Ah pull-ups! Want to know an embarrassing secret? It has taken me over a year to even get ONE true pull-up. I know that this seems exaggerated, but sadly it’s not. Was I practicing on the daily? No. But every time I thought I was strong and wanted a slice of humble pie, I hung like an ape from the pull-up bar staring longingly at the top. If you are anything like me, you think to yourself, “there is just NO way in hell I can get up there.” I tried placing my hands wider or narrower convinced I was just holding the bars wrong. Nope. I was just straight up weak.
But that’s okay. After asking my trainer and strong friends how they do pull-ups, I realized a few things.
- They aren’t easy. Check out this post from LiveStrong on why pull ups are hard to do. If you don’t feel like reading, let me summarize:
- they incorporate tons of muscle groups
- they take practice
- lifting body weight is not something everyone can do
- You aren’t alone. I was practicing my pull-ups at the gym and a woman stood there in awe. “I want to be able to do that!” she said. I broke out the bands and practiced with her. It made me realize that I wasn’t alone in wanting to get better.
- There is a difference between pull-ups and chin-ups. Pull-ups you keep your hands facing away from you when you grab the bar. Chin-ups you have your hands facing toward you. Pull-ups engage more lats (see below for what the heck a lat is) where chin-ups engage more biceps (tickets to the gun show anyone?!).
So, what is the secret? Here is a little pull-up how to.
- I like using bands. There are several types of bands out there with different types of resistance. For this movement, the more resistance the more assistance you get in your pull-up. Let’s say I want to do 15 pull-ups. There ain’t no way I can do all of those on my own yet so I choose a moderate band to help me. If I am doing 5, I choose a band with less resistance because I know I only have a few to do.
- I find it easier to keep my arms shoulder width apart. Aka, just reach up and touch the bar and that is the width I like to keep. If you choose to move your arms wider, it engages your lats, or latissimus dorsi, more which makes the move harder. And since I used a Latin fancy word, here is what I am talking about:The bands I am used to using are on the left. Notice how some are thicker than others. This usually means more resistance. This nice stock photo guy is demonstrating how you use the band to do a pull-up. Notice how he placed the band under his foot. You can also place the band beneath your knee if you bend them.
4. One trick I have learned to really engage my lats is to pretend like I am screwing in a light bulb. The pull-up isn’t merely just bending at the elbow and praying I go up. It is about screwing in my shoulders and lats to prepare for the movement. That same movement of your hands as screwing in a light bulb or turning a screw driver will do that. When your hands are on the bar, screw in both hands. You should feel a difference.
Alternatively, try getting above the bar and coming down slowly. Jump and try to hold yourself up. These simple movements done once a day will make a huge difference and help you to build up the muscles needed for the pull-up.