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How To Master The Pull Up

To Gain Total Upper Body Strength

The pull-up is one of the toughest bodyweight moves there is, requiring your back and other muscles to work hard to lift and lower your entire body. Muscles in your back (specifically the lats, traps, and rhomboids), shoulder and arms all get a workout with pull-ups, and you’ll definitely feel every one of them when you wake up the morning after a first session on the bar.

Why is the pull-up important?

It’s the ultimate test of upper-body muscular strength and one of the very few bodyweight moves that work your back and biceps.

How To Do A Perfect Pull-Up

  1. Leap up and grip the bar with your hands, shoulder width apart and your palms facing away from you. Hang with your arms fully extended, you can bend your legs at the knee if they’re dragging on the ground.
  2. Keep your shoulders back and your core engaged throughout. Then pull up. Focus on enlisting every upper body muscle to aid your upward endeavors.
  3. Move slowly upward until your chin is above the bar, then equally slowly downward until your arms are extended again.
  4. Aim for 10 pull-ups, but be prepared to fall short.

Pull-Up Assistance Lifts

Try these supportive machine moves to power up your pull-up prowess.

Lat pull-down

This machine moves most closely replicates the muscle actions required to do pull-ups. The wider your hands on the bar, the more you isolate your lats, making each rep harder.

Cable face pull

This works wonders for your pull-up ability by not only improving your hunched-over posture from too much sitting but also making you learn how to retract your shoulder blades properly, which is key to perfect pull-up form. Do three light sets of 15 after your back or shoulders session.

Negative pull-up

Make a positive effort to up your pull-up max with negative reps. Your muscles are stronger when lowering a weight than lifting it so at the end of a set, jump to the top, then lower as slowly as possible. Keep going until you can no longer control your descent.


Pull-Up Form Tips

Recruit the glutes

It’s tempting to think of the pull-up as an upper-body move and relax everything below the waist. But squeezing your glutes before you pull up will help you recruit as many muscle fibers as possible.

Use the full range

Using a full range of motion engages more muscle fibers and works them harder. Hang from the bar with both hands so your arms are fully straight. This is the start and finish position. Keep the full-range reps slow and smooth to reduce joint stress.

Get tight at the start

Bracing your body will engage your big and small stabilizing muscles, making it easier to manage your weight. Keep your chest up and abs and glutes engaged. Initiate the move by retracting your shoulders, then drive your elbows down to pull yourself up.

Squeeze at the top

Once your chin is higher than your hands, squeezing your working muscles will recruit even more muscle fibers for greater strength and performance gains. Pause for one second at the top to squeeze your muscles, then lower back to the start.

Mix your grip

Vary between wide, narrow and hammer grip hand positions to recruit more muscle fibers and correct any weaknesses for greater overall strength.

Break them down

Remove momentum to target all three phases of the lift. Pull your chest to the bar, pause for three seconds, lower halfway, pause, then lower to the bottom and repeat.

Hang tough

If your grip goes, you go. Get used to hanging from the bar with extra weight until failure. Then raising your own body weight when doing pull-ups will feel easy.


What do I do if I can’t do any?

It will take a combination of two things to get your chin up over that bar:

  • Decreasing body fat so you have less weight to pick up!
  • Increasing strength to pick up your bodyweight and move above the bar!

About the first, we can only advice you to work on a healthier nutrition that will help you in losing your body fat. About the second, we’ve written down below a couple of exercises that with time will help you in strengthening your upper body to achieve the desired pull up.

Remember, It’s all about progression! 

Bent Over Dumbbell Rows

Body Weight Row

Assisted Pull-Ups

Negative Pull-Ups

Chin Ups and Pull-Ups


Good luck!

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