how to improve your pullups image

How to improve your pullups

During my Personal Trainer sessions in Nottingham I often find that clients would like to be better at pull ups but are intimidated by the exercise because they find it so difficult. In this article I will give you some tips on how to get started and how to progress your pull ups gradually to get super strong and toned.

What is a pullup?

A pull up is the ability to pull your body weight up using your arms until your chin is above your hands. Usually a pull up is performed on a bar with an overhand grip, underhand grips are also used and this is sometime referred to as a chin up. Lots of variations of pull ups exist but it’s the ability to lift your body weight up until your head is above your hands that is the important factor.

Why you should do pullups

I encourage the vast majority of my clients to perform pull ups, they are a great way to keep lean and toned but have other benefits too:

1. Functional Strength

The ability to lift your whole body weight on your arms is very useful if you need to climb. Ok so we don’t all go round climbing on a daily basis but what if you found yourself in a situation where you needed to? You might need to escape a dog and shoot up a tree, climb a wall or hall yourself off a cliff edge. Extreme examples I know but climbing was once a skill that was essential for survival and it’s still a useful skill to have.

2. Shape

Pull ups are a compound exercise which means that they work lots of muscle groups at once. This makes them a great calorie burning exercise that tone a lot of muscles particularly in the back and arms.

3. Grip Strength

When attempting to lift heavy objects / weights, it is often grip strength that let’s peoples lifting abilities down. This is particularly true outside of a gym environment when attempting to list everyday heavy objects such as furniture or other objects with odd shapes that don’t have convenient gripping handles. Bearing your weight on your hands when doing pull ups helps to strengthen the muscles in your hands and fingers giving you a steely grip and a killer handshake.

Where to start with pullups

The majority of the population will struggle to do one pull up and may not manage to do any correctly. This can make the exercise seem impossible. It’s not at all impossible but it is a little difficult to get started so here are a couple of tips to help:

1. Use assistance first

Most gyms will have an assisted pull up machine that provides a weighted platform to give you a boost up. This is a great way to start. Aim to gradually reduce the assistance you get by lowering the machines weighted assistance over time. If your not in a gym environment large resistance bands can help. Looping the band over a bar and then placing your foot or knee on the band will also provide a boost.

2. Practice lowering your weight

When working from a bar you can perform a jump to gain momentum and get your chin above your hands. If you can already do a full pull up this maybe recognised as cheating but if you just can’t get yourself up there it’s a good way to start. Once at the top lower yourself down until your arms are straight as slowly as possible. The lowering phase of the movement is where most strength gains are made so by practicing lowering regularly you will gain enough strength to eventually pull yourself up without jumping.

Test your pullups

Find a bar or some secure high grips. Start with straight arms, pull your chin above your hands and lower yourself down until your arms are straight, taking care to keep your feet off the ground. Repeat as many times as possible without stopping to rest.

  • 0: Poor
  • 1-2: Average
  • 3-6: Above average
  • 6-10: Good
  • 10+: Excellent

Advanced pullup variations

1. Vary Your Grips

Taking a variety of different grips such as, overhand, underhand, neutral or even a combination helps to stimulate a greater variety of muscles in the hands arms and shoulders. This gives you better all round strength.

2. Vary head Direction

Driving your head to different positions such as off centre, or looking over your shoulder helps to stimulate and stretch more muscles in the neck and shoulder girdle.

3. Drive Feet / Knees in Varied Directions

By lifting your knees in different directions you can give the muscles of the trunk a great workout boosting your core strength. Lifting to the front will engage more abs, to the back will strengthen lower back and twisting will stimulate your obliques. As you get stronger try lifting your feet with straighter legs.

4. Add More Load

To really increase your strength as you become more advance you can add more weight to your person. This could be in the form of a weights vest, dumbell, Bulgarian bag or even a rucksack. When you get to this level you are getting super strong!

Until recently I was capable of performing around 10 pull ups and for years that was roughly my limit. After deciding to focus on pull up training three times per week I managed to double the amount of pull ups I could do to 20 repetitions. Practice makes perfect, what you focus on is what you get.

Pullup tutorial video

Watch the accompanying video to this article below for some more tips and ideas. Get going and give it your best! If you would like to chat about my personal training sessions in Nottingham and how they could help you, please contact me.


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