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Pull-ups are considered by many to be the best exercise for developing slabs of muscle on the upper back and biceps while creating that wide “V” look everyone wants. Unfortunately, performing pull-ups requires good relative strength (your ability to move your own body, or your strength level according to your own bodyweight) to be able to perform multiple full-range repetitions.
Of course, you can increase your reps by cutting the reps short, but if you want to target the most musculature, you’ll need to move through a full range of motion. Here are some very effective ways to increase your pull-up volume and eliminate sticking points:
Band Assisted Pull-ups
For this technique, use an elastic band tied to the bar and wrapped under your feet or knees to perform more pull-ups. The band will assist and accelerate you upward allowing you to pull your chin up and over the bar easier – especially as fatigue sets in. Try to perform as many unassisted pull-ups as you can, then wrap the band around the bottom of your feet and rep out.
You can target different sticking points of the pull-up by performing isometric holds of 5-10 seconds at different positions along the range of motion: at the bottom, midway up and at the top (chin over the bar). Pull yourself or jump into position and hold for the targeted time. Regulate your breathing while you’re holding yourself in position to have your best opportunity for success. Shallow breaths in and out in a rhythmic fashion will really help you stay tight and locked into position.
To perform slow negatives, jump up to the top position and lower slowly back down over 5-10 seconds. Negatives are a great way to get more time under tension (TUT) during the eccentric (lowering) phase of the lift. You’re able to do this because you’re stronger during this phase of the movement. Perform 4-6 sets of 6-8 slow negatives, trying to minimize rest between sets as you’re able to control the descent better.
Slow Negatives with Isometrics
With this technique, we combine both slow negatives and isometrics. Jump to the top position and hold for 3-5 seconds. Then, lower to the midpoint (arms bent at 90 degrees) and hold for 3-5 seconds. Finally, lower to the bottom position with your arms slightly bent and hold for 3-5 seconds. Note: You should not fully extend your arms and just hang at the bottom position; the lats must be actively engaged to keep the intensity and get the high-tension benefits while protecting the shoulders.
The Pull-Up Domination Workout
Training Protocols: Negatives and Isometrics with High-Rep Supersets
Pull-Up Slow Negatives:* 3-4 sets, 3-5 reps – superset with
Lat Pulldowns: 3-4 sets, 12-15 reps, 90 sec rest.
Pull-Up 3-Way Isometric Holds:** 3-4 sets, 3 reps – superset with
Seated Cable Row: 3-4 sets, 12-15 reps, 90 sec. rest
Heavy Barbell Bent-Over Row: 3-4 sets, 6-8 reps – superset with
Cable Face Pulls: 3-4 sets, 12-15 reps, 90 sec. rest
*Jump up to the top position with your chin over the bar and lower for 5-10 seconds.
**Hold the top, midway and bottom points for five seconds each – that’s one rep.
How to Perform the Perfect Pull-up
As with any exercise, technique can go a long way in helping you get the most out of the movement without compromising safety. To perform pull-ups correctly, follow these simple steps:
1. Grab the bar shoulder width apart – too wide of a grip is very stressful on your wrists, elbows and shoulders.
2. Extend your arms so that they’re fully extended and you’re hanging from the bar. Do NOT relax your upper back. Many times lifters hang from the bar in a relaxed state, which is very stressful on the shoulders and doesn’t give you any strength at the bottom of the lift. Keep your shoulder blades pulled back and down with great tension to protect your shoulders. Don’t just hang there.
3. Begin pulling yourself upward, looking straight ahead or slightly up.
4. Your elbows should follow a path slightly in front of the sides of your torso.
5. Your chin should pass the level of the top of the bar to finish the movement.
6. The descent should be controlled and deliberate – do NOT drop back down to the bottom position.
7. Once your arms are fully extended, without losing the tension in the upper back at the bottom, begin the next rep.
8. Always err on the side of quality over quantity.
In the following Ultimate Pull-Up Progression video, I show you the perfect exercise sequence to allow you to progress from not being able to perform any pull-ups to hitting multiple reps and sets like a pro.
*Movements are shown in order of increasing difficulty
1. One-Arm Lat Pulls
2. Narrow Lat Pulls
3. Wide Lat Pulls
4. Seated Rows
5. Low Cable Rows
7. Dumbbell Rows
8. High Dumbbell Rows
9. Full Range Straight-Arm Pull-downs
10. Barbell Bent-Over Rows
11. Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows
12. Inverted Rows – Overhand
13. Inverted Rows – Underhand
14. Inverted Rows – Feet Elevated – Underhand
15. Inverted Rows – Feet Elevated – Overhand
16. Side to Side Inverted Rows
17. Prince Pull-ups (Game Blouses)
18. Banded Pull-ups
19. Less Banded Pull-ups
20. Jump Up – Slow Negative
21. Isometric Holds
24. Corner Pull-ups (great for those with elbow/wrist issues)
25. Corner Chin-ups (great for those with elbow/wrist issues)
26. Narrow Pull-ups Version 1
27. Narrow Pull-ups Version 2
28. Mixed Grip Pull-ups
29. Wide-Grip Pull-ups
30. Side-to-Side Pull-ups
31. Pop Outs
32. Grappler Pull-ups
33. Pull-ups with Knee Raise
34. Gorilla Ups
35. L-sit Pull-ups
36. Reach Ups
37. Towel Pull-ups Version 1
38. Towel Pull-ups Version 2
39. Towel Chin-ups
40. See Saw Pull-ups
41. Revolving Thick Bar Pull-ups
42. Revolving Thick Bar Chin-ups
43. Climbing Pull-ups
44. Muscle Ups