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A Fitness Professional’s Guide to the Pull-Up: Tips to Help You Over the Bar

I can’t tell you how excited my clients get when I put them on a pull-up bar and they recognize the strength they have by pulling themselves up.

Let me be real with you. Chin-ups and pull-ups are freaking hard. It’s not often that I put a client on the bar and they’re able to pull themselves up on the very first attempt. That doesn’t mean that the pull-up or chin-up isn’t for them or that it can’t be a great exercise to build strength, power and confidence.

Done properly, the pull-up can be a full body exercise

That’s why regardless of where a client is at physically, I incorporate some form of pull-up into their program. Which leads to the next topic: how do you get better at pull-ups and benefit from the full-body exercise if you can’t pull yourself all the way up?

Here are a Few Tricks of the Trade for Mastering the Pull-Up

1-      Use a Band

Most gyms have unassisted chin-up machines that load weight to counterbalance your body weight, allowing you to pull yourself up. The weight assistance eliminates the feeling of counteracting gravity to pull yourself, unassisted to the top. That’s why I believe bands are a great alternative to the assisted pull-up machine. Most gyms have bands laying around and if not, you can buy a few online; it’s a relatively cheap investment and great piece of equipment for your in-home gym.

Bands offer more/less support depending on the thickness. When starting out, you want to use an underhand grip and the thickest band. As you get stronger and can complete more reps, switch to an overhand grip and to a thinner band.

Pro tip: Take your resistance band and loop it around the bar to make a loose slip knot. Don’t worry about not being able to reach the band to place it around your knee for support; look around and grab a handy box to assist you.

2.       Tighten Up Your Body

Chin-up’s are a great upper abdominal exercise! Yes! I know – great huh?!. So in order to achieve the full-body benefit of the exercise, tighten up your abs and engage your trunk thus enabling you to engage and pull up your body in one swift motion.

3.       Eccentric Lowering

The what? Eccentric lowered chin-ups are one of the best ways to challenge the muscles while under load.

Fitness Defined

Movements have a concentric and eccentric contraction. The concentric contraction shortens your muscles as it moves through its range. With the eccentric contraction, the muscle lengthens while producing force – usually happens by returning the shortened (concentric) position to a resting position.

What does this mean and why does it matter?

Oftentimes workouts are heavily concentrated on the concentric loaded position and eccentric loading is often forgotten about or overlooked. It’s good to include both in your training. The reasons why this matters is because the time you spend in each phase of training (concentric and eccentric) can affect your results. For example: your muscles generate more force during the eccentric phase of movement. Take for example your ability to bicep curl a 15 pound dumbbell. Now think, can you hold and lower (the eccentric phase) the dumbbell for a fixed amount of time? When we slow down the negative movement (eccentric), you help your muscles build greater strength. Eccentric loading training is designed for strength gains. (This type of training does include lifting heavier weights and is normally designed for advanced lifters and not advised for beginners).

How this can help you master the pull-up

Stand on box to step up to the bar. Get your chin above the bar and slowly lower yourself back down. After lowering, step back up onto the box and repeat the lowering phase.

4.       Hold on Tight

Seriously. Hold onto the bar like you’re holding on for your life. The firmer the grip, the tighter the shoulders and that stability transfers through the movement making the body more engaged.

5.       Embrace the Hang

Either at the top or in the bottom, hanging is another great way to develop the intrinsic strength required to do pull-ups. If you’re hanging in the bottom, make sure your shoulders are down (lats are engaged, too!) – Think of keeping space between your shoulders and your ears. If you’re hanging at the top, keep the chin well above the bar and hold there as long as possible and again, make sure the lats are firing and engaged. 




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