A pull-up is a bodyweight movement that uses your weight to challenge your muscles. Once you can do a pullup, it will be a great accomplishment because most people can’t even do one pullup.
This guide will help you build strength in your upper back and shoulders, improve your technique, and learn how to do a proper pullup.
Many functional strength training programs rely on pull-ups to improve a person’s overall pulling power because they are an effective way to develop upper body strength and back muscles. This movement targets multiple muscle groups while only using a closed chain. This is beneficial because it engages your latissimus dorsi, deltoids, trapezius, rhomboids, biceps, triceps, forearms, and core muscle groups.
How to Do a Proper Pull-Up
A full pull-up is completed by lifting your body from a dead hang position until your chin is above the pullup bar. Pull-ups are performed with an overhand grip on the bar, while chin-ups are performed with an underhand grip.
How to Do a Pullup
- Stand on a block or a bench just below the bar.
- Grab the bar with an overhand grip (wrists pronated, palms facing away from you) with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
- Allow your feet to come off the block/bench, and gently let your body hang. In this dead hang position, your arms should be fully extended.
- Engage your core and find full-body tension by squeezing your glutes and flexing your quads.
- To initiate the pull, depress your lats (imagine pulling your shoulder blades down and into your back pockets) and then start pulling upward to bring your chin over the bar.
- Complete the pull by squeezing your lats together.
- Slowly extend your arms to return to a full hang position while maintaining full-body tension.
Muscles Worked by the Pullup
A compound movement involves action at multiple joints. The weighted pullup engages the musculature of the back and arms.
The main muscles used in a weighted pullup are the lats or latissimus dorsi. The lats are the largest muscles in the back. They are responsible for most of the power output by retracting and depressing the shoulder, particularly in the first half of the movement.
Biceps & Forearms
The synergists of the weighted pull-up assist the larger muscles in the back to complete the range of motion towards the top. The muscular focus that helps the weighted pullup the most are the forearms, for a good grip, and the biceps, which help bend the elbow.
Stabilizers are essential for keeping the joints locked so you can complete your reps with proper control. They stabilize around the rotator cuff and help to provide a solid anchor for the lats and biceps when doing weighted pullups.
You get core stimulation in a standard pullup or chin-up, but the added weight requires more stability and effort by the abdominals to prevent swaying or shaking. The extra instability created by this movement also provides an excellent workout for the abs.
Common Pullup Problems
- Eye Position
Looking at the bar during the movement makes it more problematic as it causes you to move your body further away from the bar.
Keep your gaze directly in front of you throughout the movement to maintain a neutral neck position rather than on the bar. Imagine holding an orange under your chin and against your chest.
- Lack of Lat Engagement
If you’re having trouble initiating the pull-up motion, it may be because you’re not engaging your lat muscles.
Before beginning your pull, think about depressing your lats and posteriorly tilting your pelvis. This will help you target your lat muscles more effectively and reduce the amount of strain on your biceps.
- Lack of Full-Body Tension
While performing a pullup, we may only focus on pulling our bodies upwards and forget to keep our whole body tight. This can make it harder for us to finish the movement.
It would be best if you focused on generating and maintaining full-body tension during your pullup. Maintain engagement of your abdominal muscles and visualize traveling pressure from your buttocks down to your feet. This will help you complete the repetitions and get a more robust upward draw.
- Lack of Strength and Elbow Drive
If you don’t have enough strength and elbow drive when you pull yourself up, you may end up shrugging your shoulders to get your chin over the bar. When we shrug, our traps are overused, and our lats are underused.
Instead of shrugging your shoulders, imagine squeezing your elbows together and maintaining a long neck position.
Variations to Make Pull-Ups Easier
Neutral Grip Pull-Ups
In a neutral grip pullup, your palms will face each other, and your grip will be narrower than in a standard grip pullup. This allows for the biceps to be used more and the delts to be used less, typically resulting in a more effortless movement.
In a pull-up, the palms face away from the body, while in a chin-up, the palms face toward the body. You grip the bar with your palms facing you to do a chin-up. Start engaging your lats and pulling your body up to do a chin-up. Then, squeeze your elbows together to bring your chin over the bar. Having the additional boost from your biceps and changing the angle of attack on your lats will make this variation easier for most people.
An elastic band is perfect for anyone who can’t do a single pullup with their body weight. You can get bands of various tension ratings to match and then slowly escalate difficulty as you progress to doing an unassisted pullup.
To do this exercise, attach a resistance band to the bar. Put your right foot in the band, and hold the bar with both hands in a pronated grip, with your hands about shoulder-width apart.
Extend your leg and press into the band if you want a chin-up. Then, bring your chin over the bar. Maintain full-body tension to prevent your legs from swinging. Lower your body until your arms are fully extended.
To make this exercise more challenging, do more repetitions and use a band with less resistance. Also, maintain tension under your foot so the band won’t slip free.
4 Exercises to Improve Your Pullups
Once you’ve perfected your pullup, you can add the following exercises to your workout routine. Here are some things that will help you improve the quality of your pull-ups, increase the number of reps you can do, and make you even more potent!
1. Towel Hangs & Towel Pull-Ups
If you want to, use the towel in an open, flexed hang position or start doing towel pull-ups. Both are great assistance drills to improve grip strength.
Want to mix it up even more? You can also do these movements with ropes.
2. Heavy Deadlifts
You can improve your lat recruitment, build grip strength, and develop your core stability by adding heavy deadlifts to your training program. There are many ways to perform deadlifts: barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells.
3. Thumbless Pull-Ups
If you remove your thumb from your grip, you will realize how firm your grip is and how much respect you should have for the movement.
4. Weighted Pull-Ups
When you can do pull-ups using only your body weight, you can start making the exercise more challenging by adding weight.
How to Perform the Weighted Pullup Step by Step
Weighted pull-ups are defined by their overhand grip position and added weight. We will assume you have access to a weight belt, dumbbell, weighted vest, or another external load. With that said, here’s a breakdown of the technique.
Step 1. Get Your Grip
Where you place your hands while working out will affect how much advantage your muscles have with each repetition. To begin, walk up to the bar and comfortably raise your arms above your head. This should be a comfortable starting grip width.
As you become more experienced and your goals change, you can adjust your grips to match.
A wider grip will shorten the distance to the bar and help focus your attention on your lats.
Step 2. Set and Hang
After you have chosen how wide you want your grip to be, use a sturdy object to help you grip the bar. Allow enough space for your body to hang freely from the bar once you have absorbed it. Tense your grip on the bar and brace your glutes and core for stability.
It’s not a good idea to jump into position while doing weighted pull-ups because the weight belt and plate(s) might swing and cause you to lose your grip or not be in a stable position.
Step 3. Pull With Purpose
Once your body is tense, your lats will be in an excellent position to do most of the work, with some help from the biceps. Contracting your lats hard while pulling with your arms would be best. You will know you have reached the top of the range of motion when you can’t raise any further.
The coach’s tip is that you should continue to lift up to the bar until your chin reaches about the same height as the bar.
Step 5. Lower Under Control
Maintaining proper technique while controlling your descent is crucial. Lower yourself back to the starting position while keeping the tension locked in. If you don’t stabilize your body, the risk is that the movement will make it harder to produce a force on the next repetition.
You can improve your pull-up technique by practicing slow, controlled repetitions.
Benefits of the Weighted Pull-Up
Weighted pull-ups are an effective way to improve full-body functionality. Weighted pull-ups help develop overall strength and muscle mass and can also improve your motor skills as it relates to your spatial awareness while using your body. This is a valuable skill, as it can help you avoid injury and improve your performance in other physical activities.
Expression of Function
To do weighted pull-ups effectively, you need good overall shoulder strength and stability, the ability to generate and maintain full body tension, and a strong and healthy shoulder area.
Injury Risk Management
The position of a weighted pull-up allows you to identify any considerable strength or mobility differences at the shoulder. If left unchecked, discrepancies could predispose you to injury.
Even though some exercises may be high-risk for your muscles and joints, doing weighted pull-ups can help keep you safe. This is because weighted pull-ups help improve your strength and progress.
Balance and Control
Weighted pullups are a great way to improve your balance and body control, as you must control an external load in addition to your body weight as you move through space. Suppose you have good proprioception (the ability to feel how your body moves in length) and spatial awareness (the ability to be aware of your surroundings). In that case, you’re less likely to have accidents when doing other activities.
Strength and Hypertrophy
While often overlooked, calisthenics can be a great way to develop strength and muscle growth. A weighted pull-up is a great exercise that combines both goals. Bodyweight pull-ups require a significant amount of power, but when you add an external load, you need even more strength and coordination to keep your body from moving in unwanted ways. Adding weight to your pull-ups will help increase muscle in your back, biceps, and shoulders.
Who Should Do the Weighted Pull-Up
Weighted pull-ups can be an essential part of your workout routine if you’re trying to increase muscle size for a bodybuilding show or to look good at the beach. The added resistance of a weighted vest makes a low-load exercise more challenging, which can help lead to new muscle growth.
Weighted pull-ups can help you gain strength and power in your main lifts. The strength of your back muscles is essential for success in powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and strongman competitions.
There is no specific performance-related reason you need to add the weighted pullup to your routine. The movement is excellent for inclusion into any exercise program because it is a full-body compound movement that simultaneously trains multiple fitness qualities.
Weighted Pullup Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations
For Strength Gains
To begin, start with three to four sets of five repetitions, slowly increasing the weight you lift by three to five pounds each week. When you can no longer increase the weight you’re lifting, try doing more reps per set, and then start increasing the weight again.
For Muscle Growth
Use a lightweight if you can do more than 12 bodyweight pull-ups. Perform two to four sets of eight repetitions. Doing around 12 reps with good form before adding more weight is an excellent way to progress.
For General Fitness
Perform 2-4 sets of 8-10 repetitions with the lowest possible weight, especially when transitioning from unweighted to weighted pull-ups.
The pull-up is an excellent compound exercise that’s an excellent indicator of general strength and fitness. Getting better at doing pull-ups will necessarily lead to better overall fitness for anyone willing to practice the skill over time consistently. It is versatile and can be changed to serve different purposes. Adding extra weight to your lifts can help inspire new muscle growth, increase your pulling strength, and supplement your other compound movements.