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5 Ways to Amp Up Your Pull-ups

Improve your results on this bodyweight exercise by mastering new variations.

By Jeremey DuVall, M.S., CPT

Pull-ups take the cake in terms of bodyweight exercises. Grabbing a bar and performing a few reps is enough to impress almost any of your friends. However, it can be extremely difficult to build your numbers into a large set. The pull-up requires a unique combination of relative strength (strength in relation to your bodyweight) along with core and grip strength. Absolute strength - the ability to hoist an impressive overall weight - matters less if you can’t control your own body.

To boost your numbers, you need to do more than lift heavy. Improving your relative strength takes a lot of practice. Bodyweight exercises take time to improve just like any other skill in the gym. They also require intense focus on form. A few small errors in technique can make an exercise much harder than it should be. Fix your form and you’re on the way to new records. To further elevate your numbers, your program should include variety to challenge the same movement in a different way multiple times throughout the week.

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Fix Your Pull-up Form

Pull-ups are all about efficiency. You want to be moving the shortest length possible to make each rep smooth and effective. The majority of guys are messing up along the way, increasing the difficulty of the exercise and leading to potential injury down the road. There are two main points during the move to focus on form and improve technique.

The Set-up: As you hang from the bar, engage your core and point your feet straight down. Your stomach should be pulled in and your hips should be level. Avoid the urge to bend your knees behind you as this breaks form and leads to weakness during the pulling motion.

The Motion: Avoid the urge to push yourself away from the bar and move your torso in a circular fashion. Your goal should be to pull yourself straight up towards the bar, driving your elbows towards your sides. Moving in a circular fashion may make the exercise easier, but it also puts your shoulder at an increased risk of injury.

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