One of the biggest tests of upper body strength we can use for ourselves is the Pull-Up. Lifting our entire body-weight (for most adults that’s at minimum 115ilbs) off the ground, with simply our upper body is quite an amazing feat. So clearly, the Pull-up is not an easy exercise and it’s not one we can just jump into and expect to do the classic three sets of twelve.

Building to a Pull-up takes a lot of hard work, but what may seem like an impossible task with beginners in the fitness world, can be made a reality by training smart, and progressively loading our body not just with weight but with progressively more difficult exercises. Toady I’ll take you through a few ways to build up towards that big shiny goal of a Pull-Up, which in my opinion, should be a goal we all set for ourselves.

Before getting into the nitty gritty, I would be remitted to mention that one of the best ways to make Pull-Ups easier, is to simply drop weight (more importantly, body fat). It seems obvious enough, but the lighter we are, the easier it will be to pull ourselves up. Easy as that, now lets get one with the show! 

Row Your Boat, Pull Down the Sails and Curl… Something?

To get our body prepared to get to our big goal of pulling ourselves off the ground, we have to get stronger in the mechanics that are going to be responsible for us completing this movement. So when beginning our journey we need to get stronger at every pull exercise we possibly can.

Rows won’t translate a ton into the Pull-Up, I’ll admit that right now, but what it can do is strengthen our pulling mechanisms that we will need as we move forward. It creates a stronger posterior chain, pulling our shoulders into a better and more stable position as we move into Pull-Ups, and rows will help develop grip strength to be able to handle the load of holding onto the bar. As we progress from Dumbbell or Kettlebell Rows, into Barbell Rows, we should also make sure we are implementing Inverted or TRX Rows. This allows us to get used to using our body weight as our resistance and reduces the amount of stability we will have through the exercise, ensuring we need to brace our core for the movement as well.

Pull-Downs have more of an impact on developing our Pull-Up mechanics as we move forward. A strong Pull-down doesn’t mean we’ll be able to jump on the bar and rep out a ton of Pull-Ups, but it does mimic the movement of the upper body when done correctly. This allows us to work on the movement pattern, in a stable position, to start strengthening the lats as well. To take this exercise up a notch, try to not use a leg support while performing the exercise to start creating full body tension.

Lastly in this point, and deservingly so (because it’s not going to be the be-all-end-all for out Pull-Up) we should also work on the accessory muscle for our Pull-Up by developing stronger Biceps as well. This isn’t a critical point, but one worth noting if we’re looking to become stronger in this area.

Tune the Band

What better way to work on Pull-ups, than doing Pull-ups with less tension? Once we’ve worked on strengthening our pulling mechanics and developed the confidence to begin attempting Pull-Ups, then it’s time to start cooking with rocket fuel!

Using a band with your Pull-Ups is a great way to implement progressive overload in an otherwise difficult movement to regress. The thickness of the band will determine how much assistance we get, the thicker the band, the less we have to pull.

The tricky part, and where people often get confused is where the band should be. We see many people wrap the band around their knees, when in fact we should be stepping our foot into the band instead. We’ll go through proper Pull-Up form another day, but this will help us maintain the proper form and a stronger position to pull from.

While banded Pull-Ups can act as a regression at first, we can later implement them as an option for drop sets as we move into full Pull-ups. 

Negative Nancy’s

On our progression towards our ultimate goal, we do need to get some practice reps in. While Banded Pull-ups allow us to practice our concentric portion (pulling up), we can also develop strength by focusing on our eccentric portion of the movement, coming down. It might surprise some, but we are significantly stronger in the eccentric movements than other phases of our lift. Using this information, we can start developing strength in our Pull-ups by implementing negative reps.

Negative reps are simple; we can “cheat” our way up to the top of our Pull-up movement, and try to come down in a slow controlled manner. “Cheating” would be setting ourselves up in a strong initial position by standing on a box and gripping the bar, followed by a step or hop to get our chin above the bar. Jumping and grabbing the bar is less than ideal as it becomes much more difficult to engage the muscle groups we are looking to develop. By coming down slowly, and focusing on keeping the body in proper position we strengthen the muscles needed to get our chin over the bar, no assistance needed!

Pull-ups seem like a daunting exercise. Many of us are intimidated or think, “I could never do that” when we even think of trying to do a Pull-up, but guess what? With hard work, determination and proper planning anyone can reach this goal. We all have the potential; we just need to take that first step forward

If you need more guidance on how to build your Pull-up, or reach the goals you are looking to achieve, contact me through the links below to find a way we can work together and get you to where you’ve always wanted to be.

Rich Hill

CSEP – Certified Personal Trainer

RK Athleticshttps://linktr.ee/RK_Athletics

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