How to successfully complete pull ups!

Pull ups are one of the most difficult movements for people to execute correctly. Yet, if you walk into a gym, most people attempt this exercise and have a goal to complete a certain amount of pull ups without assistance. This exercise requires specific form, control, and understanding of the mechanics of the back muscles. Without these pre-requisites, gym-goers end up using momentum, and cheat their way through each repetition. This places stress on the shoulder and elbow joints and often leads to pain, injury and dysfunction.

I am going to show you a progression of how to complete body-weight pull ups that has had enormous success among my clients and master trainers for years! It is important to master each step of the progression prior to moving forward. So be patient, trust the process, and success will come!

pull ups

To start your pull up journey, it is important to understand body mechanics to engage the proper muscles. The prime movers of this motion are the muscles of the upper back (specifically the Latissimus Dorsi). However the muscles of the arms (specifically the Biceps Brachii and forearms) are also involved. First and foremost it is necessary to fully depress and retract (push down and back) the scapulae (shoulder blades). This will initiate the “pulling” portion of the movement. The chest should be pushed up and should reach the bar at the fully contracted position. The descend should be controlled while lowering your body from the bar and returning to a fully extended arm.

pull up

The progression:

1. The first time you ever complete a pull up, you should be completing a machine-assisted-pullup.  Some professionals may disagree, however I stress the importance of this step so that the you can understand how it feels to properly depress and retract the scapulae without struggling to complete the pull up. If you find that this assisted machine is too easy, it is possible to progress through this step quickly.

2. After you have mastered the mechanics of a pull up and feel comfortable enough to progress off of the assisted machine, you are ready for the band-assisted-pull-ups This step involves using a long resistance band as assistance. Tie the band around a straight bar and place your feet (beginners) or knees (advanced) in the resistance band. Note that there are different resistances available that can help you progress!


3. Once the resistance band assisted pull ups are too easy for you, you can gradually incorporate negative-pull-ups In training, the term “negative” means the relaxation phase of the lift. The relaxation portion is considered an eccentric contraction, however, this is easier than completing the actual “pulling” motion. To execute a negative pull up, jump up to the bar and, with control, slowly lower until the arms are fully extended. This will help build the core and upper back strength required to complete full pull ups!

4. Now that you understand the pull up movement and have completed the pre-requisites, you should now be able to progress to regular Body weight pull ups the higher your body-weight, the greater amount of strength it will require to pull your body up to a bar without assistance. So achieving a healthy body weight and spending time strengthening the back muscles are also required to complete pull ups!