Cody’s Ultimate Guide to Pull Ups
The pull up is can be a difficult bodyweight movement to master (especially for women- but not impossible!), but with the right knowledge, you can optimize your pull up training.
Technically speaking, a pull up uses an overhand grip with your fingertips pointing away from your body. A chin up uses an underhand grip, with your fingertips pointing towards your body, and has more emphasis on the biceps.
While this post uses the words “pull up”, know that all of this information applies to chin ups as well – different hand grips do provide for slight differences in the exercise, but when looking at the big-picture, the difference is negligible.
Pull Up Technique:
- Grip the bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width
- Engage the back & shoulders by squeezing the shoulder blades together & “down” your back
- Look up
- Pull, driving the elbows down & bring your chest up to the bar
- A slight arch in the back is totally normal & a result of drawing your shoulders down & back
- Try not to swing as you pull yourself up & lower yourself back down
Work Up to Your First Pull Up:
This is a numbered list because you should be able to complete the first pull up drill before moving on to the next. With practice & time, these drills will help you build the strength you need to perform your first strict pull up.
- Practicing negatives: This is the place to start if you can only do a chin-hang at this point. Begin at the top position of a pull up with your chin over the bar, then slowly lower yourself down.
- Jumping pull ups: With your feet on a stool or some sort of booster, grip the pull up bar and jump. Use the jump to get up most of the way, engaging your arms to clear the bar. Once you’re at the top, work those negatives by slowly lowering yourself back down before the next rep.
- Half pull ups: Starting a pull up from “halfway” with your elbows at 90 degrees is much more manageable than starting a pull up from a dead hang. If you can’t quite get that strict pull up yet, then do reps of half pull ups, starting halfway up, completing the pull up, then lowering yourself halfway back down for the next rep.
- Pull Up Bands: You can also use pull up assist materials such as pull up bands or the pull up machine at the gym. While many trainers & athletes have differing opinions on the effectiveness of using these tools, if you find them helpful, then go for it!
Pull Up Variations to Increase Difficulty:
These pull up variations are in no particular order. While there are tons of pull up variations, these are some of our favorites for building strength.
- Weighted Pull Ups: This is the simplest choice for increasing the difficulty of your pull ups. The skill needed remains the same, but your strength will be challenged.
- L-Pull Ups: Starting from a dead hand, raise and extend your legs in front of you so your body is making an “L” shape. Holding this L position, perform your pull ups.
- Towel Pull Ups: Loop a towel around the top of the pull up bar, and use the two hanging ends as your handholds. The towel increases the difficulty of grip and stabilization, which will increase forearm and bicep strength.
- Around the World: Change your pull up range of motion from a simple vertical range to a more difficult circular range. Around the world pull ups require your muscles on both sides to work at different capacities, loading more and less weight on each side alternately. Note: These are difficult to explain, so you should just watch the video link.
- Front Lever Pull Ups: These will only be possible if you have already mastered the front lever. This means keeping your body in a straight line from head to toes, and rotating to it be as close to parallel with the floor as possible. Hold this front lever position as you perform your pull ups. Note: Work up to a front lever by beginning with your knees tucked into your chest, rather than having your legs fully extended.
Additional Strength Training Plans:
- Gymnastics Strength Virtuosity by Dave Durante
- TwoB Fit (“To Be Fit”) by Two Bad Bodies
- True Strength by Dylan Werner
- Rise Strength by Diane Fu & Andrea Ager
- FitFlow by MacKenzie Miller & Briohny Smyth