A beginner’s guide to pull-ups
Pull-ups always have been, always will be, the ultimate super-move. Here’s how to prepare your muscles and perform them properly.
It’s the ultimate power move. Your arms, shoulders, back and abs are all working hard in harmony to bring your body to the bar. It’s an exercise that earns you serious bragging rights in the gym - which means they can also be notoriously intimidating. When you can properly execute a pull-up, you don’t only feel invincible, you also reap a whole host of benefits.
The pull-up is extremely close to a full-body move: your core, quads, glutes and entire upper body are engaged. And this is why almost everyone approaches it incorrectly: A pull-up is not all biceps and back. They’re about overall strength, right down to your grip.
Incorrect pull-ups can lead to back pain. Find out what to do with these three exercises for back pain.
So what is the secret to pull-up success? It isn’t a secret - you need to do some pull-ups. This series of tips and exercises will work the muscles you need to use in order to pull your body upwards.
1. Hang out a bit first
By hang, we don’t mean chill out on the sofa. Do some dead hangs from a pullup bar, keeping your core engaged, for around 15 seconds to start. Rest, shake off your body, and try again for a little longer. Keep practicing until you can hang for around a minute without getting the shakes.
2. Get a pull-up programme
If you go straight in for the pull-up, you’re going to have a hard time. Expect pendulum-like wobbling back and forth, or worse, dropping straight to the floor in defeat. Strengthen those key muscles before you reach for the bar by performing these pull-up powering moves two to three times a week.
Last pulldown: Place your hands onto the bar using an overhand grip, wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull your shoulders back and downwards. Pull the bar down (no leaning back!) until it reaches your breastbone, then slowly return to starting position. Repeat for two to eight reps.
Knee-in plank: In a push-up position, bring your right knee towards your right elbow and extend your right leg to return. Switch sides and continue with alternating legs for 30 to 60 seconds.
Inverted row: Sit underneath a low bar and grab the bar with an underhand grip. With your knees bent, pull your body up to the bar until it’s below your chin. Lower back to starting position and repeat for two to eight reps. As you progress, keep your legs straight to make it harder.
Hanging knee raise: Grasp a pull-up bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing behind you. Brace your core and use your abs to bring your knees towards your shoulders. Pause when your thighs touch your chest and return to starting position.
3. Practice your pull-ups
Once you’ve engaged your back and built strength and control through the full range of motions with the muscle-building exercises listed, go for it.
Hang onto a bar with an overhand grip (no thumbs). Your hands should be slightly wider than your shoulders. Engage your core and pull your body up until your chin is over the bar. Slowly bring your elbows back down and you’ve completed a rep.
Nothing’s more rewarding than the first time you execute a full pull-up properly. Chest open, shoulders back, grip strong, body still: you’ll be bringing your chin well past the bar in no time at all.