Content of the material
- How to Increase Pull-Ups: Week One
- Pull-Up Grips: Protecting Your Hands
- Workout B
- Exercise: Bear crawl
- Exercise: Push-up
- Exercise: Bird dog
- Exercise: Glute bridge
- Exercise: Suspension trainer biceps curl
- Good Chin-up And Pull-Up Technique
- Key Points On Good Technique
- Tips for Shoulder Health
- How Many Pull-Ups Should You Do If You Are Overweight?
- What can I do Besides Pull-Ups?
- Assisted Pull-Ups
- Pull-Up Negatives
- PVC Pull-Downs
- Seated Pull-Ups
- Jumping Pull-Ups
- More advanced pull-up variations
- Advanced Pull-Up Variations
- Here are some advanced pull-up variations that you can start doing:
- How to do a proper pull-up with perfect form
- Pullup Variations
- Assisted Pullup Machine
- Lat Pulldowns
- How to do more pull-ups
- Pull up challenges
- Final word
How to Increase Pull-Ups: Week One
This guide assumes that you don’t have an assisted pull-up machine at your disposal. If you do, start each workout with three sets of five reps. Do workouts A and B once each this week.
Pull-Up Grips: Protecting Your Hands
Speaking of grips…another type of grip you might consider using if you are performing a high volume of pull-ups are Victory Grips.
They slip on over your fingers and fasten with a strap to your wrists and are designed to protect your hands from friction, blisters and tearing.
Yes, those awful things can happen if you don’t take proper care of your hands! Make sure you take all the preventative measures you can so that you aren’t taken out of training for a week while they heal.
Plus, nobody likes to shake hands with the gross, bloody kid.
Exercise: Bear crawl
How to do it: From the top of the push-up position, step forward with your right foot inside the right arm as you simultaneously move your left hand forward in front of you. Switch sides, so that you now step forward with the left leg and gain ground with your right hand. Keep crawling forward by moving the opposite hand and foot forward.
Duration: Beginner: 20 seconds; intermediate: 30–40 seconds; elite: 40–60 seconds.
Trainer tip: This is to get you more accustomed to moving your body through space. It will also help you burn additional calories in the quest toward more pull-ups.
Trainer tip: The key with push-ups is stacking the wrists under the shoulders and keeping a straight back. This exercise builds shoulder and triceps strength.
Exercise: Bird dog
How to do it: Get on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Tighten your abs. Raise your right leg and left arm simultaneously, lengthening your spine. Don’t raise the arm higher than the shoulder or the leg higher than the hips. Hold for 10 seconds in this position then return to all fours. That’s one rep.
Reps: 10 each side
How to increase pull-ups trainer tip: Do all 10 reps on one side then switch sides. This move increases lower back strength and will help support your body weight during the pull-up.
Exercise: Glute bridge
How to do it: Lie with your back against the floor, knees bent at 90 degrees, arms at your sides, and palms facing the floor. Bring your butt up, squeezing your glutes at the top. Pause for two seconds, then return to start.
Trainer tip: Do these slowly, focusing on the glute contraction. You can also isolate one side by keeping one foot on the ground and raising one leg off the ground as you bridge up.
Exercise: Suspension trainer biceps curl
How to do it: Stand facing the anchor point, holding the suspension trainer by the handles. Lower your body until your arms are fully extended and you’re in a tight plank with your body in a straight line. Pull body toward the anchor by bringing your knuckles to your temples, with your elbows high and eyes forward. Return to the starting position with your arms extended. That’s one rep.
How to increase pull-ups trainer tip: Let your body hang down before the start. Keep your core tight throughout the movement.
Good Chin-up And Pull-Up Technique
Key Points On Good Technique
- Perform smooth reps. No kipping. Kipping = cheating. If you swing into your reps, you don’t know if you got stronger or just better at swinging.
- The arms should be straight at the start of each rep but not a dead hang. Keep your shoulders in their sockets. To illustrate what I mean, put your arms straight above your head right now. Ok, shrug up as high as you can. Now shrug down. We don’t want our shoulders loose in that shrugged up position, especially when you have a lot of weight swinging from your crotch later on. It’s the ‘down’ position with the shoulders ‘packed’ that we want to keep throughout the set.
- For chin-ups, use a grip position slightly narrower than shoulder-width. If you go to extremes, your joints may not like it.
- The finish position is where your elbows touch your lats (sides). A common cue is to tell people to get their chin over the bar or their chest to the bar. I think this is a mistake. The goal is to train your back. How high your chin/chest come depends on the relative length of your forearm to your upper arm. You will notice that when I perform pull-ups at the end of the video the range of motion is a little shorter because this is the point where my arms touch my lats. This is normal. Forcing past this to get your chin over the bar may lead to an injury or joint issues over time, as the humeral head is forced into a compromised position.
- Keep your glutes and abs tight. This helps you stop swinging.
- No half reps. When you can no longer get a full rep, the set is over.
Tips for Shoulder Health
Avoid extreme grips positions (super-narrow or super-wide). For chin-ups (palms facing you), try one hand space inside of a shoulder-width grip. For pull-ups (palms away from you), try one to two hand spaces outside of shoulder-width.
Vary your grip style to keep the joints healthy. Rotate between grip variations every couple of months (under-hand, over-hand, neutral). If one particular grip style feels uncomfortable, don’t do it.
How Many Pull-Ups Should You Do If You Are Overweight?
This is a difficult question without having all the details.
But this doesn’t mean I cannot give you some basic principles of training.
In the beginning, four to five sets of as many pull-ups as you can do is going to be more than plenty.
Make sure you do the pull-ups with perfect form. You should never compromise with your form. If this means you can do only one pull-up. Then do one pull-up and try to increase the numbers gradually.
Have at least 90 to 120 seconds of rest time between each set, and make sure to stay hydrated.
Don’t train more than three times a week.
What can I do Besides Pull-Ups?
In CrossFit, you will find many instances where you need to be able to perform pull-ups. Like we mentioned above, we recommend that you substitute some sort of strict pull-ups instead of kipping until you can do at least five, unbroken strict pull-ups.
Familiarizing yourself with a quick and easy (yet effective) way to scale your pull-up will give you the workout you came to do and, maybe most importantly, give you confidence knowing how much strength you are gaining by gauging how much help you are giving yourself!
The first thing people usually ask when pull-ups come up in the workout and they don’t have them is, “Can I use a band?” Sure, you can use a band, but do you want to get pull-ups or not? There are other – much better – modifications that will allow you to adjust your assistance based on your abilities and get you to that first rep faster…the band cannot do that.
The “negative” is a great version for building base strength and can be modified in a variety of ways. The basic movement is the same now matter how you modify so if you can’t quite muster the strength to do them without assistance, grab a partner or box or create a lower bar for yourself on a squat rack so that your feet are on the floor.
The biggest difference between the negative and the pull-up is that you start with your chin over the bar instead of pulling yourself to that position so that you are only focusing on lowering yourself – the eccentric portion.
No matter what the movement, increased time under tension (TUT) equals increased, and much more rapid, strength gains. The pull-up is no different which is why we prescribe negatives both to those wanting to achieve their first rep as well as masters of the move who are trying to increase their pulling strength.
To complete a negative pull-up, start with your chin over the bar, lower your body down in a controlled descent until your arms are fully locked out.
Check out this video demo of the pull-up negative.
So many people fail with this movement for two reasons. First, they do not start with their chin over the bar, but rather jump 6-10 inches to try and get into position. The second way people mess this movement up is by not completing the FULL RANGE OF MOTION. Many folks will either start the movement with their chin below the bar, or fail to control the descent to a full lockout. If this is happening to you – use one of the modifications until you can do the reps without!
If you are working toward strict pull-ups, here is a great modification to throw into your strength portion or as supplemental work.
Try this modification when pull-ups come up in your strength OR conditioning workout.
This is a great modification for the conditioning portion of the workout, especially if there is a high volume of kipping pull-ups programmed and/or if you just did strict pull-ups (or another kind of pulling) in your strength work that same day.
More advanced pull-up variations
• Behind the head pull-ups – try to touch the bar with the back of your neck.
• Supper narrow grip pull-ups – Place your palms together as close as you can.
• One hand assisted pull-ups – grab the bar with one hand. Place your other hand on the wrist of the first one for additional support. Helps to develop grip strength.
• Diagonal pull-ups – try to touch your right palm with your left shoulder and vice versa.
• Mixed grip pull-ups – perform a regular pull-up with one hand facing you and the other hand facing away.
• Clapping pull-ups – perform explosive pull-ups where at the upper part of the pull-up you release your hands and make a quick clap.
• Ladder hand walking
• Fingertip pull-ups – find a narrow edge which is wide enough for you to place just your fingertips. Helps to develop finger strength for sports like rock climbing, mountain biking and motocross.
• Around the world pull-ups – use a full range of circular motion (up, down and sideways) to perform this variation.
• Side to side pull-ups – pull yourself up and while maintaining the upper position shift your body from one side to the other.
• Towel pull-ups – throw two towels over a bar. Grab the ends of the towels and pull yourself up. Helps to develop grip strength.
The list could go on and on…
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Advanced Pull-Up Variations
Once you’re able to do 3 sets of 10 pull-ups or chin-ups, it’s time to start thinking about upping the difficulty.
You have two options:
OPTION #1: Continue to get better at doing more reps – 3 sets of 12, 3 sets of 15, 4 sets of 20, etc.
OPTION #2: Start doing other types of pull-ups.
Here are some advanced pull-up variations that you can start doing:
#1) Wide Grip Pull-Ups:
Grab the bar WAY out with both hands. With your grip further out, it’ll require even MORE strengthen from your back (remember our pull-up vs. chin-up discussion).
#2) Side to Side Pull-Ups:
#3) Ring Pull-Ups
Rings hanging from the ceiling are inherently less stable than a pull-up bar. Thus ring pull-ups engage your core more as you stabilize yourself during the movement.
Want in on some ring action? Read our full guide on gymnastic rings workouts for more.
#4) Towel Pull-Ups
If you’re trying to improve your grip strength, try utilizing a couple of towels for your pull-ups. You’ll build lots of strength in your hands as you grasp the towels during the movement.
#5) L-Sit Pull-ups
Raise your legs straight in front during your pull-up. This will challenge your core like you wouldn’t believe.
#6) Clapping Pull-Up
The trick here is to have enough power to explode above the bar so you can clap your hands. The next trick is to grab the bar in time to bring yourself back down.
Be careful here.
#7) One-Arm Pull-Ups
This is the most difficult pull-up variation you can do, what with the whole only using one arm business.
To keep yourself stable during the movement, keep your inactive arm close to your body while you pull.
If you start doing one-arm pull-ups, email us. Seriously.
That should get you started experimenting with pull-up variations to increase the difficulty.
The other way to “progressive overload” your pull-ups is to add weight to the exercise, which we’ll devote our next section to.
How to do a proper pull-up with perfect form
Now, let’s get to the fun part – how to correctly perform a pull-up! There are a few tips and tricks that make doing a pull-up easier and make sure you reap the full benefits of this powerful exercise.
Chinups are Pullups using a supinated grip. You grip the bar with your palms facing up instead of down. You then pull yourself up. Chinups are easier than Pullups because they use your biceps more. They use more muscle. If you can’t do a single Pullup, try Chinups instead. If you want bigger arms, do Chinups. Note that Chinups work your upper-back muscles too. It just uses more biceps.
Technique on Chinups is same as on Pullups. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart. A wider grip shortens the range of motion. It also rotates your arms more out. This stresses your wrists, elbows and shoulders. It can cause pain. Grip the bar narrow. Your hands should be just outside your shoulders when your chin passes the bar at the top. If Chinups feel uncomfortable because you’re inflexible, stick with Pullups.
Assisted Pullup Machine
The Assisted Pullup Machine is a machine that assists you for Pullups. You setup by grabbing the handles like you would hold the bar on Pullups. You rest your knees on the knee padding. You then pull yourself up while the machine raises the knee padding. The machine helps you on the way up using counter-balance weight. The higher the weight you set, the more it helps you pulling yourself up.
The Assisted Pullup Machine isn’t effective to get stronger at Pullups. It looks like a great idea, it looks the same, but it isn’t. The main problem is that you’re resting on a platform. You don’t have to balance yourself. Less muscles are working as a result – your abs and lower back do nothing. The muscles that do work like your back and arms don’t work as hard because you’re resting on a platform. You don’t get a full stretch.
Don’t be surprised if you make zero progress on Pullups despite progressing on the Assisted Pullup Machine. If you do, it will take you longer than if you had done Pullups from day one. Because the fastest way to get stronger at Pullups is to do Pullups. You don’t get better at playing guitar by playing violin. You play guitar. Doesn’t matter if they’re both string instruments. It’s not the same. Specificity matters.
Stay away from the Assisted Pullup Machine. If you can do at least one Pullup, grease the groove. Get a doorway pullup bar at home and do one pullup every time you pass the bar. If you can’t do a single rep, do negatives or use a resistance band. The resistance band will only help you at the bottom, not the top. And it will force you to balance yourself. This will get you stronger at Pullups faster than using machines.
The Lat Pulldown is a machine exercise similar to a Pullup. You grab the cable bar like you hold the bar on Pullups. You sit on the bench with your thighs blocked under the supports. You then pull the cable bar to your upper-chest by bending your arms. Lat Pulldowns are easier than Pullups because you can put less weight on than what you weigh. Pullups force you to lift your body-weight which is often too heavy at first.
But Lat Pulldowns aren’t the same as Pullups. Your body doesn’t move. Only your arms and the weight do. You don’t have to balance yourself, you’re sitting on a bench. Your abs and lower back muscles don’t have to work as hard to keep your torso neutral. Lat Pulldowns do work your arms and back muscles. But they works less muscles overall than Pullups, with less weight, and without forcing you to balance yourself.
Lat Pulldowns are therefore ineffective for getting stronger at Pullups fast. They look the same, but they aren’t. Lat Pulldowns will strengthen your back and arm muscles. But they don’t teach you to balance yourself while keeping your torso neutral. Pulling 75kg on a pulldown machine doesn’t guarantee you can do a pullup weighing those same 75kg. You have to do Pullups to get better at Pullups. That’s the fastest way.
Lat Pulldowns are also easy to cheat. Many people lean back while they pull the cable bar down. This puts your torso more horizontal. It changes Lat Pulldowns from a vertical pull to a more horizontal pull similar to Barbell Rows. You can pull more weight if you lean back at the bottom. But this will build fake strength that doesn’t carry-over to Pullups. Your torso must remain close to vertical when you do Lat Pulldowns.
If you can’t do a single Pullup, try Chinups, do negatives or use a resistance band. Don’t use the Lat Pulldown machine. If you do it anyway, use the cable version. Don’t use lever machines that balance the resistance for you and control where you pull it. Do this yourself using the machine where the bar hangs on a cable. And make sure you don’t cheat and lean back at the bottom of each rep. Keep your torso vertical.
How to do more pull-ups
I can bet you won’t be satisfied with just one pull up, will you?
I didn’t think so either. So use the tip below to do more pull ups than you ever thought possible.
Pull up challenges
The best way to improve on pull ups is to do more pull ups. Start a challenge on the number of pull ups you’ll do per day or per week.
For instance, you do a challenge of 20 pull ups per day, 4 times a week. The challenge should focus on reps and not sets. Just make sure you reach 20 reps a day and work on doing the least sets possible.
Weighted pull-ups can also help increase your reps, but they’re not as effective as challenges. Stay away from weighted pull-ups until you’ve built strength – they can cause injuries for beginners.
The exercises you consider hard will become easy one day if you train consistently. So don’t be intimidated by pull-ups. Just keep practicing and you’ll get there.
Pull-ups are the best exercise for increasing upper body strength. The sooner you’re able to do them the better.
Is there anything stopping you from doing your first pull-up?