Pull-ups, or chin-ups depending on how you like to name them, are considered a core exercise for many training routines. As a back exercise for building muscle across the lats they are unparalleled. Many people believe that you can get everything you need in a back routine from using pull-ups, deadlifts, and rows only.
But many people end up neglecting to do this exercise. It is difficult. Pulling your bodyweight up from a prone position is most definitely a test of strength. Of course, that is one reason why the exercise is so effective! With the growing popularity of things like CrossFit and adventure events like mud runs the need for this core upper body lift is increasing. Let’s look at the ways you can get better at it!
Ways to Improve Pull-ups
To properly perform a pull-up you need strong forearms, biceps, shoulders, and back muscles. If you are completely new to working out this can create a problem. But it should be looked at as a challenge to overcome. Make doing sets of pull-ups a goal to conquer!
- Practice with Pulldowns – The pulldown machine mimic’s the motion of a pull-up approximately enough (although without any natural body swing, instead you arch your back). You want to make this a staple of your back routine while you build up strength. But a key component of this exercise is proper form. Far too many people try and lift too much weight with sloppy form and get a minimal benefit. Take a wide grip with a medium to light weight to practice form. Pull the bar down smoothly aiming for your clavicle. Focus on pulling your elbows back and down, not using your hands to pull the weight. Lean back slightly with a small arch in your back and try and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Then slowly let the weight go back up, controlling it the entire way.
- Negative Pull-Ups – The negative strength of a muscle is a lot stronger than most people realize. While you might not be able to pull yourself up yet, you should still be able to control your decent. So you can use that to your advantage to work the target muscles in reverse. Use a box or bench under a pull-up station to assist getting into the top portion of the movement. Then slowly lower yourself down. Aim for a 3 to 5 count on the descent. Then jump back up to the top and repeat for a full set. This is a great finishing exercise after pulldowns.
- Use Deadlifts – Along with building powerful hips, lower back, and glute muscles, deadlifts are great at strengthening your forearms and traps. Both of these muscle groups are critical to performing pull-ups. A stronger grip will quickly reveal itself when you are hanging with your full weight.
- Work the Forearms – Incorporate reverse barbell curls or hammer curls into your biceps routine. Not only does this build the muscles in your forearms but it will also make your biceps and arms bigger. The brachioradialis muscle runs along the forearm but connects above the elbow so added size will be reflected in your guns.
Assisted Pull Up Bands
If you aren’t able to perform a pull up on day 1, don’t be discouraged. One of the best ways to incrementally improve your pull up strength is with resistance bands. Also called pull up bands, they are offered in many different resistance levels which will allow you to make incremental progress. I’ve seen very few people who weren’t able to accomplish a pull up with the use of pull up bands. It’s a great way to progress to the point where you can perform a pull up without assistance.