Pull-ups are one of the staple exercises in a bodyweight training routine, along with dips and push-ups. Since I’ve just re-launched the blog to be much more focussed on this type of training, I figured a little tutorial about how to get started with them would be an appropriate post to celebrate my new domain name and template.
- Regular – with your palms facing away from you
- Reverse – with your palms facing towards you
- Neutral – only possible on two bars which are parallel, with your palms facing each other
- make sure your arms are straight at the bottom
- get your chin over the bar at the top
- try not to swing
- keep your feet together
- and your body straight.
the assisted dip/pull-up machine at your local gym
Since this was how I got my pull-ups, I’m putting it first. It not only allows for the execution of pull-ups with perfect range of motion, but also the gradual removal of weight from the counter-balance means that it is scalable to your ability. The only downsides I can think of are firstly that you would require a gym membership, which sort of goes against one of the points of calisthenics, but also that it requires more mental strength and perseverance than the other methods below (although done correctly the results will come much much quicker). In order to make progress you will need to be willing to push yourself, which is something that some people, especially people new to exercise, struggle with.
I found a 5×5 program worked really well for me: I found a weight that I could do five reps of, with the fifth being quite uncomfortable. I did them for five sets, by which time the fifth rep was a struggle. When I could do that routine without too much pain (there will always be some discomfort – you’re not pushing hard enough if there isn’t!) I decreased the weight on the counter-balance. Eventually you should get to the point where you only have a 5kg offset, at which point you’re ready to start doing them just with your bodyweight.
If you train with a friend, you could get them to stand under the bar and push you up (by the feet is best, especially if you fold your legs back under you a bit). It will help to have a friend who can do pull-ups and therefore understands what’s involved to do them. You will need to be careful not to take the easy route – make sure you are pushing yourself and not relying on your friend to give you more help than they should.
Be careful when deciding how to attach the band and where to put it on your body – searching for an image to use brought up a few where it looked like the person concerned might strangle themselves. Also, don’t be tempted by cheap bands from Argos ;)
Some tips on getting it perfect
- Pack your shoulders. Always start the chin-up from a dead hang position. From there the first thing to do is, with straight arms, to pull your shoulders down toward the body and pack them into your torso.
- Use your back and your lats. Your lats are the muscles under your arms and along the sides of your back. If you’re anything like me you won’t even have noticed they were there before starting pull-ups, but you will soon find they are one of the primary muscle groups involved. If you are still unsure of their existance, try this – extend your arms forward and ask a friend to exert upward pressure on your arm. Now, try to lower it in spite of their efforts. Feel those muscles working? Good – use them in the pull-ups.
- Squeeze your ass. Same as crossing your legs and gripping hard, squeezing the glutes will give you a strength boost.
- Keep your body tight – don’t just use your arms to pull and have the rest of your body flapping around like you’re asleep – engage the whole of it.
There are loads more nuances, but this is a beginner post and I don’t want to over-load people with information.
That said, if there’s one thing that will hold you back it’s not pushing yourself hard enough. This is especially true if you train on your own, but also (I believe – it’s controversial – call me out in the comments if you like) if you’re a woman. The reasons for this are many, but boil down to internal issues (lack of drive, confidence etc.) and external ones (pressure to be ladylike, not strain, sweat, grunt and exert ourselves). Try and forget all of those and always do the best you can.