The ability to do pull ups is one of the best gauges of true upper-body strength. Whether you are a regular gym-goer or someone who is just starting to get in shape, pull ups can be a challenging exercise. The primary muscle used when performing a pull up is your back, and more specifically, your latissimus dorsi, the sides of your back.
Think about it- since the beginning of humankind, that urge to reach up to a branch and pull yourself upwards has been around, and back in humanity's earliest days, the ability to pull yourself up over and onto something was necessary for survival and getting around. Now, how motivated are you to get stronger, and get in touch with that primal instinct?
And if you need any more motivation, consider this: Whether you're male or female, having good lats will improve your figure. On men it will give your torso a V-shape and make you look bigger and wider. For women, the V-shape taper will make your waist look relatively slimmer and enhance your hourglass figure.
Here are the 3 major points of doing a proper pullup on a horizontal bar:
1. Grab the bar, there are a variety of grips you can use. Generally, palms towards your face with about a shoulder width grip (usually called a chin-up) will be the easiest, while palms away with your hands wider apart will be the most challenging.
2. Hang from the bar. Do a dead hang, and now pull yourself up just a little bit to your joints aren't locked out. You want to go down to this point every time, or else you're cheating! At the same time, you don't want to completely dead hang and lock out your joints, or over time it can hurt your shoulders.
3. Pull yourself up until your chin is OVER the bar.
If you are not getting your chin all the way up or going to a good hang between pull ups, you are not doing complete pull ups. Even if cheating lets you do more repetitions, it will prevent you from getting the most out of the exercise. This is important to remember
Now that we've cleared up what a pull up should look like, let's talk about how to improve your pull ups.
If you can't do a pull up yet, that's fine. Don't be embarassed! You've got to start somewhere!
Perfect: The top of a pull up.
If You Can't Perform A Pull Up Yet:
If you can't do at least 4 pull ups, it will help to use these alternate methods of improving your strength. Your two best methods of building strength when you're unable to do a pull up are:
Negatives are performed by getting into the top pull up position (by jumping or using a chair) and then slowly lowering yourself in a controlled motion. Try counting to 5 as you go through the motion from top to bottom. Do as many of these as you can while still maintaining control. This will start to build your strength up for real pull ups.
-Using an assisted pull up machine (found in many gyms)
Assist machines perform a platform for you kneel on that acts as a counterweight. If you set the assist machine to 30 pounds, for example, you are really doing pull ups with your body weight, minus 30 pounds. Experiment with how much weight you can use to be able to perform about 10 pull ups, and then make your goal to need less assistance each time while performing the same amount of pull ups.Overall Performance and Improvement Tips
Whether you are using an assistance machine or doing regular pull ups, you can apply any of these tips.
First, work on having good form. Don't let yourself cheat.
Next, make sure to especially emphasize pulling your shoulder blades together and feeling the strain in your lats. This is what you are really trying to target and use with pull ups to effectively build strength. Look up a picture of your lats and physically pat them to be able to make the mind-muscle connection when you're working them out.
As soon as you feel your form starting to break down, or you are pulling yourself up much slower all of a sudden, just stop. Especially do not keep going until you pull yourself up a little bit and then fail. Once in awhile you may need to do this just to test your limits, but don't make it a regular training habit.
If you go to failure as described every time, it really burns your body out and will impede your progress. You're better off pumping out 3 sets of nice pull ups with good form than 3 sets where every time you are straining for the last pull up and failing out.
An Overall Plan
So, now you have a good idea of how to perform pull ups and get the most out of it. The last thing is to be consistent in your improvement. I would suggest doing 3 sets of however many pull ups you can do, with a minute of rest between each set. Do this once or twice a week, and always wait at least 2-3 days between training your pull ups. Anything more will be counterproductive because your body will not have time to recover and get stronger.
If you don't have gym access, buying a pull up bar is inexpensive and some of the better designed bars can be taken down when not in use, as well as used to help perform other exercises.
That's really everything you need to know to become a pull up master! As long as you are consistent and focus on performing the exercise properly and with intensity, you should see some improvement every week or two!