Pull ups are a key compound exercise to improving your upper body strength. But as far as
body weight exercises go, they can also be one of the toughest.
Primarily working your lats and biceps, a full pull up involves lifting your body towards an overheard bar so that it is level with your chin. A good pull up will be executed with control and not use momentum to complete the lift.
However, performing pull ups, even for the strongest of athletes, can be a difficult exercise to perform. Like any other exercise, practice is required but what is the best way to practice a pull up to improve your form?
Are you struggling to improve with pull ups?
Have you got stuck on a certain number of reps or a certain level of assistance? It’s very common but most people don’t know how to get past this plateau.
The good news is there are a number of easy adaptations you can use to improve your pull up form and stamina.
Using static holds and pauses is a very effective way to build strength in bodyweight exercises. Most people simply don’t realise how great this method is, so it is very under-used.
This involves simply holding your body in place at the height of the pull up. Hanging from the bar in the start position can also be beneficial.
Finally, pauses at the height of the bar with full tension or slow eccentric releases can help bring your pull ups to the next level.
In this video we take you through the progressions you can use – from fairly easy to pretty tough! – to keep challenging your body and get stronger at pull ups.
Progressions to get stronger at pull ups
Improving both your pull up form and stamina can be achieved through the use of progressive overload. This means that you are not always required to complete your pull ups unassisted, but instead use alternative techniques to complete more reps and ultimately build your stamina to become unassisted at the same stage.
These progressions are:
Ring rows – hold at top for 5 seconds. Leaning back with your body approximately at a 45 degree angle to the floor, extend your legs and hold the rings above your chest. Rocking on your heels, pull yourself towards the rings. The aim is to keep your core tight and the rings as steady as possible.
3-position pull up holds – hold at top for 5 seconds, hold at 90 degrees (halfway) for 5 seconds, hold at bottom (hang position) for 5 seconds. You are unlikely to be able to complete as many reps of this as your existing unassisted pull up PB, but it will help improve both your strength and form in the long run.
Can be done with a resistance band for assistance. Wrapping a resistance band over the bar and using it to hook your knees, you are able to use the tension of the resistance band to aid you with your pull up. This will help you increase the number of reps and reduce the level of resistance meaning you can focus on your form.
L-sit holds – 5 seconds in the 3 positions. Hanging from the bag and raising your legs to 90 degrees, extended as though you were sitting upright on the floor. This exercise helps improve both your grip and core strength – Two elements essential for improving your pull up performance.
False grip holds – using a false grip on a bar or rings in order to progress to a muscle up (note in the photo below, Hassan is using a false grip on the bar)
Pull up L-sit hang competition! Who can hold on the longest?