Episode 4- How To Do Pull Ups
Training to get your first pull up? Looking to improve the one you can already do? In this episode, I’m chatting about everything pull-ups! Learn how often to train, the difference between chin-ups and pull-ups and the drills you can use in your workouts to boost your strength. Become a badass with these pull-up tips!
- How I Initially Started Training Pull-Ups (1:06)
- Pull-Ups Versus Chin Ups (1:30)
- Can Women Do Pull-Ups? (2:30)
- Training For Pull-Ups (3:23)
- What A Pull Up Looks Like (5:08)
- Drills To Learn How To Do Pull-Ups (5:57)
- Assisted Exercises For Pull-Ups (11:59)
- Final Tips (13:35)
- Wrap Up (16:52)
Welcome to the Fit As A Mama Bear Podcast I’m Shelby, a certified strength coach, nutrition coach mama to two. and all-around health nut. This show is about a little bit of everything healthy, fit and natural related. So, if you’re striving the smash goals, eat better, feel better, and enjoy the occasional mom rants, this is the place for you. You’re listening to episode four today or I’ll be chatting about how to do pull ups.
How To Do Pull Ups
So today I wanted to take the time to talk a little bit about pull-ups! So as most of you know, if you checked out any of my socials channels, I love pull-ups.
But if you listen to episode one of the podcasts, you will have learned that I did not always love them. And in fact, I wasn’t exactly strong.
I actually wasn’t even able to carry a case of beer from the back of the house up to the bar when I was a bartender. This is kind of depressing given I adore strength now and pull-ups are kind of the exercise that only the elite of the elite could do.
So, it was one of those goals I always had in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. I had no idea how to do pull ups. And this was long before I kind of learned a little bit more about strength training and the best way to go about things.
When I first started training, I was doing some upper bodywork and I thought I was ready for pull-ups. I would just hang from the bar and have my mind scream, and nothing would happen.
I at least thought I’d get up a couple of inches. But that didn’t even happen. On the plus side, my grip strength became amazing because I hung from the bar so much.
But my pullups still sucked.
A quick note on pull-ups versus chin-ups:
Chin-ups are when your palms are facing your face. When you’re holding onto the bar, they’re going to be a little bit more bicep dominant.
Pull-ups are when your palms are facing away from the bar. They are still going to target the arms, but they also hit your back and especially your lats more.
You can also do neutral grip pull-ups, which is when your palms are facing each other. The bars are kind of straight and parallel. These are a great option for your shoulder because it keeps your shoulders in a really, really neutral position.
So just a couple of different variations.
Chin-ups tend to be a little bit easier than learning how to do pull-ups. I always have clients kind of start with chin-ups first to get the movement down.
There are a couple of tips and tricks you can do to get all of those. I posted a video a little while ago of me doing a variety of pull-ups. It got a lot of views and that came with just a lot of questions.
But what started the video was when one of my clients and I got chatting about a study that was done probably six years ago that said women can’t do pull ups.
So, this just makes my eye twitch so freaking badly.
The study (I think it was that one but not sure!) took a bunch of females and put them on an eight- or 12-week upper body workout program. Got them really strong, did a lot of rows, and at the end of those weeks they still couldn’t do one single chin up.
What it didn’t mention, if you actually looked at the study is that during their programs… they didn’t train pull-ups. You heard that, right?
The goal was a pull-up and they never hung from a bar. It is just mind-boggling that this is a study to be perfectly honest.
So, if your goal is to eventually learn how to do pull ups, you have to know that at some point in time you’re going to have to hang from the bar. You have to train pull-ups in order to learn to do pull-ups.
No amount of rows are going to make you do a pull up sporadically. All right?
So, I’ll leave that rant there. This study just drove me absolutely nuts. W
hen it comes to training pull-ups, there are a ton of different ways and there’s a lot of different variations of pull-ups.
We talked about the hand placement, but a quick note on leg placement:
When I initially was training chin-ups like everyone, I crossed my angles and bent my knees. This works wonders just because it takes away a lot of bodyweight, shortens the lever length and makes your pull a little bit easier.
The proper way to do them is more of a gymnastic style where you’re in a hollow body hols, so you’re in a bit of a pelvic tilt. Your legs are straight out in front of you, your glutes are engaged and you pull with straight legs.
This is hard as hell and something I’ve been working towards just in the last year. There’s probably a big debate on this as to which one is right versus wrong.
With my clients, I’m perfectly okay with them learning the bent knee variation first to get the mechanics down, to make them feel good and to develop strength.
And then moving into a straight leg progression. A lot of people don’t believe that.
They believe that you should learn the very most proper way with straight legs to begin with. But I guess to each their own. Just keep that in the back of your mind.
Now; range of motion.
So, this is one that drives me insane when I see it on videos, and I do my best not to comment. Partial reps do not count as pull-ups. Yes, you can use partial reps to train.
However, if you are claiming that you can perform 20 pull-ups, but you don’t fully extend your arms and or activate your shoulders, then that is not a full range of motion.
So, with a full chin-up or pull up, you:
- Begin in a dead hang position.
- Depress the shoulders, retract them
- Pull your body up above the bar, keeping your shoulders away from your ears and then
- Release that entire movement.
The issue is that you see a lot of people come down to the “end position”. Their elbows are still flexed, they’re still contracted, and then they pull right back up.
That is not a full range of motion. And you always want to train a full range of motion.
It’s going to develop strength faster and it’ll be a lot better for your muscles. Just a fun little rant.
Now, as I mentioned, there are a ton of ways to train pull up; band assistant, isometric, eccentric, using max reps. I use all of these with my clients and it just depends on the client as to which way we kind of swing.
I did want to go over the different techniques that you can use to implement into your training programs.
When you look at a training program, if you are doing chin-ups once per week, don’t expect to get your chin up anytime soon unless you’re just naturally really, really strong.
In order to get your pull-ups or improve your pull-ups, you need to train them multiple times a week. It’s rare that results come from doing something thing once per week.
If I eat a salad once a week, it’s not going to make me healthy. You need to do things on a consistent basis.
When I originally started, aside from me just hanging from the bar and developing amazing grip strength, I also used the assisted chin-up machine in the gym. I’m sure you’ve all seen this. There’s a bar and there’s kind of a seat like thing underneath of it.
You put your knees on it, you adjust the weight as to how much resistance or how much leverage it gets you and you pull using that. I personally just don’t recommend this one for my clients.
It could be that I haven’t used it in a long time, but there are just better ways to train your pullups and that’s using your own bodyweight versus a machine.
So, invest in bands (use code mamabear15 to save some money!) would be a good start. This one of my favorites to use with new clients. There are three kinds of strength bands that I use.
There’s the green one, the purple one, and the red one. I’m sure you’ve seen them in my videos. If you follow me on any of my socials. Depending on the tension level, it helps bring you to the top of the bar.
The hardest part for beginners is the initial two inches of a pull and the final two inches. Getting your chin above the bar, getting that bar to your collarbone. The bands not only help you start, they give you that initial momentum to kind of Slingshot you up to the top of the bar so that you can learn the hold up there.
We do a lot of band-assisted chin-ups and then we just lower the band. As you progress, this is an amazing way to get a whole range of motion and to understand the entire movement.
You can put your knees in, or you can put your foot in and do a full hollow hold, banded pull-up. So, an amazing tool and a really cheap one.
Another thing I like to include is isometric training.
Isometrics means that you are holding one position. When I train clients how to do pull ups, we do these at three separate levels: at the very top portion where your chin is above the bar and your shoulders have to be away from your ears.
Shrugging your shoulders up to your ears doesn’t count. That’s not a whole chin up. You’re not developing strength.
We train isometrics at the top of the bar at a 90-degree elbow angle and then the very bottom before you fully release your shoulders. So that two inches of the pull up where your shoulders are depressed, starting to retract and you are getting ready to fly to pull up.
I train isometrics at all three. We begin by holding three seconds and we will work our way up to seven to 10 seconds on all three areas.
A lot of clients when they’re starting out will need a boost to get to the top. But once you’re there, I do expect your shoulders to depress and you to open up your chest and hold yourself at the bar.
Isometrics are an amazing way to develop strength and they’re often underutilized. If you want to be able to do fun things on a bar, you are going to need to learn the stationary hold.
Implementing those throughout your training program is a great way to develop strength as is eccentric training.
This is one of those things I find is really underutilized. I use eccentrics in just about all of my lifts, although I will be the first to admit that I despise doing eccentric pull-ups. Not that they’re not awesome, they develop a ton of strength, but for some reason they just make me a little angry while I’m doing them.
Eccentric training is when you are lengthening the muscle while you lower. So, if I jump up to the top of the bar and I pause, I get my back engaged and then instead of just dropping straight down, I’m going to lower for a count of five or 10 seconds and control the movement as I lower.
I’m not going to drop one of my shoulders, I’m going to slow it down. And we just slowly build the amount of time that you lower into the vital position of a pull-up.
As my clients progress, what I like to do is kind of incorporate both eccentric and isometric drills. I will lift them to the top of the bar using their knee assistant band, whichever they will get into position. They’re going to hold the top of the bar for four seconds. Then they’re going to slowly lower to 90-degree elbow flexion.
It’ll take them five seconds to get there. They have to hold the 90 degree for another five seconds, slowly lower for five seconds, hold the bottom position for five seconds.
Doing three to five reps of those sucks. I promise they are not fun. So, using a combination of band-assisted isometric and eccentric training is the best way to get you to your first pull up.
It’s not just about getting to the top, it’s about controlling and developing the strength to do so.
Side Note: eccentrics are a type of training that shouldn’t be done in excess. While they do well at developing strength, they tend to cause the most soreness and muscle damage. Lower reps and less volume.
I also use a lot of max rep training. The first exercise in their program will be two sets for max reps. and I am looking for failure. I’m looking for a little bit more fatigue but still proper form.
As they build up, I expect their repetitions to increase. So if they could only get four band-assisted chin-ups before their body gives out in a couple of weeks, I want them to get five or six.
Once they start being able to do a chin-up. So say you can get your first unassisted chin up. It’s a badass moment. You feel amazing.
We’re going to do that pull-up and then we’re going to max out with a band, so you have a little bit of support to get you a couple of more.
Just getting in the volume also helps. So, if you’re looking to train chin-ups or pull-ups, I like to put them in honestly two to three times a week, which I know is a lot of volume, but it also helps reinforce the positioning and you can do them in different ways.
One day could be band-assisted to failure, another day could be isometric or eccentric training and you’re not going to failure. On those days and you’re taking a lot of rest between sets.
You can play around with what works for you but expect to be training your pull-ups multiple times a week. That also leads to supplementary exercises.
When learning to do pull-ups, you have to train pull-ups. It’s kind of just common sense that you’re going to have to train, pull-ups. But there’s a lot of things that you can do to develop general back and arm strength to help you get your first pull up.
Obviously, rows are going to be an amazing one and there are so many different ways to row, so please utilize them all.
Bent over barbell rows, chest supported rows, TRX, low rows. I love horizontal rows, so whether those are on your feet or with feet elevated they’re great. They can be done with a barbell with your feet elevated on the bench, on rings or on TRX where you’re laying on the floor and pulling your chest up to the handles.
Those are an amazing way to hit a bodyweight exercise and boost your overall strength.
The one thing I do have to caution too is that when you are doing your pulls, make sure you’re not just engaging your arms.
I see a lot of people who focus on elbow flexion, so they’re working the biceps quite a bit. And this was actually one of my biggest struggles personally.
In reality, you need to learn to engage your back muscles. This is a very different feeling and I think it took me a really long time to understand.
I could pound out ten chin-ups, but I could only do one pull up. And the reason why is because my biceps were super strong from all of my exercises, but my back and my lats were not.
Learning how to engage your back versus just your arms are going to be crucial.
So, my suggestion is when you are doing your rows is to figure out how to contract your back muscles and develop that mind-muscle connection of depressing your shoulders and pulling your shoulders back. Without just focusing on, just get there, just get there.
This is where adding paused reps or isometrics can come in handy quite a bit in your rows too. At the top of your row, pause for three seconds before you slowly lower.
Learn to develop strength but learn how to actually activate the muscles you need versus just go through the motions.
I know a lot of people kind of try to get through their workouts are done as fast as possible and they just go, go, go. When in reality if you slow it down and focus on the contraction, you’ll develop strength far sooner.
As I mentioned, it took me about a year or so to get my first chin-up, which is kind of depressing right now if I think about it, it shouldn’t take that long.
Everyone’s a little bit different and some of it does depend on your baseline of strength. But you should be able to get your first pull-ups within six months if you are working very, very hard at them.
Depending on your starting level, if you are already somewhat fit and you’ll just want to push towards those that chin up or those pull-ups, start implementing them a couple of times a week. Start boosting your volume up and use different variations of training and you should get them rather quickly.
Pull-ups are fun. They allow you to do super fun tricks. They allow you to play a hell of a lot more and then you can transfer your pull-ups into different styles of training.
Right now, I’m a little bit more into gymnastics training, which is super fun for me, but they allow you to just do more things. Not to mention that your back muscles look awesome to be perfectly honest.
So. To start out, I’d say strive to get your first chin up. then go for a pull-up and then work on wide-grip pull-ups, which are even more challenging because they do require a little bit more lot. That’s kind of the progression that I use with a lot of my clients. Though again, it depends on their starting points and what they hope to accomplish.
If your goal is to just have fun and be able to be a badass with pull-ups, it’s kind of a great progression.
One more thing I wanted to note about your shoulders. When I talked about people doing partial reps and why it makes my eye twitch. The other flip side of that is yes, you need to fully extend and come all the way down and release your shoulders, but that doesn’t mean you’re dropping into them.
Make sure that your rotator cuffs are strong enough to hold your shoulder in place.
One of my biggest pet peeves is trainers that think pull-ups are an amazing exercise and they are, but they’re not right for everyone. If you don’t have a baseline of strength, if you get someone to assist you to the top of the bar and you can’t control that lower and you dropped down while still holding the bar and your shoulders or your back muscles are not strong enough to hold your rotator cuff in place, it’s going to hurt.
Be smart about your training programs. Make sure that you have the stability and the basics down before you think that you can just hang off things willy nilly. It does come down to smart training programs and just making sure that you have a really, really good foundation and shoulder stability.
I think that about sums it up. If you have questions about how to do pull ups, please shoot me an email or hit me up on social media because it is one of my favorite exercises and I’m sure that I probably forgot something.
Well, I’ve been rambling here, but I can’t thank you enough for listening to episode four today. If you’re in need of fitness tips, workouts, and amazingly healthy recipes. don’t forget to check out my website at https://www.fitasamamabear.com and if you found some value in this podcast today, I’d love it if you could share it.
Tell your friends, do all of that fun social media craze because I’d love to produce more of them. So on that note, to make sure you catch the next episode.
Drills To Train Pull Ups (band, eccentrics, isometrics) – A video
Strength Bands (red, purple, green)