Pull-ups are a fantastic exercise for gaining muscle and upper body strength. However, there’s a reason why so few people are able to pull off this remarkable strength feat and are unable to complete enough repetitions to fully leverage the muscle-building effects of this exercise.
Pull-ups work a variety of muscles, including the biceps, rhomboids, rear deltoids, and other minor muscles, in addition to the lats, which are the largest muscle in the back. They are therefore an excellent approach to develop the posterior side of the upper body with just one exercise.
Pull-ups aid in developing back muscles, shoulder retractors, and arm strength. They can strengthen your grip while also doing wonders for your posture. Additionally, if you ever felt like changing things up a bit, you may utilise different variations to change the focus on various muscles, for simply shifting your grip position.
Follow along with me using this YouTube video as we practise some exercises to improve pull up strength together!
4 ways to improve your pull ups
Scap pull ups
Scapular pull-ups, often referred to as scap pull-ups, are an upper-body exercise that targets your rear shoulders and back muscles by removing the arm movement of the pull up, to focus on the back muscles only. Scapular pull-ups, when done correctly, boost upper-body strength. Lats, trapezius, rhomboids, and serratus anterior muscles are the main muscle groups worked by scapular pull-ups.
How to do it:
- With a complete overhand grip, take hold of the pull-up bar. Your grip should be somewhat wider than your shoulders or roughly shoulder width apart. Stand on a secure flat bench or plyometric box if you can’t reach the pull-up bar.
- Leave your legs hanging as you get off the box. Your arms should be straight. Your pelvis should be somewhat tucked in and your ribs should be down. Squeeze the glutes and brace your core, to keep the body in line and prevent swinging.
- To initiate the movement, pull your shoulder blades back and down, towards the floor. This shoulder retraction movement will allow your torso to lift. Be careful not to bend the arms as if doing a full pull up, as this exercise requires the arms to remain straight.
- Throughout the movement, your chin should remain tucked, as if you were carrying an egg under your chin.
- As you slowly return to the starting position, keep your arms long and let your shoulder blades relax and travel upwards (elevate).
- Continue for the desired number of repetitions.
The suspension trainer allows for the simple and efficient performance of rows and modified pull-ups, and arm curls, all of which target the muscles of the upper back, shoulders, and arms without requiring much space or heavy equipment to complete them.
They can be hung from almost any fixed and sturdy overhead point (a pull-up bar, a tree limb, a door). In reality, all you need to perform each workout is your own body weight in addition to the trainer itself (which is simple to disassemble and store).
How to do it
- Your suspension trainer should be set up with the grips hanging at waist level. Holding the handles with your palms facing each other, stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- As you take your weight, lean back until your arms are extended. Your feet’s position will dictate how challenging the exercise is: stepping backwards makes the action easier and stepping forwards makes it more challenging.
- Keeping your elbows close to your body, push your chest up, and squeeze your shoulder blades together behind you.
- Bend the arms to pull yourself up. At the peak of the exercise, pause, then gradually lower yourself until your arms are fully extended.
The best technique to develop muscle and prepare for complete pull ups is to perform negative pull ups.
A negative pull up exploits the fact that we are stronger in the eccentric (lowering) part of the movement than in the concentric (pulling up) part of the movement. A negative pull up involves starting in the top position, with your chin over the bar, using support to get into that position. You then carefully lower yourself into a dead hang while fighting gravity, maintaining control over your back and arm muscles as you let go of the bar.
You can develop the strength required to perform your first pullup by gradually lengthening the time it takes you to descend.
How to do it
- Take hold of an overhead bar or some rings and assume the highest posture possible for the pull-up activity (see flexed arm hang position – arms flexed and chin above the bar). If you don’t have the strength, ask a partner or a bench to assist you in getting into position.
- Take as much time as you can as you progressively lower yourself into the dead hang position (arms fully extended).
- Restart the process from the starting location.
Dumbbell single arm row
One exercise that will always be in trend is the single-arm dumbbell row. Additionally, it is a unilateral exercise, which means it works only one side of your body at a time. Single-arm exercises practically double your workload, which helps to correct muscular imbalances and gradually improve your pull up game!
How to do it
- Place a dumbbell next to the training bench on the side you intend to row while standing perpendicular to it. With your other foot firmly placed on the ground, place your non-rowing hand and your knee on the bench. Make sure your back is totally flat by tensing it. Grab a dumbbell with your free hand by reaching down now. Reset yourself and straighten your back once more.
- Do not use your shoulder to lift weight. Keep your shoulders back and down – think ‘shoulder blades in back pockets’. Use your elbow to guide the row. Act as though you are starting a lawnmower. The dumbbell should be almost touching your hip and your elbow should be extended towards the ceiling.
- Maximally contract your back muscles at the highest point to increase muscular engagement. This needs to take place after each rep. Lower the load while keeping your back slightly arched to maintain good positioning.
How many weeks does it take to train and achieve an unassisted pull up?
The rate at which you can advance your pull up journey varies from person to person, thus there is no set formula. Your grip strength, total body weight, how frequently you can train and recuperate, and your existing upper body strength can all have an impact on how far you can get with pull-ups.
We recommend working on pull up strength two to three times a week, adding these exercises to your training regimen, or come and visit one of our strength building classes to see how we can help you reach your goals.
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Exercises to improve pull up strength FAQs
How long does it take to be strong enough to do a pull up?
It really depends on the individual: what your starting strength level is and how frequently you train. Consistency is one of the most crucial things to keep in mind, so if you need to start by doing assisted pull ups, that’s completely fine! Keep going!
Why are pull ups so hard to improve?
Pull ups are hard to improve because the upper body muscle groups involved are smaller, relative to the legs. Smaller muscle groups take longer to develop than larger muscle groups like the legs. In addition, there is nothing for the legs and back to brace against in order to assist the movement, such as bracing against the floor as you would in the bench press. You must have complete upper-body strength to accomplish pull-ups since they involve the activation of so many different muscles.
Do you need strong abs for pull ups?
A strong core and effective movement bracing are both crucial. The pull-up is more than just an upper body workout, and it’s also a workout that works various areas of the body: including the core. So keep in mind that having a solid core is essential.