Pull-ups are one of my favorite exercises, they work your entire upper body. It is an exercise that builds the basic level of strength and musculature needed to tackle more advanced movements like muscle-ups or front lifts. Pull-ups are bodyweight exercises that require little or no equipment (a place to hang or a pull-up bar) and anyone can be successful at doing them with a good workout. This is a basic calisthenics exercise.
Note for women: No, pull-ups are not going to make you look too muscular. Thanks to your metabolism, pull-ups will make you “just” stronger with denser muscles but not bigger.
Pull-ups in pronation or supination
Pull-ups consist of hoisting yourself to the level of a fixed bar, suspended from it by the hands. It is an exercise that mainly develops the back and the biceps.
There are several types of pull-ups depending on how you grip the bar:
- overhand pull-ups (your palms are forward and your thumbs are inward)
- supine pull-ups (your palms are towards you and your thumbs out):
Overhand pull-ups are called pull-ups. This exercise makes the back muscles work harder. Supine pull-ups are called chin-ups. This exercise is simpler, it works the muscles of the arms and back.
Technique and Position
- Hold the barbell with a grip a little wider than shoulder-width,
- pull the shoulders down slightly so that they are not relaxed,
- your arms are slightly bent to protect the joints elbows,
- do not bend your legs, do not cross them, keep feet together,
- support your whole body (abdominals, glutes, legs, and tiptoes outstretched),
- pull your arms, and pass the bar under your chin (at the level of the collarbones); you will naturally tend to pull on your chin to bring it above the bar but it is your arms that must bring you there, otherwise, you will “break” the head-back-leg alignment,
- keep your elbows parallel to your body, do not bring them to the sides,
- do not bulge the torso by extending the rib cage,
- rather than thinking of pulling with the arms, remember to bring the elbows towards the ground.
3 simple exercises for a successful first pull-up
The 3 exercises below will allow you to do your first overhand pull-up. You can also apply them to supine pull-ups.
Jump up to the bar. Using your legs, the pull is easier because you enjoy the jump and you don’t just use your arms. Knowing that the goal of this exercise is to increase the pulling force of the arms, try to keep your jumps to a minimum. Do 3 sets of x repetitions and rest for 1.30 minutes between sets. As soon as you can do 8 reps per set, move on to the next exercise.
Horizontal pull-up (Australian pull-up)
Suspend under a low fixed bar or under a table placed at hip height with your back off the ground. Bend your arms slightly and curl your whole body: the body should be straight (aligned head, back, buttocks, and legs) and locked so that your weight is transferred only through your hands and your heels. Pull on your arms to bring your chest to touch the bar. As with the overhand pull-ups technique, keep your elbows parallel to your body, don’t pull them apart. Do 3 sets of x repetitions and rest for 1.30 minutes between sets. As soon as you can do 8 reps per set, move on to the next exercise.
Pull-ups negative phase traction or eccentric traction
Negative traction is the reverse movement of the normal traction, i.e. you will jump on the bar and put yourself in the final position (chin above the bar) and lower them as smoothly as possible (for 6 to 8 seconds) while controlling the descent. Remember to keep a good technique (elbows aligned with the body straight and sheathed). Do 3 sets of x repetitions of 6 to 8 seconds each and rest for 1.30 minutes between sets. As soon as you manage to do 3 sets of 3 reps, you will normally be able to do your first overhand pull.
Pull-ups Training Program
Now that you have successfully done 1 pull-up, the next step is to do more;).
There are several workouts that have allowed me to improve my number of overhand pull-ups, here are the first 2:
Pyramid training is extremely simple and very effective. Looking at the diagram you will see a series of numbers increasing on the left to reach a MAX number and decreasing on the right to return to 1. These numbers are repetitions. You therefore alternate 1 pull-up, a rest time, 2 pull-ups, a rest time… up to your maximum number of repetitions, and then you descend the pyramid in the other direction up to 1.
Take 1’30 minutes of rest between repetitions.
Remember to manage your effort to be able to make the descending part of the pyramid!
It takes a while to complete a 1-10-1 pyramid (total of 100 pull-ups!), So don’t be discouraged and persist :).
You can then adapt this 2 in 2 training pyramid (2-4-6-8-10-8-6-4-2).
Once you know how to do multiple overhand and supine pull-ups, have fun with the different grips by changing the positions of the hands-on bar. They will work your muscles in completely different ways:
Pull-ups in crosstraining
There are other types of pull-ups popular in crosstraining that are different from the classic overhand pull-up called Strict Pull-up. Crosstraining people use Kipping Pull-ups and Butterfly Pull-ups a lot; these techniques mobilize the whole body:
combined movements of the hips, legs, and arms and allow to generate more speed.
However, before you learn these techniques and incorporate them into your training, you must know how to do at least 5 classic overhand pull-ups. You will then have a basic strength that will allow you to handle kipping and butterfly pull-ups safely and without risk of injury.
which muscles pull-ups work
When you train you are also using the trapezius muscles. Strengthening this muscle requires focusing a lot of effort on the pulling movement that stimulates it. Located in the middle of the upper back, the trapezius muscles as well as the latissimus dorsi muscles are the main muscles stimulated during pull-ups.
While pulling exercises work on many of the muscles in the upper body, they also stimulate the back muscles (depending on your grip position). If you leave a lot of space between your hands, it will stimulate the deltoids more and strengthen your shoulders. Having a neutral position will also strengthen your muscles by avoiding putting too much pressure on the joints while working your deltoids.
The muscles of the pectorals
The pectoralis major muscles build on the muscles in your chest. It may not be obvious, but the pectoral muscles also play a role in helping the muscles in performing pull-ups. Together with the coracobrachialis muscle, which begins in front of the shoulder joint and extends up the upper arm, they help the latissimus dorsi muscles bring the upper arms closer to the body.
Teres Major, Infraspinatus & Teres Minor
The Teres Major muscle is positioned above the latissimus dorsi muscle which attaches to the scapula and humerus. The infraspinatus, on the other hand, covers the entire back of your shoulder blade and extends to the upper arm. Below the infraspinatus is the teres minor which is above the teres major. These three muscles help the muscles when doing pull-ups.
Now that you have a good idea of the muscles used when doing pull-ups, let’s talk about the different pull-up exercises that exist as well as the grip that can make other muscles work more.