First Published: 5 Aug 14 | Updated 28 Apr 18
Pull-ups are without doubt, one of the toughest exercises you can do. But they also provide the greatest benefits to your back and upper body.
As well as needing good upper body strength, you also need the mental strength to perform them.
still used to hate doing pull-ups, and I hardly ever see anyone else doing them in the gym.
Even just 1 or 2 of these super compound moves are out of reach for a lot of people.
- 1 6 Reasons Why You Should Do Pull-Ups
- 2 Pull-Up Bars at Home
- 3 The Taller You Are, The Harder They Are
- 4 Women and Pull-Ups
- 5 Can’t Perform One Pull-Up?
- 6 How To Perform The Perfect Pull-Up
- 7 Variations
6 Reasons Why You Should Do Pull-Ups
1. A Strong, Pain-Free Back
If you’re like me, you spend a good deal of your working time sat at a desk.
You also sit down to eat your meals, watch TV, drive to and from work, etc.
That’s a lot of sitting, and unless you work your back muscles, you could easily suffer from a weakened back, which can lead to injuries and a lot of pain.
Pull-ups work the entire back and core muscles which will keep you nice and strong around the middle.
Having a strong back will help you in everyday life, from playing with your kids, to picking up shopping bags, moving furniture about etc.
Performing good back exercises when you’re young enough to do so will also benefit you into your older years when you’re less mobile.
2. Improved Grip Strength
Having a strong grip helps with all your weight training – particularly ‘pulling lifts’ like the deadlift.
Pull-ups really emphasize your grip, and over time will enable you to lift heavier weights, and for longer.
3. Increased Functional Strength
Functional strength has become quite the ‘buzz phrase’ right now, and I for one, fully adopt the FS mantra.
It has come from the physio therapy world, where therapists use the expression to treat patients for movement disorders.
The idea is that in everyday life we run, sprint, jump, push, pull, stretch, bend, twist, stop, start etc.
All these activities rely on a coordinated effort between muscle groups, joints and nervous system.
By performing compound exercises or ‘dynamic exercises’ such as the pull-up, you can’t help but to improve your functional strength because it involves so many muscles and joints working together.
As the pull up involves virtually every upper-body muscle that lies between your waist and neck, (13 to be precise!) you don’t have to spend wasted hours (unless you’ve got nothing better to do) performing exercises like bicep curls, tricep dips or those pointless weighted side bends!
4. Better Posture
“Stop slouching!” Jezz, I used to get that all the time when I was younger!
As a kid I used to walk around with hunched shoulders, and slouch in my chair.
Not great for my posture or my spine.
Joining the military soon after school sorted me out though!
If you’re not intending to join the armed forces anytime soon, then you’ll be pleased to know that pull-ups will also help improve your posture.
Pull-ups will help you develop a strong core and back, which will make it easier to stay in a more vertical position.
Apart from that, you should walk with your head up and shoulders slightly back.
If you walk like this, and with a spring in your step, you will automatically look and feel more confident, and your posture will naturally improve too.
5. A Toned/Defined Physique
Let’s face it, for a guy, the ‘V’ shaped physique is what we all want (or is that just me?).
The pull-up primarily targets your latissimus dorsi (lats) the biggest muscle group in your upper body.
This is the muscle, that when developed, gives us men that desired ‘V’ shaped look. It will help your shoulders look bigger and your waist smaller.
Girls will benefit from a slim, toned waist and a nice looking back (without the muscles).
Wide-grip pull-downs on a machine also isolate the lats but at the expensive of other supporting muscles.
However, it might be a good place to start if you can’t even do 1 pull-up.
6. Massive Kudos In The Gym!
I don’t really care what other guys do in the gym or how heavy they lift, and neither should you.
However, you can’t help but be in awe of someone smashing out 10 to 20 ‘good form’ pull-ups.
It requires a lot of mental and physical strength and looks darn impressive!
Having said that, I also admire the person who continually struggles to perform just 1 or 2 pull-ups.
These guys know the benefits of this exercise and are willing to do what it takes to improve.
In case you were wondering, I can do about 5 wide-grip pull-ups right now.
Nothing to shout about but I’m happy enough, and working on it!
Pull-Up Bars at Home
The great thing about pull-ups is you can perform them at home.
They don’t take long to do, but reap a shit-load of benefits to your physique!
Over The Door Pull-Up Bar
I have one of those over-the-door pull-up bars, and try to do a few every day.
My goal is to get to ten and then I’ll post the video evidence on this site!
Here’s me in action:
I use a Door Way Pull Up Bar. It is very easy to use and can be put up and taken down in seconds.
You can get them as ‘cheap as chips’ from Amazon:
There are plenty of other types of pull up bars on the market. Let’s face it – they all do the same thing.
The Taller You Are, The Harder They Are
Being just short of 6ft myself, and always having skinny wrists and ankles, (thanks mum and dad!) I know how challenging these types of exercises can be.
Long ‘body-levers’ disadvantage us taller folk when it comes to pulling and pushing.
The distances are longer, and the less powerful arm muscles are usually the first to fail.
So if you are a tall guy or gal who really struggles with pull ups – I hear ya!
However, don’t let your spaghetti arms be an excuse not to perform them.
The rewards for persevering with them make the
excruciating pain effort worthwhile.
Women and Pull-Ups
Pull-ups are freaking hard! They are even harder for women who have less muscle mass, but by no means impossible.
It’s not being sexist, it’s just a fact.
However, the same practice and training applies to both men and women.
Think you can’t do them girls? Here’s a great video for you:
Can’t Perform One Pull-Up?
If you can’t perform one pull-up yet, watch this video and learn the techniques below:
How To Perform The Perfect Pull-Up
Okay, it may sound like I’m teaching you to suck eggs here.
It’s not a technical exercise by any means, but there are one or two pointers you may not have thought about:
1. Grab the bar with an overhand grip. Hands should be just slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
2. Allow your arms to straighten so that you hang from the bar. If you are doing it at home using an over-door pull up bar, then you will probably need to bend your knees so that your feet are off the floor.
3. Pull yourself up so that your sternum comes up to the bar. At the same time pull your shoulder blades down and flat against your back. Imagine tucking your shoulder blades into your back pockets.
4. Slowly lower yourself so that your arms are fully extended again. That’s one rep.
- By concentrating on pulling your shoulder blades straight down into imaginary back-pockets will engage your lats a lot more, which are the major workhorse muscles in this move.
- Don’t think about getting your chin above the bar, concentrate on pulling your sternum (upper chest) to the bar. By doing this you will open your chest out more and will ensure you pull up in a straight line.
- Don’t rock or swing your body to pull yourself up. This uses momentum and detracts from your lat muscles. Pull yourself up in a straight, vertical line at all times.
- Don’t have your arms too wide as this will compromise your range of motion and put excessive pressure on your shoulders.
Here’s a video in case you want to see the pull up in practice:
You can make the pull up easier or harder, depending on your current level of fitness.
To make it easier you could use an assisted pull-up machine.
This enables you to place your knees on a bad and load the weight stack to offset your body weight.
Make sure your form is perfect and decrease the weight until you can do 1 or 2 without any weight assistance.
If you use a pull-up bar at home, you could use a chair or bench to help you up.
Pull-Up Assist Bands
Assistance bands are an effective piece of kit to assist you with your pull-ups.
They are cheap and can be used on any type of pull-up bar.
Here’s a video showing you how they work:
Jump and Hold
Perform the exercise in the same way, except start from the top position.
Jump up and hold this position as long as you can.
This is known as an isometric hold.
Then slowly lower yourself until your arms are fully extended – known as ‘negatives’.
You could do 3 to 5 sets of these, holding for approx 10-20 seconds each time.
This will help build strength and improve your grip.
The chin up is a slightly easier variation of the pull-up.
The exercise is the same as the pull-up except you grab the bar with an underhand grip at shoulder width or slightly narrower.
Your biceps and chest are engaged a lot more which means you should be able to complete more reps – or at least be able to do 1 or 2!
If you are a
sick individual particularly strong and want to make the pull-up harder, place a dumb bell between your ankles or even better, wear a weighted dip-belt with a chain to increase intensity.
You could also use Fat Gripz, which are great for improving your grip strength and challenging your muscles.
I hope this article is enough to get you to include pull ups into your weekly workout. The benefits are huge.
Just like any exercise, remember to keep excellent form regardless of how many reps you can do.