How To Do A Pull-Up, According To Fitness Trainers

Ah, pull-ups. They’re one of the most straightforward exercises out there, yet somehow one of the most difficult—especially if you’re in good form.

Because pull-ups are high on the list of challenging bodyweight-based strength exercises, you can think of them as a fitness goal to work toward, says John Gardner, CPT, a NASM-certified personal trainer and CEO and co-founder from Kickoff. They’re not the kind of movement you can just force your body to do; In fact, while it varies from person to person, it can take up to a year of training three times a week to be able to do one, adds Karina Inkster, MA, PTS, a trainer and owner of KI Health & Fitness, add.

It’s a long road, but one that’s worth it. Pull-ups effectively work your mid-back lats, upper-back traps, and rhomboids, and they also engage your arm and shoulder muscles, Gardner tells Bustle, which means they’re a great upper-body exercise. “Strengthening these muscles is critical to maintaining good posture, preventing injury, and performing well in activities like rowing and swimming,” adds Inkster.

They are also an ideal way to improve your grip strength. “Hanging your entire body weight from a bar is one of the best ways to improve strength in your hands, wrists, and forearms,” ​​Inkster tells Bustle. “Grip strength is important for everything from opening jars to lifting weights.” Intrigued? Here’s how to work your way up to a pull-up and how to do one with good form.

This is how you work up to your first pull-up

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While it depends on your current strength, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to achieve a pull-up, so don’t fret if it seems like your goal is a long way off. Instead, work your way up to it slowly by simply hanging onto the bar. This movement is literally referred to as the “Bar Hang” – and is a great place to start.

To do this, jump up and hang from a pole with your arms straight and your shoulders down, away from your ears. Keep your legs straight, your feet slightly elevated in front of you, and your core tight. “Aim for 10 to 15 seconds, which is a lot harder than it sounds,” says Inkster.

Once that feels easy, move on to “negative reps.” Start at the top of a pull-up by jumping up or standing on a box or chair to grab the bar slow sink into a slope. “The lowering phase should last at least three to four seconds,” says Inkster.

It can also be helpful to do band-assisted pull-ups, where you attach a stretchy band to the pull-up bar and then loop it around your feet or knees, Inkster says. A pull-up band can help you practice the movement of a pull-up without lifting Everyone Her weight, she explains.

It’s also perfectly fine to just hop on the bar and try it old school. “Don’t be embarrassed if you can only do one or two reps,” Gardner says. “Once you practice more and strengthen those muscles, you can easily do a full set.”

How to do a pull up

Ready to try it? Here Inkster explains how to do a pull-up with good form.

– Hang from a pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart in an overhand grip. (Fun fact: A pull-up is when you use an underhand grip, Inkster says.)

– Keep your legs straight, arms straight and feet slightly in front of you to activate your core muscles.

– Make sure you “grab” your shoulders by keeping them down and away from your ears.

– On an exhale, bring your upper chest towards the bar by bending your arms, squeezing your shoulder blades and pulling up through your back muscles.

– Your upper chest should lightly touch the bar at the top of the movement.

– Slowly extend your arms in a controlled manner to lower your body back to the starting position, making sure your arms are completely straight before beginning the next repetition.

– Go to an AMRAP or “as many reps as possible” with good form.

– Do 3 sets.

How to make a pull-up more challenging

How to change a pull up.

Ready to take things to the next level? Once you can easily do 10 pull-ups in a row, Inkster recommends aiming for high-volume sets or 15 pull-ups in a row. You can also make the exercise more challenging by adding weight.

“Use a weight belt to hang plates around your waist,” says Inkster. “When you start with just five pounds, pull-ups get a lot harder.” She also recommends trying side pull-ups, where you pull to the right and then to the left.

Slowing down your reps can also make a difference. “Pull yourself up to the bar normally, but lower yourself extra slowly over three to five seconds for extra burn,” she says.

Common pull-up mistakes to avoid

Because pull-ups are a really tough compound movement, Inkster recommends doing them at or just before you start your workout. That way you have all your strength and energy to perform them in good form, reducing your risk of injury.

It also helps keep an eye on the muscles under your chest. “A pull-up is technically a full-body strength exercise, even if it focuses on the upper body,” Inkster says, so it might help to think of it as a moving plank. Engage your core and squeeze your glutes to help you lift.

Inkster says it can also be tempting to do “half reps,” which means going into the next pull-up without fully straightening your arms. Remember to hang between each rep to get the most out of this move.

Referenced Studies:

Snarr, R. 2017. Electromyographic comparison of a traditional suspension device and a towel pull-up. J Hum Kinet. doi: 10.1515/hukin-2017-0068

Wind, AE 2010. Is grip strength a predictor of total muscle strength in healthy children, adolescents and young adults? Eur J Pediatr. doi: 10.1007/s00431-009-1010-4.


John Gardner, CPTNASM-certified personal trainer, CEO and co-founder of the remote personal training platform kicking off

Karina Inkster, MA, PTS, Trainer, Owner of KI Health & Fitness

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