How to get better at pull ups

How to get better at pull ups infographic
How to get better at pull ups infographic

For those who have tried to progress to the infamous pull up. You may have found that it is quite a challenging movement to perform. Due to the lower use of the lats and forearms in every day life. We as humans are susceptible to be weaker in this area. However if you are to achieve success in performing the pull up you have mastered one of the most difficult exercises for any new fitness junkie. It can be quite an excellent work out on it’s own to build lats, shoulders and the arms.

The chin up whether it being the under hand or over hand variation could seem somewhat less challenging. Purely do to the disengagement of the lats which is being removed from the exercise. Chin ups are generally more focused on the biceps and can create huge amounts of gains in this area if you employ chin ups for building biceps.

How to get better at pull ups?

In order to improve your pull ups we need to first examine which muscles are involved in the movement.  One of the main muscles being engaged in the pull is the brachioradialis which is the muscles just below the elbow on the top of the forearm. The easiest way in which to start building up to pull ups is to strengthen this muscle. You can do this with the reverse overhand barbell curl. Which does not just benefit this area but also the biceps as well.  Another method is to use the isometric to slowly strengthen the muscles involved in the pull up over time. Performing an isometric movement involves performing the pull up as far as you can and holding that position for ten seconds at a time. This should strain the core muscles involved enough to strengthen them up for which attempt there after.

Some other methods include making use of counter weight machines which allows you to lift less weight when doing your pull ups. However these machines have a tendency to create an instance where you are cheating and compensating for the remainder of the weight. It is preferred to strengthen the forearms and lats using other compound movements in order to prevent cheat lifts.

Another method of eventually moving towards correctly formed pull ups is to start with a wider grip. Usually a bit wider than that of a chin up which will engage the lats and forearms to a certain extent. Slowly you can progress by widening the grip further and further. Until the grip eventually is in the correct position for the pull up.

How to get better at pull ups using the chin up to become stronger?

By switching hand position on your chin ups to an over hand position. This will engage more of the lats purely due to the way your body will move as you pull yourself up.  With the over hand position your legs and torso tend to stay in the backward position which prevents your body from moving forward which engages the lats somewhat more than usual. This is still quite an easy movement to perform as opposed to a full pull up.

Other factors slowing your pull up progress

One of the things many people struggle with when it comes to the pull up, is the fact that the body needs to be kept quite straight. Ideally in the movement to get the most benefit from a pull up the body needs to be straight to create the tension in the right places. This mainly is important for the force gravity places on the body to create enough time under tension to benefit from the exercise. It is always good to try and tighten the core when doing these super back building exercises.

Progressive improvement

In order to improve you will need to start with a program which will allow you to build strength over time. Unfortunately there is no quick fix to doing more pull ups and will require some work.

The plan for better pull ups

If you are at the point where you can not do any pull ups where most of us are. We will need to start off small.

Week 1

  • 3 sets of 8 overhand bar bell curls. You may want to initially stick to lower weight. In the beginning as the forearms are not built to handle heavy weight.
  • 8 sets of 1 minute stiff planks. This mainly is to promote the form you will be needing in your pull ups.
  • 3 sets of 8 front barbell raises. In your pull ups your shoulders may not have the strength to cope. These front barbell raises will strengthen your shoulders to help you handle the load.
  • 3 sets of 8 seated lateral pull downs. Use lower weight and perfect your form. Straight back wide grip. Pulling the weight down slowly feeling the squeeze in the lats. It is also useful to make a connection between the mind and the muscle by imagining the muscle working. Just due to lower weight you may not feel as much activation as you would with heavier weight initially.

It is best to repeat this routine two to three times a week where your chest is not engaged in other work outs for the session.

Week 2

  • 3 sets of 8 overhand bar bell curls. At this point we will be bumping up the weight slightly. Generally go about 20% heavier than your previous week.
  • 8 sets of 1 minute stiff planks.
  • 3 sets of 8 front barbell raises. Once again push up the weight about 20% from the last session.
  • 3 sets of 8 seated lateral pull downs. At this point you should be pulling down about 50-70% of your body weight.
  • 3 sets of 4 over hand chin ups.
  • Incorporate the isometric. Get on that pull up bar using a wide grip. Pull your self up about half way and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat this five times in this workout.

Once again perform this two to three times in your workout week.

Week 3

  • 3 sets of overhand bar bell curls. 20 % increase in weight.
  • 3 sets of 8 front barbell raises. 20% increase in weight.
  • 3 sets of 8 seated lateral pull downs. 60-80% of your body weight.
  • 3 sets of 4 over hand chin ups.
  • Once again bring in the isometric pull up. This time hold for 10 seconds then try to pull yourself up slowly and lower yourself slowly. Repeat five times.

At this point the core should be strong enough to handle the pull up from the two weeks of planks. In week three we remove this as part of the workout in anticipation of the first pull ups to be performed in week four. Just to give your core some time to recuperate.

Week 4

  • In this week we want to keep the blood flowing to the lats and forearms where we will be performing the lift. So for the first and second session in this week. Stick to seated lateral pull downs on 40-50% of your body weight. With this movement you will for one correct any imperfections in your form. As well as stretch those muscles and keep them loose.
  • It is now the final session of week four. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back, you should be able to perform at least one well formed pull up. Challenge yourself and see how many you can do.

Pull ups can be very challenging. If you do not hit your goals first time keep trying. Everyone’s body is different and for some it could take quite a bit longer to develop the strength.


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