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Pull Up Technique Tips

Our recent post on having a custom pull up bar built generated a LOT of interest. And rightly so. Pull ups are one of the most “primal” movement patterns. Back in the day, a primitive man who couldn’t pull himself up a tree to escape danger or climb his way up a rock face into the shelter of a cozy cave wouldn’t have lasted long…

But unfortunately, the powerful pull up is often ignored in favor of the “sexy” exercises like bench presses and squats. So it’s time to hit the bar…

A few simple technique tips will help you get the most from this pivotal exercise without risking injury.

Here’s a summary of the key pull up cues:

  • Pack the shoulders into the socket
  • Keep the rest of the body tight (tighter is lighter)
  • Pull the bar down instead of pulling the body up
  • Expand the chest towards the bar as you pull
  • Lower under control and stop before shoulder comes out of pack

This isn’t an exhaustive list though. So feel free to add your own favourite pull up tips in the comments. And if you have any questions or need clarifications, just let us know below.

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{ 47 comments… add one }

  • Scott G October 1, 2010, 1:43 pm

    Select tips and I will try them.
    Thanks,
    Scott G.

    Reply
    • Scott G. October 1, 2010, 1:45 pm

      Excellent tips and I will try them.
      Thanks,
      Scott G.

      Reply
  • Gary October 1, 2010, 2:02 pm

    Hi Adam, when it comes to chin-ups, what muscles does this excercise stimulate differant to pull-ups? Thanks for those tips in the video! Im looking forward to the next one because I find these tough at the moment!

    Reply
    • admin October 1, 2010, 3:59 pm

      Hey Gary,

      In general, having the palms facing you (supinated) will allow you to recruit more involvement from the biceps. With palms facing away (pronated) you remove some of that assistance from the biceps and the movement targets the muscles of the back (especially the lats) to a greater degree.

      That’s why starting with chin ups can be a good idea if you can’t do a pull up yet.

      Cheers,
      Adam

      Reply
      • Gary October 2, 2010, 4:05 am

        Thats great, thanks Adam.

        Reply
      • Alan October 5, 2010, 8:16 am

        Hi Adam,

        I have a shoulder injury which sometimes limits me in doing some exercises. For example, the pull-up is very challenging because of the limited range of motion on my shoulder. So, chin ups is less challenging. It’s also why I don’t do barbell bench presses, I rather use dumbbells.

        I’ve already started on working on Intu-Flow almost every morning and Prasara Yoga to help me recover that range of motion on that particular shoulder. But I feel it will be a long recovery since this injury has been chronic since 2001.

        Would you have any other tips to do these exercises without aggravating the joint event more?

        Thanks for this great video.

        Alan

        Reply
  • Bernie October 1, 2010, 2:03 pm

    I liked your explanation of doing a proper pull-up. I’ve never seen or heard it explained that way before. Keeping shoulders dow makes a lot of sense. I’ll try it tomorrow.
    Thanks

    Reply
  • Yuri Elkaim October 1, 2010, 2:29 pm

    Great advice buddy. Can’t wait to get a pull-up bar set up in my loft. Might be tough with 16 foot ceilings! For beginners, you can also use a chair under your feet to give yourself a little boost.
    .-= Yuri Elkaim´s last blog -> Holy Grail of Fat Loss =-.

    Reply
    • admin October 1, 2010, 4:00 pm

      Hey man! 16 foot ceilings, eh? I’m envious! You should just get yourself a nice power rack. Then you could do muscle ups on it… :)

      Reply
  • Greg October 1, 2010, 2:44 pm

    Nice for folks with your compact muscular body type…what about us tall guys ? I’m 6’2″ and weigh 205 lbs, long arms and legs…narrow shoulders….I can’t do a pull up !!!

    Reply
    • admin October 1, 2010, 3:39 pm

      That’s what we’ll look at in the next video.
      Patience man… :)

      Reply
    • Fabuloso October 5, 2010, 10:03 am

      Hey Greg, Im 6’3″ and weigh 217lb, I also do my pull ups with a 30lb weight belt(3-4 sets of 10reps)… when I started about a year and a half ago..I was lucky to do one pullup. Trust me, your size won’t hinder you, your mind will… Like they say, you gotta crawl before you can walk…it goes the same with pullups. A huge help for me was doing pullup negatives. Go to the bar do as many pullups as you can, then get a chair and do the negative portion of the exercise. Your body will adapt faster than you think… be patient and believe you can do it. You will do it! I already know you can, with patience!

      Reply
  • Stephen October 1, 2010, 3:36 pm

    Very nice! Excellent tips for novice & advance.
    Good job!

    Reply
  • James October 1, 2010, 3:43 pm

    Great tips! I especially like the idea of pulling the bar down towards you rather than the other way around. Cheers!
    .-= James´s last blog -> Emotion Comotion Kayak- Blue =-.

    Reply
  • Kristen October 1, 2010, 4:01 pm

    Definitely a more defined approach for mastering pullups – or in my case, just getting to the point of being able to do one! Let’s hope this works! :)

    Reply
  • Largo October 1, 2010, 5:09 pm

    Very good indeed. I will give them a try. But I want to know something: I usually have a super pump on my forearms and biceps when I do pullups, etc. Is it because I am doing something really wrong? I cannot manage to do more than a very few reps and then I cannot even flex my arms of the pump I get.
    I guess something i am doing is horrible hehehe I even think of pulling the elbows down as i have read frequently. Is it that I have very weak upper back, scapular retractors and stuff?
    Thanks

    Reply
    • admin October 1, 2010, 5:44 pm

      Next time you try some pull ups, pay close attention to whether you are reaching the chest to the bar, or curling in on yourself as you do the pull up. Reaching the chest up will make it easier to recruit your back muscles. The opposite will force you to use your arms more. I’ll be posting a video soon with a way to reduce some of the load on pull ups. This is a great way to practice and perfect technique and might be your answer. It could also be a question of a “weak link” that needs to be brought up to speed with a stronger back…

      Cheers,
      Adam

      Reply
      • Dave December 9, 2010, 8:59 am

        I am quite intrigued by all the hype around BW training as climbers have been experimenting in this manner for years.

        There is a huge variety pull up training ideas that have been tried and tested, and others evolving. The biggest mistake gym-bunnies make with their pull up efforts is in not involving the use of their legs. Don’t hang on a bar, use a plank and see how much strength you build in your forearms. If you mount the plank close to a wall you can fit two small pieces on the wall that will allow the tips of your shoes to grip on, this will allow you to not only help your lats with the lift, but gives you a whole-body workout at the same time.
        See you on rock!!

        Reply
    • Miguel October 27, 2010, 1:31 pm

      Not sure but maybe you have weak forearms and your grip is holding you back. You could try some gorrilla hangs which is simply to hold on to the bar as long as posible one hand at a time.

      Reply
  • Bob D October 1, 2010, 6:03 pm

    Also as you are coming up think about and bring your shoulder blades toeards each other

    Reply
    • admin October 26, 2010, 9:19 am

      That’s a cue that I use for rowing more than pull ups.

      Reply
  • jorge October 1, 2010, 6:24 pm

    thanks for the info Adam i never tried doing a pull up this way but it does look more challenging also you could see it will sculp the body more thanks.

    Reply
  • Ken October 2, 2010, 2:21 am

    Pull-ups with the bar running parallel with the shoulders definitely puts a lot of strain up in that area for beginners or those who’ve had shoulder problems. I returned to pull-ups after doing Tacfit for 10 or less pulls (they should never be done to failure!). First time for maybe 6 months and an injury acquired from a muscle-heads program. I also hung on the bar causing elbow problems the same as the muscle-head had.
    I find it easy to pack the shoulders down and pull on bars 90 degrees from those in the video. They are the horizontal support tubes for the main bar at my usual gym. It works a peach and doesn’t unduly stress my shoulders yet. Next week I may try alternate hands in the 90, chin and pull positions to see any cause any undue stain.
    Shoulders down and elbows to the side are the key. Great video.

    Reply
  • David Harms October 2, 2010, 6:40 am

    The Pull-Up exercise is a great exercise for developing the bicep muscle. The problem with pull-ups is that most people don’t have the strength to do them correctly or with full range of motion. The Push-Up Bench can be used to do assisted Pull-Ups.

    Reply
  • Mike October 2, 2010, 12:23 pm

    Wrestling great Jake Herbert(formerly of North Western) prepaired this summer for the world championships by doing 10,000 pull ups! Yes it was over several months. But the guy is shredded! Oh and the best part was the pull ups were above and beyond his other training!

    Reply
  • Jo Sigurd Aurvoll October 2, 2010, 5:29 pm

    Size isn’t really a big concern. I’m 6’3″ and 220 lbs and have no problems incorporating pull ups and chin ups into my program. However, I like to start with short sets of five reps with added poundage and then finish with long sets (up to 15 reps) without any added weight. I variate the grips and throw in some negatives if I can’t do the last full set with the added weight. This has been of great benefit to me.

    Reply
  • Azlan October 3, 2010, 2:31 am

    Dear Adam,

    I am having quite a problem.. You see.. Normally when people hang themselves on the pull up bar.. They feel nothing.. Cos they are virtually just hanging around like on a monkey bar.. However,when I try to do that,my deltoids hurts a little and this makes it difficult for me to do pullups.. Any tips?

    Reply
    • admin October 7, 2010, 7:27 am

      Hey Azlan – can you describe the pain a bit more (exact location and the “quality” of the pain). Might be technical, but it could also be something that you should see a health care professional about.

      Reply
  • Bril October 3, 2010, 5:21 am

    I never knew of that simple movement to protect my shoulders. Also, I love the drunk man analogy.
    Can you show some variations of pull-ups such as using a different type of bar and how different placement of the handschange which muscles get worked out?

    Reply
  • Bob McMillan October 3, 2010, 1:07 pm

    The first three quarters of my pullups are great (up to my eyes). I don’t seem to get any further. I’ve tried negatives and the “assist machine” but no change. Any ideas?

    Reply
    • admin October 7, 2010, 7:26 am

      Hey Bob,

      Try jumping up, catching the bar and pulling your chin over the top. Then lower yourself VERY, VERY slowly through that top sticking point. These are called “negative” reps (emphasizing the eccentric portion of the movement). Work those into your program and you’ll start seeing increased strength through that range.

      Cheers,
      Adam

      Reply
  • Pete C. October 3, 2010, 6:33 pm

    Thanks Adam, looking forward to trying this tomorrow.

    Reply
  • Lee October 4, 2010, 4:35 pm

    Any tips on perfecting muscle-ups? I can do up to two at a time but it isn’t pretty. Tips for both the bar and rings would be great.

    Reply
    • admin October 7, 2010, 7:22 am

      Hey Lee,

      As you can see from my set-up, if I tried doing muscle ups my head would go through my ceiling. So I never work with them… :)

      BUT… our good buddy Ryan Hurst is a muscle up genius. I’ll see if we can get him to do a guest post.

      Cheers,
      Adam

      Reply
  • Pete C. October 7, 2010, 7:06 am

    I’ve missed something. What does “do the negative portion of the exercise” (with a chair) mean?

    Reply
    • admin October 7, 2010, 7:20 am

      Hey Pete,

      Not sure what you’re talking about… :)

      Reply
  • Hadi October 26, 2010, 9:16 am

    What do you think about a thumbless grip?
    I feel that with a thumbs around the bar grip I have trouble activating my lats.
    Opinion?

    Reply
    • admin October 26, 2010, 9:21 am

      Hi Hadi,

      I’ve played a bit with thumbless grip, but never really liked it. I don’t have any trouble turning the lats on with a full grip. One of my climber friends uses a thumbless grip and only hooks the last two joints of the fingers over the bar… :)

      Reply
  • Miguel October 27, 2010, 1:15 pm

    Thanks altot. This is probably the 10th list of pullup tips Ive read and the best so far. The part about pulling the bar down makes sense. Its like how power lifters say to push yourself AWAY from the bar when bench pressing to use your back muscles to lift heavier weights.

    Reply
  • Yavor October 30, 2010, 2:33 am

    Great vid adam!

    Here are a couple additional tips from me:

    – cross the feet (more thightness and irradiation)
    – bend the bar (more lat contraction)
    – pull through the elbows
    – once upper arm becomes parallel, pull not only down, but BACK
    – don’t go to failure.
    – go for volume (total reps per workout)

    Yavor

    Reply
  • Pratik November 27, 2010, 3:54 am

    You guys are genius.

    Reply
  • Colo July 24, 2011, 10:19 am

    Hello,

    keeping the shoulderblades retracted all the time is not the correct scapulohumeral rythm. The explanation in the video is the wrong way around.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WV-PWaPd1RU

    With the shoulders pulled down you cannot go through the full range of movement in respect to lowering.

    The pecs and the latissimus need to pull down the head of the humerus in the socket to center the joint, but they do not primarily act on the scapula as far as I know, the latissimus has only in rare cases an attachment at its lower border.
    You need good stabilization and controlled movement in the scapular stabilizers, as well as joint centration of the humeral head to do that exercise.

    Secondly about the role of the biceps one has to consider, that in a chin up, the biomechanics are much more in favor for the biceps and brachialis, than in the pull up, so this one would make the bicep work harder to flex the ellbow, With the chin up you could do more repetitions, challenging the biceps that way.

    Reply
  • Myrina Stein August 13, 2011, 10:04 am

    Wow great technique. I will definitely try it.

    Reply
  • Stomach Fat Food August 13, 2011, 10:07 am

    Great video technique . Thanks

    Reply
  • Kat November 25, 2011, 1:40 am

    Hi Adam,

    I have a problem with the first potion of my chin ups. I first learned to jump and come down slowly eccentric. Then I started using resistance bands. I’m down to having only one knee in the band and the thinnest band. I can manage to do 6 consecutive chin ups. I take a break, switch to a larger band if I have to, then back to the narrower band. Until I hit 30 reps.

    My problem is two fold :

    1. I still can’t lift my self un assisted (the bottom portion from dead hang is weak?)
    2. I don’t know how much rest is required 48 hrs or more before trying again? Obviously I get fatigued if I try to soon or if I did biceps previous day.

    What is the recipe for this? I feel like I’m wasting time by not knowing how to progress properly? I once read it takes 12 weeks to go from unable to able and 30 reps min to gain strength required?

    Does the fact that I have long arms and strong muscular long legs work against me? Im 5’6″ and about 137 lbs at heaviest when lifting heavy. Should I just give up. Stick to back rows (75 lbs), lat pull downs (75 lbs) and bicep curls (15 lbs). I made dead hang chin ups my goal but I’m getting frustrated.

    Id really appreciate any advice..

    Thanks,

    Kat

    Reply
    • Adam November 25, 2011, 8:48 am

      Hi Kat,

      You’re ratio of upper body strength to lower body mass could definitely make it harder for you. Everyone has certain exercises that are more difficult because of their particular physical characteristics. I know really strong guys with crappy squats — not because they have weak legs, but because they have really long femurs. So yeah, that could be part of it.

      But in general, it’s just a matter of sticking to it. You can rely on stuff like “it takes 12 weeks” to do XYZ. The person writing that has no idea where you are starting from and what your particular circumstances are. It’ll take as long as it takes.

      It sounds like what you’ve been doing up until now is a great approach. Here’s something you could do to switch it up. Do your chin ups EVERY DAY. But only do sets of 4. And you have to dominate every rep. Continue your sets of 4 with the same band until you feel like you’re starting to slow down. Reduce band strength or increase reps as necessary. Do this for 2-3 weeks. This kind of work is mostly for the nervous system. You’ll be able to fire the muscles more effectively, which will set you up for more strength gains later. It may also “grease the groove” enough for you to whip out that first free hanging rep. :)

      Reply
  • Steve September 2, 2013, 7:46 pm

    Great info and encouraging info. Gets me motivated to hit these again!

    Reply

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