How To Build Strength To Get Better At Pull-ups

October 17, 2016

Pull-ups (palms turned away from you) and chin-ups (palms facing you) are excellent latissimus dorsi (upper back) and biceps (arm) exercises. No specialist equipment is required; just a bar to hang from. And while both exercises are very effective, they present one major drawback; you have to be able to lift your own bodyweight using nothing more than the strength in your arms.

For this reason, many exercisers never really experience much in the way of progress from pull-ups or chin-ups. And some exercisers never even manage to do more than a couple of leg-kicking reps.

But, with practice and perseverance, and maybe some dietary interventions too, there is no reason that every man and even woman who exercises cannot do at least a few pull-ups and chin-ups.

Implement these strategies to do your first rep or increase your current pull-up and chin-up performance.

Lose some weight

The more you weigh, the harder pull-ups and chin-ups will be – period. Losing fat means you’ll have less weight to drag up to the bar and your pull-up performance will automatically improve. Pull-ups and chin-ups are actually great indicators of dietary success; if your pull-up performance increases despite a loss in bodyweight, you can be assured you are losing fat while maintaining muscle mass – in your upper body at least.

If you are struggling with pull-ups and chin-ups, shed some unwanted fat.

Get a band boost

If you find it hard to do even one good pull-up or chin-up, you can give yourself a boost by using a loop-type resistance band to make you temporarily lighter. Fix the band to your pull-up bar and then kneel or stand in the bottom of the loop. The band will give you a lift out of the bottom of the pull-up and make it easier to do your reps. As you get stronger, use a weaker band and eventually wean yourself off the band altogether.

Do some negative pull-ups 

Your muscles generate force in three different ways; as they shorten, as they lengthen, and when they contract statically. Static strength is the greatest but lengthening or eccentric strength is not far behind.

In simple terms, just because you cannot pull yourself up in a chin-up or pull-up, does not mean you cannot lower yourself down under control. Strength developed lengthening eccentrically soon translates to greater shortening or concentric strength,

To make the most of this phenomenon, at the end of your regular set of pull-ups or in place of it, use your legs to boost yourself up so your chin is over the bar and then lower yourself down using your arms only for a slow count of three. Climb back up and repeat.

As soon as you are no longer able to control your descent, the set is over. Be warned though, eccentric training like this can cause deep muscle soreness.

Grease the groove

If you want to get better at something, you need to do that something frequently. That’s how we learn – repetition. You can apply this repetition method to getting better at pull-ups.

Try to clock up lots of easy reps of pull-ups throughout your day. Set up a pull-up bar at home or your office and, every time you pass the bar, do a couple of reps. Never do so many reps that your pull-ups feel hard. Even just one or two reps every couple of hours can add up to ten reps or more per day.

This method works really well once you can do a couple of pull-ups without assistance and want to learn to do more.

Get stronger

Once you are able to do five or more reps, one effective way to get better at bodyweight pull-ups and chin-ups is to get stronger.

Instead of doing set after set of regular pull-ups, tie a light dumbbell around your waist (around 10% of bodyweight) and do sets of lower reps – say three. After a few weeks, ditch the weight and you should find your bodyweight pull-ups and chin-ups feel easier because you are stronger. This should translate to more reps with your bodyweight.

Pull-ups and chin-ups separate the men from the boys! Anyone can do lat pull downs but only the fit and strong can do controlled pull-ups. To get better at pull-ups and chin-ups, you need to train your pull-ups and chin-ups! However, if you do so, you’ll be rewarded with a stronger back, more buff arms, and plenty of admiring glances in the gym!

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  • Abi

    I would like to start with the negative pull ups. Thanks for the tip. I’m just wondering which pull up bar to install at home to start this routine – wall mounted, free standing, ceiling or doorway?