Joe, what’s the best way to get better at pull-ups? Thanks – Tom
Tom, this is a great question because pull-ups are pretty dam hard and we as humans have the tendency to avoid things that we are not good at…which causes most people to miss out on one of the greatest exercises we can do.
Always remember this rule of thumb: Any exercise that you hate is probably one of the greatest exercises for you! So frame it differently and start viewing it as benefits driven v.s how hard it is.
Why are Pull-ups So Hard?
To be able to pull yourself up, you need to be either very light (kids) or have a strong core and upper body. You can’t just have big arms, or a big chest or even big arms and chest with a weak core.
The pull-up incorporate several muscle groups; Biceps, Posterior Delts, Traps, Lats and of course your entire CORE (torso to shoulders, from back and side). Your body has to produce enough energy to support all of these muscles at the same exact time…this causes more immediate fatigue. Compare this with a biceps curl or lateral raises where you’re working a very small amount of muscle. The energy demand is much less and therefore easier for you to do.
Pull-ups as a Fat Burner?
The more muscles worked, the more your body needs to recovery. To recover, your body must supply the taxed muscles with oxygen, nutrients and blood. So after you physically put the work in, internally your body is working (and burning calories) to help you recover.
Plus the more pull-ups you perform, the more muscle you will have. More muscle = less body fat – the two are inversely related. Muscles are metabolically active at rest meaning they burn energy when you’re not working out…it’s a beautiful thing.
Pull-ups (along with Push-ups, Front Squat, SLDL, Single Leg Squat and Deadlift) are the greatest indicators of strength. If you can do these movements with great form under competitive loads relative to your bodyweight (or against your bodyweight) you are a strong mofo!
Your goal in training might not be to build strength, but along with strength you reap these benefits:
- Better movement and athletic performance
- Ability to put up more weight
- Higher fat burning potential
- Decreased chance for injury and if injury occurs, a quicker recovery compared to someone with less strength
- Greater levels of endurance and stamina; lifting weights, running and sex
- More “Toned” or “Ripped” Physique
How to Get Better At Pull-ups
Understand this: Just because you currently can’t do something, does not mean you cannot ever do whatever it is. Our bodies are the Greatest Miracle, we are capable to learn and do anything. Don’t EVER let anyone else tell you other wise.
Step 1 Evaluation: Can you do a pull-up? Half a rep? Have you ever tried? As Ronnie Colemen said, “only way to do it is to do it.” Starting today, see where you are.
Step 2 Get Better:
- If you currently can’t not do one pull up: Perform Pull-up Hangs where you are just hanging from the bar. IMPORTANT TRAINING NOTE: If all you can hold yourself up for is 3 seconds, that’s F-ING AWESOME! Don’t be discouraged by how long you can hold – these are hard for EVERYONE (including me)
- If you currently cannot hang: Put a chair under the pull-up bar and hang with one foot on.
- Put emphasis on lat pull-up downs: both wide and close, both heavier and light (for reps).
- If you can not do a full pull-up, perform the following:
- Partial Range of Motion reps: Refers to performing reps of the part of the range motion you can do without failing.
- Assisted Pull-ups: Have a competent spotter (not only spotters are J ) or use a chair for just enough support to help you perform a full rep.
- Eccentric Pull-ups: Use a band, competent spotter or chair to help pull yourself up, then slowly resist gravity back down without support back down.
- Isometric Pull-Ups: Hold the top part of a pull up for a set period of time – anytime you can hold is good, work your way up to 30 seconds.
- Chaotic Pull-ups: With a running start, jump up to the pull up bar and leverage the momentum to pull yourself up under control.
- If you can only do a few pull-ups: DO PULL-UPS MORE FREQUENTLY!
Step 3 Go Wild! At this point you should be dam proud of yourself for the ability to do what most people cannot, full pull-ups for reps. Now, go wild:
- Add weight: a ruck, weighted vest or dumbbells (using a belt)
- Change your grip: neutral, palms in, palms out, mixed grip, fat grip etc,.
- Add variety baby: L’s, side to side, biceps dominant, muscle ups, wide, close, monkey bars etc,.
Pull-ups solve many of your goals and desires – DO THEM WEEKLY!
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