How to Master Pull Ups

Pull ups: Everyone wants to do them, but not many people possess the upper-body strength and stability to do so. This blog is going to break down each step towards achieving that first pull up. If you can already do pull ups, this will help you do more of them with improved control and form.

Why are pull ups so hard?

The pull up is a difficult bodyweight exercise because of the amount of upper body strength and stability required for the movement. Your bodyweight will determine the load for this exercise and the physical demand on your back and shoulders is significant. Because of this, stability and proper form are extremely important to master when attempting your first pull up.

What’s the difference between pull ups and chin ups?

A pull up is an overhand (pronated grip) exercise while a chin up is performed with a supinated (palms facing you) grip. A chin up will require more biceps activation and it utilizes a more narrow grip while a pull up utilizes more lats and a wider grip.

When it comes to pull ups vs chin ups, both variations are excellent for training. The chin up tends to be easier than the pull up for many people due to the activation and utilization of the biceps and arms as well as the position of the shoulder. It’s easier to maintain an externally rotated shoulder in the chin up exercise due to the palms being supinated (palms up).

How to achieve your first pull up

If you’re looking to achieve your first pull up, master these five steps.

Step 1: Passive & Active Hanging

You should be able to passively hang from the pull up bar for at least 60 seconds before moving on to active hanging. You need to build up enough grip strength in order to support yourself on the bar when doing pull ups. Passive hanging is just hanging from the bar – not thinking about anything else engaged while doing so. Once you can do this for 60 seconds, you can move on to active hangs.

When doing an active hang, you want to think about being in a hollow position – core braced, glutes squeezed, and toes pointed forward.

Homework: Perform 3-5 sets of 30-60 second hangs 3-5 times per week

Step 2: Scapular Pull ups

Scapular pull ups (also known as scap pull ups) involve actively hanging from the bar while depressing and retracting the scapula to perform a rep. This means pulling your shoulder blades back and down while hanging from the bar. This will get your upper back strong and stable.

Homework: Perform 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps 4-5 times per week. 

Step 3: Chin Over the Bar Holds (supinated grip – palms up)

To perform a chin over the bar hold, you are going to jump up with a supinated grip and get your chin over the bar and hold there. You should be able to hold for 30 seconds before moving on to step 4. We recommend doing this with a supinated grip (palms up) as most are stronger with this grip at first.

Homework: Perform 3-5 sets of 30 second holds 3-5 times per week.

Step 4: Chin up Negatives

For chin up negatives, you are going to jump to get your chin over the bar and slowly lower yourself down. Ideally, you should be able to control this movement for at least 5 seconds working your way up to 10 seconds.

Homework: Perform 3-5 sets of 5-10 second negatives 3-5 times per week.

Step 5: Pull up chin over the bar holds & pull up negatives

For these, you are going to repeat steps 3 & 4 with a pronated (overhand) grip. See if you can get to 30 seconds for the hang and 10 seconds for the pull up negatives.

Homework: Perform 3-5 sets of 30 second hangs and 10 second negatives 3-5 times per week.

Once you have mastered these 5 steps you will be well on your way to consistently doing pull ups!

Ready to conquer the pull-up bar? Tune in to episode 4 of our podcast, “Stronger than your Boyfriend,” for expert pull up tips, then join our specialized personal training program! Whether you’re aiming for your first pull-up or looking to increase your reps, we’ve got you covered. Transform your strength and confidence today.

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