Pull-ups & Chin-ups
How to do the perfect pull-up.
The pull-up is a deceptively simple exercise. You just grab onto a bar and pull your body up. But to actually do one takes a surprising amount of upper body strength. It can be so challenging, the Marines use it as a recruiting tool. At a rock concert I attended, the Marines had a booth with a pull-up bar. They said anyone who could do 20 pull-ups would get a free t-shirt (and presumably a sales pitch from a Marine recruiter.)
The reason they offer a free t-shirt is because, for most people, the idea of doing just a couple of pull-ups is impossible. And that's unfortunate, because pull-ups are such a great all-around exercise.
I've been teaching almost all my clients how to do pull-ups for years. As a functional movement, it's important to be able to pull yourself up after a fall. For people who want to look better, it's a great way to sculpt that nice V-shape. If you're looking for increased strength, pull-ups create an intense blast to the muscles of your shoulders, back and arms.
To make sure your body is ready to do pull-ups, there's a simple test you should do first. It's called the "Wall Sit and Press."
Wall Sit & Press
Sit with your butt and back against the wall, the soles of your feet together, your knees out to the side. Place your elbows against the wall in line with your shoulders bending the elbows at 90 degrees. Externally rotate your shoulders until your wrists touch the wall, placing arms in a "goal post" position. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and down, exhale and slide arms up without losing contact with the wall, 10 times.
If you can do this, congratulations. You have enough shoulder mobility to attempt a pull-up. For those of you who cannot perform the Wall Sit and Press, your shoulder mobility is too limited to attempt a pull-up without causing shoulder damage. Practice the Wall Sit and Press until you can complete it, and in the meantime, you will be doing chin-ups.
Think chin-ups are too hard? Watch this video!
(A quick point of clarification. When you do a pull-up, your palms are facing AWAY from you. When you do a chin-up, your palms are facing TOWARD you. The pull-up is a little harder than a chin-up.)
Grasp a pull-up bar with an underhand grip with your palms facing you and thumbs underneath. Suck the shoulders in tight to the body and pull each shoulder blade down toward its opposite back pocket. Inhale. Exhale while squeezing the bar as hard as you can, pulling the body straight up until your chin is over your hands and your elbows are underneath your shoulders. Hold. Inhale and slowly return to the starting position.
Key Points: Keep the chest lifted to avoid rounding the upper back. The shoulders should remain packed with the scapula retracted throughout the exercise. At the bottom of the descent, there should be a slight bend in the elbow.
Common Cheats: Do not allow the shoulders to roll forward. During the decent, don't drop like a sack of potatoes. Don't bounce at the bottom. Do not over arch the back. Do not swing or jerk your body.
Grasp an overhand bar with your palms facing away and thumbs underneath. Suck the shoulders in tight to the body and pull each shoulder blade down toward its opposite back pocket. Inhale. Exhale while squeezing the bar as hard as you can, pulling the body straight up until your chin is over your hands. Hold. Inhale and slowly return to the starting position.
Key Points: You should not attempt a Pull-up unless you can perform a Wall Sit and Press with the wrists and elbows against the wall. The shoulders should remain packed with the scapula retracted throughout the exercise. At the bottom of the descent, there should be a slight bend in the elbow.
Common Cheats: During the descent, don't drop like a sack of potatoes. Don't bounce at the bottom. Do not roll the shoulders. Do not over arch the back. Do not swing or jerk your body.
If you're not strong enough to lift your body weight, place your foot in a large rubber band that is strapped to the pull-up bar to decrease resistance.
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