Pull-ups, the king of the bodyweight exercises. Sure, you may be able to bust out ten or twenty pushups, but can you complete just one pull-up? Increasing your pull-up count can be one of the most challenging exercises to master. However, no other exercise will add to the size and strength of your back like the pull-up will.
So, why do trainees struggle so badly with pull-ups? What can be done to improve your pull-up strength? Let’s look at some ideas and tips to improve your pull-up power and increase your back strength.
Why is the pull-up so popular?
The pull-up is known as a ‘complex’ exercise, meaning that the movement works multiple body parts at the same time. The pull-up, when correctly executed, will exercise the entire back, as well as the biceps, forearms, chest, shoulder, and core. With this much muscle recruitment in the movement, it’s easy to see why the pull-up is considered as a critical movement by the strength and power athletes all over the world.
CrossFit programs focus extensively on pull-up combinations, using different varieties of grips and range-of-motion. All you need to do to understand the necessity of pull-ups in any strength and conditioning program is to check out the best CrossFitters on Instagram and take note of how they incorporate pull-ups into their workout program.
Form is everything
Your pull-up form is critical, it is the base of the exercise and if you get it wrong you can expose yourself to a potential injury. Chances are that if you are just starting a pull-up program, you are struggling to complete even a few reps.
The best place for you to start in order to learn the correct form is using the squat rack and an unloaded bar. Set the bar up so that you sit on the floor and have to reach overhead for the bar. Complete your pull-ups from this position, it takes the weight of your legs out of the movement and makes it easier for the beginner.
Beginners tend to overcompensate in the movement, engaging their shoulders to make up for the lack of power in their back. This is a mistake that can lead to shoulder injuries such as rotator cuff tears and strains.
To establish the correct form, place your hands on the bar, spread just a little further apart than shoulder width. As you pull up, push your chest out until your clavicle touches the bar. Learning bad habits when you are getting started will haunt you in the years of training to come.
As you descend from the peak, make sure your muscles are completely controlled in the decent, don’t just slump to the bottom and swing into another rep. Start right and build into the volume, rather than giving into the ego and poorly completing the movement just to say you did it. Remember to keep your core tight and your feet together during the movement.
Control the Volume
Instead of busting out as many pull-ups in a row as you can, rather split the volume up. If your maximum amount of pull-ups you can do in a row is ten reps, split it into four sets of three and aim for that 2 rep increase.
Static Holds & Negatives
A huge mistake is releasing the tension at the top of the movement, finishing with an uncontrolled descent. Going down is as important as pulling up. Keep you movement slow and controlled in both the upward and downward portion of the exercise.
Hold the decent at sticking points in the movement and hang there for a ten to twenty-second count. When you have completed your pull-up workout hang on the bar until your grip fails, this builds your back and your grip strength. If you find that your grip fails before your back does, get yourself some lifting straps to assist you in extending the time of your dead hang.
Practice, practice, practice
The final tip for increasing your pull-up count is to practice. Whenever you get the chance, knock out a couple of pull-ups. Buy yourself one of the doorway pull-up bars you can set up at home. Whenever you pass the bar, bust out a couple of reps.
With diligent practice and a splash of commitment, you should be able to double your pull-up count in six to eight weeks.