Pull ups are the single best exercise you can do for your lats. They’re functional, they’re high intensity, and you don’t need much equipment. Unfortunately, a lot of people either can’t do one, or they use improper for to cheat their way up.
Cheating at an exercise is cheating your self. If you can’t do a pull up with proper form, don’t give up. Unlike most exercise, you can’t really lower the weight until it’s possible. You have to breakdown WHY you can’t do it, and attack your weaknesses one by one.
How To Do A Real Pull Up
Here’s the step-by-step form for doing a full pull up:
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width. If you’re too short to reach the bar, bring the box back. Don’t jump.
- Bend your knees or straighten out your legs and engage your core if you’re strong enough
- Without swinging, pull with your lats and contract your shoulder blades to lift your body towards the bar.
- Lift yourself until your chin is above the bar. Your shoulder blades should be fully contracted.
- Slowly lower yourself down to a full hang.
I’ve talked a lot about cheating, so let’s breakdown what that actually means. There are a lot of different ways to get yourself up there without properly engaging your lats. These are a couple that I see all the time.
- Jumping up to the bar.
Unless you jump and then drop to a dead hang, that first rep doesn’t count.
- Kipping pull ups.
Crossfit encourages a variation that involves swinging horizontally to build momentum. This may be “efficient” for putting up high numbers, but you’re cheating your lats.
- Half Reps
If you don’t come all the way down to a near dead hang, that’s not a full rep. Locking out your elbow every time isn’t necessary (or recommended), but if you only come down halfway, your reps don’t count.
Can’t Do A Single Pull Up? Try these:
Many people can’t do pull ups because of low grip strength. There are a couple of exercises you can do, like farmer carries and squeezing a GripMaster, but why not attack it on the bar? A static hang is a great why to work your grip and get comfortable on the bar. Simply step up to the bar, grab, and hang out for a bit.
Work your way up to a minute. If you can’t hang for a minute WITHOUT the added work of pulling your self up, you shouldn’t expect yourself to do pull ups at all. Make sure you do it after the rest of your workout, or your grip will be too dead to get any lifting done.
Assisted Pull ups
If you go to a gym, you’ve probably seen someone using an assisted pull up machine. It’s weighted platform that helps to push you back up from the bottom of your hang. Sorry to break it to you, but those are crap. Yes, they still give you a lat workout, but they’re not going to engage the whole body like a real pull up.
Here’s a better option: grab a box (or a chair) and position it just in front of the bar. Grab the bar just like you would for a static hang, but put one foot on the box. Use that leg to help you push you up over the bar. As you progress, try to rely less and less on that leg.
If you’ve ever thought, “I just can’t do pull ups,” it’s not because you’re weak. It’s because you’re attacking it the wrong way. Break it down and start building for a stronger, more functional future.