Pull Ups – Proper Execution and Tutorial

Pull-up is one of the most important exercise for developing the back.  It is a compound exercise, training your back and your arm, including lats, traps, rhomboid, biceps, forearms etc.  I will demonstrate with a shoulder-width grip.


Scapula Position

The movement of scapula (shoulder blade) is crucial.  First, depress the shoulder, then retract, and then pull up vertically.  After pulling up, we still need to keep our shoulder depressed and retracted.  Otherwise, your mid back (mid/lower traps, rhomboid) will be deactivated in the movement, aka. less well developed back will be expected.


When we drop down, there are two kinds of shoulder movements: First one is keeping shoulder depressed, while the other one is first relax, then depress before pulling up again.

In addition, if you are shrugged during pull-ups,  your upper trapped will be over-engaged in the movement,  causing stress to the shoulder joint and will jeopardize the joint health.

We should keep our chest wide and open so as to pull your chest to the bar.  Stretch your chest, the wider the range of motion (ROM), the better the results.  Otherwise, if your shoulder are protracted, the result is diminished.


Head Position

We should keep our head straight (chin tuck).  Do not attempt to move your head towards in order to reach higher.  Many people consider your head should be higher than the bar, but it is not true if you just want to build muscle.  It should only depends on how much your back muscles are engaged.


Body Position and Core

About the body and core position,  There are two versions:

  • Arch back pull ups
  • Straight pull ups (aka. Hollow body pull ups)

Regarding the arch back version, your upper back should be lean backward.  Your lower back is arch and engaged, and your abs should also keep a slight tension.  It looks like a curve.


Regarding the straight pull up version, your core (especially abs) is highly engaged.  Your body is like a straight line.


The arch back version is good for developing your lats, and suitable for those wants a bigger back.  The straight body version is a bit more difficult, and is good for overall coordination.  It is suitable for experienced guys, likes those train calisthenics/Street Workout.


There are many variations and each one is slightly different from the other.  Changing grip and width are the easiest variations.  The wider the grip, the less the biceps engagement.  Thus, the better the lats development.  The closer the grip, the more the biceps engagement.  Thus, the less the lats development.


Common Mistakes

The followings are some wrong demonstrations, including

  • Swinging
  • head leaning too far toward
  • Didn’t fully control movement,
  • Core not engaged
  • Shrugged
  • Unbalanced
  • Half range of motions on lower and upper portions.

Please note that we may be perform the exercises perfectly in the training due to fatigue.  You shall always weigh your status and performance.


Training Exercises

If you are a beginner who cannot do a single pull-up, the following exercises are meant to assist you.


#1 Australian Pull-ups

You can adjust the intensity by different heights of bars.  The shorter the bar, the harder.  First start with a higher bar, then move on to the lower bar.  Aims for 15 reps/set.


#2 Chin-Ups

If you cannot perform full range of motion (ROM), please start with half range.  Then move on to full ROM.  Aims for 5 reps of full ROM chin-ups.


#3 Pull-Ups Negatives

Grab the bar and jump, the come down slowly.  Aims for 4-5s eccentrics contractions, with 3 reps/set.


Choose the harder one exercise you can manage.

  • 3-5 sets
  • 3-minute rest
  • 2-3 times/week

You can train when your muscles are not sore. Put this routine in front of your typical training routine.

When you can perform pull-up negatives, you can probably do ONE single pull up.  From this point, you can slowly increase the reps.  In the beginning, your form might still look ugly even with help of some momentum.  Once you manage to do 5 reps of improper form pull-ups, you can focus on improve your form.  When you manage to do proper pull-ups, you can then put it into your back workout routine.  So that you back can grow.


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