Mastering the Pull Up

Pull ups are one of the hardest exercises to complete. The reason that the pull up is so difficult is because of the amount of strength needed to perform the movement. It is an honest movement, meaning that you cannot fake your way through it. It is a basic exercise and is one of the most effective in building upper body strength. The secret to performing a pull up is to have the right mindset and plenty of repetition.

Many women cannot perform a pull up without some sort of assistance. Generally, females have less upper body strength and different perceptions of their capabilities than males. The first thing I coach when someone’s goal is to complete a pull up is to begin believing it is possible.         

There is a difference between a pull up and a chin up. A pull up is when your hands are facing away from you. A chin up is when your hands are facing towards you. Although this works your back, it has more emphasis on your biceps.

During the pull up, the primary muscle being worked is the back, it requires many different muscle groups, also known as synergist muscles, to work together in order to get your chin over the bar. The primary muscle worked in a traditional pull up is the Latissimus Dorsi (Lats), but you cannot execute the movement without using other muscles; rhomboids, trapezius, posterior deltoids, pectorals minor, transverse abdominis, and internal/external obliques.


Some supplemental exercises that can help you master the pull up are

~ TRX Rows, Ring Rows and other Horizontal Pulling movements            

The first step in achieving a pull up is to focus on the horizontal pulling movement and bringing your shoulder blades “back and down”. These row movements will help build the foundation to a strong pull up.

~  Scapular Depression aka “Hang and Pack”

Here you hold onto a bar, bring your shoulders blades down and together, pause for a few seconds while you hold that position without moving your arms.      

~ Flexed Arm Hang

Complete a pull up and rather than lower down, continue to hold your chin over the bar and work on feeling the scapular depression in the back. Start with holding this for 15 seconds and build up to 30 seconds.           

~ Band Assisted Pull Ups        

Tying a band around the bar and put both knees into the band. Pull your chin up and over the bar.        

Being able to complete a pull up or making your way from 3 to 5 strict pull ups takes time. Do not expect results overnight, but the more consistent you are the quicker your goals will come.          

Yours in health & fitness,