Pull-ups are to your upper body what squats are for your legs. And as far as bodyweight exercises go, pull-ups and chin-ups are considered the best upper strength builders. Being able to do a pull-up properly is also generally a good indication of a high level of functional strength.
Yet the pull-up is also one of the hardest exercises to master, especially for women who do not have the same upper body strength that men do. It’s also one of the most butchered exercises in the gym. And if you’re not doing it right, you shouldn’t be doing it at all.
This is what a proper pull-up should consist of:
1. Start and finish each rep at a dead hang. Your arms should be straight at the beginning and at the end. Not doing this is a partial rep.
2. Pull yourself up until the top of your chest touches the bar or your chin at least passes over the bar. Hold for a beat at the top, and then lower yourself with control.
3. Breathe at the bottom of the pull-up, taking a deep breath and holding it in throughout the movement.
Steps to your first pull-up
There are many different methods to help you get your first elusive pull-up. The key to getting your first pull-up is to practice every day.
Physics also plays a role however, and the less you weigh, the easier it will be to pull yourself up. So work on leaning out while you’re building the strength.
1. Band-assisted pull-ups
Although many experts differ in opinion about this, using strong bands to help you in the beginning is often a great way to learn the proper mechanics of a pull-up. Begin with a thick band tied around the bar and hook one foot in, then grab the bar and pull yourself up. The thicker the band, the greater the assistance. The idea here is to ensure you use good form and no momentum or swinging in the band.
2. Ring rows
With either a TRX (or similar) suspension trainer or gymnastic rings, the ring row is one of the best ways for beginners to build the strength and correct form to get them your first pull-up. To do a ring row, hold onto a pair of rings and lie back, keeping the body in a straight line. With your arms straight, begin by pulling your elbows back and pulling your chest towards the rings.
Then lower yourself back to the start position with control. To make it more difficult, walk your legs further under the rings and aim to eventually have your body parallel to the floor so you are pulling yourself up. Once you can do a ring row with your feet on a box, you should be strong enough to do a pull-up.
3. Static holds
A very tough but effective way of building enough strength to do a pull-up is to work on just holding your body weight at the top of the pull-up position. This means you get up on a box and hold yourself with your chin above the bar, for as long as you can. Drop down, shake it out and repeat.
4. Eccentric work
Once you get proficient at this, add in some negatives where you lower yourself slowly and with control for a count of 4 from the top of the bar, until your arms are straight at the bottom. Then get back up and repeat.
5. A spotter
Find a friend and ask them to be your spotter for the pull-ups. To do these your friend/spotter will hold your legs/ankles and much like the band-assisted pull-ups, you can use them as a base of support to give you the necessary assistance to get your chin over the bar. As you get stronger ask the spotter to hold your ankles rather, and the only one ankle. Once you can do more than 10 like this you should be able to do a strict pull-up unassisted.