to do hanging leg raises. Many people tend to work their hip flexors when doing leg lifts. The point of the leg raise is to contract the abdominal wall and allow the hips to roll. It’s pressing the belly button towards the spine to tighten the core and not just lift the legs.
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 working 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 aching muscles until you feel recovered. I’m not permitting you to slack off; I’m reminding you that an essential part of your training allows your body to recover fully. You need to listen and know when you’re slacking off and need an extra day to recover. You may do a HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout or a workout finisher, something different from strictly strength work and pull-ups.
The pull-up is one of the most impressive bodyweight movements that can be done. With proper training and a mind toward injury prevention, you’ll be more likely to increase 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 years old’s butts when it comes to pull-ups, push-ups, and human flags. To help people improve their pull-ups, she put together a program that helps strengthen your pull-up, gets you to perform your first pull-up, and reinforces your push-up. You can check out her Challenge Workouts here.