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How to do Pull-ups: Part 2

In part 1 of my ‘how to do a pull-up’ series I, I explained how to work your way up towards the pull-up by doing a series of exercises that you can do in most gyms.

Part 2 explains in detail how to work towards the pull-up, when you don’t have access to a gym or any of the gym equipment I mentioned in part 1 - or maybe you just an alternative way of doing things.

After I published How to do a Pull-up: Part 1, I had a few readers mail me, asking questions regarding the mechanics and proper technique of the pull-up. I’ll cover that in this article too.

I’ll first start with the mechanics of the exercise, before going into the details of how you can work your way up to it. - it’s important to know what you’re ultimately aiming for.

HOW TO DO THE PERFECT PULL-UP

As obvious as this sounds, the first step is to get a proper pull-up bar, or equivalent from which to do your pull-ups.

Pull up bars are not expensive and can be purchased at most sporting goods stores. I’ve used the type that fits into your door-frame for many years, and they are sufficient for doing most types of pull-ups.

If you’re unable to erect a pull up bar for whatever reason, try to find a door frame, tree branch or some form of overhanging object that can comfortably support your weight and is high enough to allow you to hang from it with arms fully extended and feet raised from the floor.

You’ll often hear the terms ‘pull-up’ and ‘chin-up’ used interchangeably. Strictly speaking this is not correct, there is a difference. The pull-up has you gripping the bar with your palms facing away from you, whereas a chin up has you gripping the bar with your palms facing towards you.

 

Personally, I have always found chin-ups to be slightly easier than pull-ups because they involve your biceps to a greater extent.

Initially, use whichever grip you find yourself stronger in. As you gain proficiency, experiment with both grips, it will ensure more complete back and bicep development.

To execute the perfect pull-up, grasp the pull-up bar using which ever grip you find yourself stronger in. Your hands should be approximately shoulder width apart.

Depending on the height of the pull up bar, you’ll either have to jump up to it and will now be hanging from it, or your feet might still be on the ground. If your feet are still on the ground, bend your knees and lift your feet behind your body, placing one ankle over the other as shown in the picture.

Tense your arms, back and shoulders slightly, to take yourself ever so slightly out of the full hang. There should be a barely noticeable kink in your arms. This is the beginning position.

From this position tense your back, shoulders and arms. Your aim is to get your chin comfortably over the bar by bending your elbows and bringing your shoulders towards your hands. Once your chin is comfortably over the bar, pause for a moment. This is the end position.

Now slowly, and under full control, lower yourself back to the starting position. Do not drop down. The entire rep should last 5 seconds, 2 seconds for the ascent, 1 second pause in the finish position and then 2 seconds for the descent.

If you’re unable to do 4 or more pull-ups in this manner, then I suggest you begin negative pull-ups, working your way up to assisted pull-ups with a negative and then assisted/cheating pull-ups before attempting the regular pull-up again.

If you start out attempting the regular pull-up when you’re not really able to do it correctly as described, you’ll develop poor technique and make yourself more susceptible to injury.

You’ll also be short-changing yourself in the long run, because this poor technique will cause your back and arms to not develop properly, and you’ll never be able to progress to some of the more advanced types of pull-up.

Take your time and do it right, you’ll be much better off in the long run.

NEGATIVE PULL-UPS:

We are far stronger in the eccentric (negative) part of a movement than we are in the concentric (positive) part of it. If you’re not sure what that means – the positive portion is the part where you lift the weight and the negative part is where you lower and resist it.

Whilst many people have difficulty completing the positive portion of the pull-up, most people should be able to comfortably complete the negative portion, lowering themselves from the bar in a controlled manner.

To begin with negative pull-ups, you will either need to jump up into the starting position as shown in the picture, or use a chair to get into position. From this position you then proceed to lower yourself in a controlled fashion from the bar.

Initially aim to take about 5-15 seconds to lower yourself from the bar, into the bottom position. Then either jump back up, or use a chair to get back into position and repeat.

If you’re unable to control your descent for 5-15 seconds, then get to the top position and try just holding yourself there for as long as you can. Do 3 sets of this, 2 times per week for 3 weeks, then try doing 5-10 second negatives again, you should now find yourself much stronger and able to control your descent for at least 5-15 seconds.

Work your way up to 2 sets of 6-8 repetitions, taking 10 seconds to lower yourself per rep. When you can complete that, proceed to assisted pull-ups with a negative.

ASSISTED PULL-UPS WITH A NEGATIVE

These will be almost identical to negative pull-ups, except that now, instead of just jumping up or using a chair to get into the top position, you are going to try and pull yourself into the top position, whilst adding a little assistance from your legs.

You can either use a training partner to provide you with assistance and help ‘lift’ you into the top position, or you can place a stool or other suitable object underneath you, using your legs to provide you with a little assistance in getting to the top position.

What is very important, is that you make every effort to pull yourself up as much as possible and use your legs as little as possible. Use them only as little as is required to complete the rep, focus as hard as you can on completing the rep with your back and arms.

Once you have got to the top position, proceed to perform a 10 second negative as you did previously.

You’ll find that you tire very quickly and have to use your legs more and more to get to the top position for the latter part of the set, this is okay, just remember to try and pull yourself up as much as possible, making sure not to compromise the completion of the negative portion.

When you’re able to complete 2 sets of 8 reps in this fashion, you’re ready to progress to the next movement.

ASSISTED/CHEATING PULL-UPS

At this point you should be capable of performing at least a few pull-ups, but not yet enough to meet the requisite minimum of 4.

For these, you’ll still make use of a training partner, or chair to help you get to the top position.

The only difference is that now you’ll attempt the full pull-up, and if you can do it, proceed to do as many as you can. When you start to tire and are unable to do a proper rep anymore, you may use your legs and the stool to assist you AS LITTLE AS IS NECESSARY to complete the rep. You then lower yourself as you would for a normal pull-up.

Instead of using the chair or a training partner, you can also ‘cheat’ the movement. i.e. Kick, kip or ‘squirm’ under the bar to assist you in completing the rep. Again, this must only be done as little as necessary to help you complete the rep, and if you can avoid it, do so.

When you’re able to complete 2 sets of 8 reps with minimal assistance or cheating, you’re ready to graduate to the regular pull-up. If you’ve followed these guidelines correctly, and have not provided too much ‘assistance’ with these movements, you should easily be able to perform the requisite minimum of 4 repetitions in the regular pull-up.

I’ll be adding an article in the future about some of the more advanced types of pull-ups, but in the meantime, keep working hard on all the steps until you can easily do the regular pull-up for multiple sets and reps.

Good-Luck!


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