How to do a proper pull-up: The 3 mistakes you might be making

pullup

I love pull-ups!!

Pull-ups are the best exercise you can do, and they can be seamlessly fit into any workout regimen.

They work all of the muscles that are designed to "pull". The traps, forearms, lats, rhomboids, pectorals and biceps. When doing them you can feel these muscles getting worked. The trick is doing them properly.

Also, you will feel like a monster when you are doing them!

If you are unable to do one yet, don't worry, by then end of this article you will feel confident, and know exactly what you need to do to get started. Making these a permanent part of your day will carry dividends into your overall well-being.

Where do I begin?

You might be asking yourself, where do I even start, I don't have a pull-up bar..I'm not part of gym, or any other number of questions related to getting your paws on a pull-up bar.

I recommend getting one of the following three pull-up bars, in order of great to best. You can't go wrong with any of them. (affiliates)

  1. Ultimate body press wall mount pull-up bar with 4 grip positions - This is the one I own and use.
  2. Perfect Fitness multi-gym doorway pull-up bar and portable gym system - This is the one I used through college.
  3. Pure Fitness multi-purpose workout bar - This was the first one I ever used.

Of course, if you are part of a gym, most of them have a pull-up bar available to use. If they don't then ask them if they can get one.

Another great place to do pull-ups is a playground with monkey bars, or you can use just about anything with a bar. I've used angle iron on a bridge, tree branches, rocks, pipes. As long as it's sturdy enough to hold your weight, you can do them anywhere.

Facts and Myths:

  • The less you weigh the easier it is do to a pull-up. True and False. It's easier to do a pull-up if you weigh less, but not necessarily easier if someone who weighs more has built up the strength to do them. I have seen men that are 225 lbs do 30 pull-ups in a row. I have also seen men and women who weigh 135 lbs do zero pull-ups. It's all relative, and chance favors the person who builds the infrastructure to be able to do them.
  • Using the assisted pull-up machine counts as doing pull-ups. Myth. Any type of assisted pull-up is not a real pull-up.
  • Lat pull-downs are the same thing as pull-ups. Myth, they are not the same. A lat machine will build your lats, but it will not guarantee you a pull-up. 1 lat pull-down does not equal 1 pull-up

Other exercises to assist you in building up to doing a pull-up:

  1. Push-ups - Most people might disagree with me, but I can assure you that they are building your back muscles when done properly.
  2. TRX rows - These will build your biceps and pectorals to help you.
  3. Dumbbell bent over rows, or barbell rows - Either one will build your traps, rhomboids and forearms.
  4. Australian pull-ups - These are basically halfway-pull-ups

 

How to do each exercise listed above, and a workout plan specifically for you.

 

Push-ups

pushups

Regular Push-up Video

So...How do I do a push-up?

Regular push-up:

  • Get into a high plank position. 

  • Place your hands firmly on the ground, directly under shoulders. 

  • Ground your toes into the floor to stabilize your lower half. 

  • Brace your core (tighten your abs as if preparing to take a punch), engage glutes and hamstrings, and flatten your back so your entire body is neutral and straight.

  • Begin to lower your body—keeping your back flat and eyes focused about three feet in front of you to keep a neutral neck—until your chest grazes the floor. Don’t let your butt dip or stick out at any point during the move; your body should remain in a straight line from head to toe. Draw shoulder blades back and down, keeping elbows tucked close to your body (don't "T" your arms).

  • Push back up.

  • Keeping your core engaged, exhale as you push back to the starting position.

That’s one rep!

Repeat for 10 to 20 reps or as many as can be performed with good form.

Pro tip: Imagine you are screwing your hands into the ground as you push back up.

 

TRX Rows

  trx row starting position

trx row starting position

  trx row mid-position

trx row mid-position

  TRX Row ending position

TRX Row ending position

TRX Row Video Here

To perform the TRX Row exercise:

  • Shorten the TRX straps all the way up.

  • Set your body in a straight line, as if you were in a vertical plank position.

  • While keeping your arms straight, walk your feet forward until there is tension in the straps. This is starting position.

  • Make sure to keep your palms facing each other throughout the lift.

  • To begin the movement, retract your shoulder blades back and down.

  • Now, pull your torso towards your hands keeping your elbows close to your body.

  •  Your body should remain rigid and your palms and wrists should stay neutral.

  • Lower your body back to the starting position and repeat.

  • If the exercise is too easy, move feet a bit farther forward.

  • If it is too difficult with correct form, move your feet back a bit.

If you find that TRX rows become too easy, you can add some difficulty to the exercise. The lower you get, the harder the exercise becomes. 

I highly recommend the use of a TRX trainer. They are lightweight and you can use them anywhere. I take it with me on trips. I use them in Hotel Rooms, or outside in the woods.

I use the TRX Force Kit Tactical , but the TRX GO, or the TRX Suspension Trainer Basic Kit are just as good.

You can't go wrong with a purchase like this. Especially if you travel for business.

 


 

Dumbbell Bent over rows/Barbell bent over rows

  DUMBBELL ROWS

DUMBBELL ROWS

Bent over Row Video

Dumbbell Rows:

  • Kneel over side of bench by placing knee and hand of supporting arm on bench. Position foot of opposite leg slightly back to side. 

  • Grasp dumbbell from floor.

  • Pull dumbbell to up to side until it makes contact with ribs or until upper arm is just beyond horizontal. 

  • Return until arm is extended and shoulder is stretched downward. Repeat and continue with opposite arm.

 

Barbell Bent over Row

  front view

front view

  Side View

Side View

Barbell Bent Over Row Video Here

Barbell Bent Over Row

 

Bent over Barbell Row:

  • Holding a barbell with a pronated grip (palms facing down), bend your knees slightly and bring your torso forward, by bending at the waist, while keeping the back straight until it is almost parallel to the floor. 

  • Tip: Make sure that you keep the head up. The barbell should hang directly in front of you as your arms hang perpendicular to the floor and your torso. This is your starting position.

  • Now, while keeping the torso stationary, breathe out and lift the barbell to you. Keep the elbows close to the body and only use the forearms to hold the weight. 

  • At the top contracted position, squeeze the back muscles and hold for a brief pause.Then inhale and slowly lower the barbell back to the starting position.

  • Repeat for the recommended amount of repetitions.

Caution: This exercise is not recommended for people with back problems. 

Never slouch the back forward as this can cause back injury.

Be cautious as well with the weight used; in case of doubt, use less weight rather than more.

Variations: You can perform the same exercise using a supinated (palms facing you) grip.

 

Australian Pull-ups

  AUSTRALIAN PULL-UPS

AUSTRALIAN PULL-UPS

Australian Pull-ups

  • Locate and secure a horizontal bar in a fixed position at a height about 1.5 times one's arms length above the ground.

  • With the back to the ground, position the body until the horizontal bar is level with the chest.

  • Extend both arms and firmly grasp the bar.

  • Align the spine so the feet, legs, waist, torso, neck and head form a straight line.

  • While inhaling, using the feet as the pivot point (feet can be close or wide depending on desired stability), pull the body toward the bar until the chest is nearly touching the bar.

  • Lower the body back down to the starting position while exhaling.

  • Repeat steps 5-6 for as many repetitions as are desired.

 

If you just wanted to know how to do a pull-up and didn't want to read this whole post:

Watch This Video



 

Let me know when you work your way up to doing your first pull-up (@MaxxDull), your weighted pull-ups or 30 pull-ups in a row.

P.S. At the time of writing this, the record for most pull-ups in a 24 hour period is held by Andrew Shapiro. He did 7,306 repetitions on May 14th 2016. Maybe you will be the person to break his record.

 

- Stephen