The pull-up is undoubtedly the king of all upper body exercises, which is exactly why it is called the upper body squat. You cannot honestly consider yourself strong until you have conquered it!
The lat pull-down cannot even come close to comparing to the might of the pull-up. Although I don’t mind an occasional pull-down exercise as a way of adding variety to workouts, I ultimately believe the pull-up to be the most effective upper back developer. No other back exercise can compare because the movement of your body through space creates maximum neuromuscular activation.
Being able to pull on your own body weight is a useful test of functional strength, it is a fantastic measurement of your strength to weight ratio, better than almost any other exercise. Overwhelming numbers of both men and women cannot even do 1 pull-up; only strong men and women can do pull-ups. I’m sorry to be one to break it to you but if you cant, then you’re simply not strong.
If you would like to dramatically improve your upper body strength, and conquer the pull-up then the 5 tips below could be precisely what you’re looking for.
Performing a pull-up does require a basic level of strength; women and especially heavier people, both male and female, may lack the strength to perform multiple repetitions. Now I do not encourage the use of assisted pull-up machines because they do not utilize the stabilizing muscles of the upper back. Instead I suggest the use of resistance bands; resistance bands help you to rebound and therefore adds momentum to the upward (concentric) phase of the exercise. That extra bit of assistance can turn the elusive pull-up into an actual achievement.
Resistance bands are widely available and are colour-coded in a variety of tensions. Yellow tends to offer the least resistance; red and green provide a medium level while blue, black and orange offer the most resistance. If you are a beginner start with one that allows you to do at least 5 pull-ups, then once you’re able to perform 12 reps progress to the next lightest resistance band
You need to build strength if you want to achieve a number of consistent reps. Building strength necessitates operating at least 80% of your maximum effort. Bent-over rows, inverted rows and TRX rows are fantastic varied exercises that drive intensity and build strength.
Eccentric pull-ups are also another great way to build strength. Lower yourself slowly until your arms are straight, jump up and repeat. You will always be stronger on the way down so you shouldn’t find this too challenging. Begin with a 3 – 6 second decent and increase from there. Once you have accomplished at least 6 negative reps with good control you should be ready to do a full pull-up!
Make sure you use a variety of grips to ensure you recruit different parts of the back. When training the majority of my clients we use a variety of grips to recruit as many muscles as possible. This will also prevent overuse injuries and burn out.
There are numerous grips available to pull your body up; doing a pull-up with your palms facing away from you (pronated) is just one method. Another typical way is the chin-up; by using a supinated grip with your palms facing towards you the targeted area of the upper back will be altered and more emphasis will be placed on the biceps brachii. The supinated chin-up is easily the most basic method and offers the greatest recruitment for the latissimus dorsi and upper arms.
If your grip strength begins to fatigue then I would suggest the use of either wrist straps or chalk. Both options are a great way trainees can continue their set even if their forearms are fatiguing before the upper back. If I am doing a lot of volume my forearms will inevitably fatigue and I will either use the liquid chalk or wrist straps from BULK POWDERS™, both are great quality and have allowed me to push myself harder in the gym.
Rep Range Variation.
Pull-ups require competent levels of both endurance and strength. Strength is built with low reps, while endurance is built with high reps. This is where the use of weighted vests, dip belts and resistance bands come in.
For 4 weeks you could train with a dip belt and use a rep range between 4 and 6, another training block could utilise higher reps in the range of 10 – 15. Having a few different band tensions will allow you to vary the range of reps greater, so if you are serious about improving your pull-up endurance than consider purchasing a variety of bands as this will help boost your numbers a lot faster.
Ultimate Pull-Up Technique.
Precise technique of a pull-up is fundamental when considering developing and strengthening the exercise.
Start from a dead hang position with your shoulders close to your ears, arms fully extended, and shoulder blades retracted. As you initiate movement squeeze your abs, have your eyes trained on the bar above you and your chest up. Pull yourself up towards the bar, with your chest leading you, the legs should remain in line with the torso as much as you can. Once your chin passes the bar or your chest touches the bar, pause, and enjoy the contraction. At this point begin to lower yourself in a controlled manner to the starting point, fully extend the arms and keep your shoulder blades retracted. This last point is key, keep your shoulder blades tight, if you pull with a loose shoulder girdle, you could cause yourself rotator cuff problems.
And that’s it; I hope these 5 points help you ramp up your pulling power. They certainly helped me develop my pulling numbers. If you remain consistent you should see improvements in your strength and pulling power in no time. And if you’re looking for a supplement to support your progress and recovery, AFTERMATH™ is a great formulation that I regularly use. The combination of premium quality protein, Vitargo®, creatine and amino acids is second to none. I find that I generally recovery quickly and ache less if I refuel with this post-workout.
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About the Author.
Dejan and Jonny are both fitness professionals stemming from a vast sporting background. Based in London they are the founders of ‘LetsTrain’ – an online, forward-thinking, fitness and nutrition resource.