How To Do Pull Ups

 

My two favourite upper body exercises to master are pull ups and their variations and handstand push ups.

 

No matter where you are so long as you can find a bar or tree for the pull ups, you can get in a few sets of these and give your upper body a tough workout right from your abs and deeper core muscles through your chest and shoulders into your biceps and triceps.

 

There is no hiding and if you are able to perform 3 or 4 sets of 10-12 reps, you’re going to have an impress looking upper body, whether you’re male or female.

 

But there’s a problem.

 

Many people simply can’t do them and successfully completing just one rep seems about as likely as the moon landing on London tomorrow.

 

This step-by-step guide will show you how to start from the very basics of building upper body ‘pulling strength’ to being able to complete a full set of 10 pull ups.

 

I’ve used this on a range of male and female clients, and with consistent practice you’ll find that you can master it within a few months if not weeks.

 

Before getting into the juicy technical work, I should point out what should be pretty obvious!

 

If you want to be able to pull your own body up to a bar, you need excellent ‘relative’ strength.

 

In other words, your strength levels relative to how much you weigh must be at a certain level.

 

I am going to show you how to work on the strength side of things, but it should be obvious that if you can shed as much body fat as possible, this challenge becomes a lot easier, so make sure you’re following one of my nutrition plans for fast fat loss such as the Turbo Transformation.

 

I am going to assume you are quite literally a complete beginner and show you the step-by-step pull up blueprint from the start.

 

If you are further up the ladder, jump in at the appropriate level.

 

Intro

 

Being able to perform pull ups, is not just about doing more of them.

 

Whilst this plays a big part, we can add in other seemingly unrelated exercises which will increase the stability and mobility of your shoulders, as well as building the strength of your back muscles which play more of a part in a good pull up than your arms do, in particular the lats.

 

I’m a big believer in full body training as opposed to isolating individual muscles so any suggestions here should be part of a bigger picture in terms of programming.

 

Requirements of a pull up

 

Strong upper back

Strong core to prevent back arching and injury

Freely moving scapulae (shoulder blades)

Strong grip

Strong biceps

Strong shoulders

 

Upper Body Pulling Progressions

 

This is the progression from very basic upper body strength work to full pull ups.

 

The reps given indicate how many of a particular exercise you should be able to complete before progressing up the ladder to harder exercises.

 

You should perform 3-4 sets twice per week of the hardest exercise you can perform with excellent technique.

 

HAVE PATIENCE! It won’t happen over night, but it will happen!

 

Simply build the reps up by adding 1-2 at each training session.

 

Dumbbell single arm row                         10 each side with half bodyweight

 

Inverted row, knees bent                        15

 

Inverted row, legs straight            15 (chest to bar)

 

Inverted row on straps                        15

 

Eccentric neutral grip chin up            10 x 4 second eccentric

 

Do what you need to do to get to the top position of the chin up (chin above the bar) with your palms facing each other.

 

You can use a step or bench, or perform a jumping chin up if you almost have the strength to do a chin up. Use your legs to kick you up then….

 

…lower yourself from the top position to full elbow lock out at the bottom over 4 seconds. At first you may not reach 4 seconds but descend as slowly as possible aiming for 4 seconds of tension.

 

This requires focus on keeping tension in your lats and biceps and not letting gravity dump you down in less than 4 seconds!

 

3 point neutral grip chin up                        5 x 5-5-5 seconds

 

Perform as the last progression but this time you are going to perform a 5 second static hold at the top of the chin up, 5 seconds at the middle and 5 seconds at 2-3 inches from the bottom.

 

This requires immense concentration on maintaining tension in the right muscles.

 

Again build up to 5 x 5-5-5. You may only manage 2 second holds at first.

 

Full neutral grip chin up                                    10 (3 secs down, 1 sec up)

 

Eccentric pull up                                                10 x 4 second eccentric

 

Do what you need to do to get to the top position of the pull up (chin above the bar) with your palms facing away from you.

 

You can use a step or bench, or perform a jumping pull up if you almost have the strength to do a pull up. Use your legs to kick you up then….

 

…lower yourself from the top position to full elbow lock out at the bottom over 4 seconds. At first you may not reach 4 seconds but descend as slowly as possible aiming for 4 seconds of tension.

 

This requires focus on keeping tension in your lats and biceps and not letting gravity dump you down in less than 4 seconds!

 

3 point pull up                                                5 x 5-5-5 seconds

 

Perform as the last progression but this time you are going to perform a 5 second static hold at the top of the pull up, 5 seconds at the middle and 5 seconds at 2-3 inches from the bottom.

 

This requires immense concentration on maintaining tension in the right muscles.

 

Again build up to 5 x 5-5-5. You may only manage 2 second holds at first.

 

Full pull up                                                            10 (3 secs down, 1 sec up)

 

 

 

Key Assistance Exercises

 

There are certain exercises that will aid your attempts at a full set of pull ups.

 

All of these are great exercises in their own right and are only labelled ‘assistance’ exercises because we are using them to bring up strength to help your pull ups.

 

Snatch grip deadlift

 

This wide-grip variation, like all deadlifts but especially this one, requires a lot of tension to be generated in the lats in order to help with stabilisation and fixation of the lower back during lifting.

 

Focus on ‘packing’ your shoulers back and, whilst gripping the bar tight, forcing your lats to contract by pushing your hands out as you lift.

 

Deadlifts will also bring up your grip strength.

 

When? One of the first, if not THE first exercise in your workout.

 

Farmer walks

 

Another great exercise to build grip strength amongst a host of other training effects!

 

Take two heavy dumbbells and walk whilst carrying the dumbbells for 45-60 seconds.

 

DON’T LET GO!

 

When?

 

As part of your end of session conditioning.

 

Lying Overhead Pullover

 

Done correctly, this is a great exercise for building strength in the serratus anterior which aids stabilisation and correct movement of your shoulder blades.

 

Ensure that you drive your shoulder blade down into the floor before easing the dumbbell to the floor over 4 seconds.

 

Contract the muscles around your shoulder blade to bring the dumbbell back over your face.

 

When?

 

In the dynamic portion of your session after the heavy strength work but before conditioning.

 

Plank and variations

 

All ‘anti-movement’ core exercises are great for building stability around the lumbar spine. This will improve your pull ups from the ground up and give you more stability and control throughout.

 

Examples include, planks, side planks, wheel roll outs, Pallof presses on a cable machine and renegade push ups.

 

When?

 

If it’s your weak area, do at the start of your session, avoiding technical failure so that you are still strong for the rest of your session.

 

Can also be done at the end of the session.

 

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