The Perfect Pull-up Progression Guide
For centuries, pull-ups have not only been a representation of pure power and strength, they have also been a staple of an aesthetic physique.
Want to impress that girl you’ve been meaning to ask out on a date? Crank out a few pull-ups and she’s yours.
Need to fit into that new summer dress? Pull-ups can help you get that hourglass shape that all women seek.
From your lats, shoulders, arms and yes, even your abs, pull-ups target muscle groups that are used to produce power and strength. Plus, they do a great job of placing you high on the sexy beast status chart.
But, despite how strong we think we may be, it’s surprising to see how many of us struggle at getting over the bar.
And, if you’re a desk worker, it gets worse, as much of the muscle chain used to pull your body up could have weakened from lack of use.
But have no fear.
If you find them to be difficult or if you’re well experienced, we’re going to help take your pull-up game to the next level.
With the following progression guide, you will go from a pull-up zero, to a pull-up…well…hero.
Grip It Real Good
To get better at pull-ups…you have to do pull-ups, and it all begins in how you hold the bar.
Grip variation is the starting point when deciding which muscle groups you want to target.
The three primary grip types are:
- Pronated (Palms facing away from you)
- Supinated (Palms facing towards you)
- Neutral (Palms facing each other)
Each grip provides a different stimulus for complete upper body development.
The pronated grip is the more traditional grip. It works the shoulders, upper back, lats and abs.
The supinated grip (or chin-up) is often regarded as the easier of the three. The primary muscle worked is the bicep. Want bigger guns – perform more supinated pull-ups.
And, my favorite of the three – the neutral grip – works the upper back, chest, and arms.
To build strength and size, a workout routine that incorporates a combination of all three grips is important. But, if you’re a beginner, then one out of the three is a good starting point.
Proper way to perform a pull-up:
- Select your grip
- Select your width
- Grab the bar and maintain tension on the lats and shoulders while squeezing your glutes
- Drive the elbows down
- Pull your chin over the bar
- Lower your body under control with arms completely extended
What to avoid:
Don’t shrug your shoulders. You want to prevent working the wrong muscle groups.
Don’t raise your knees. While providing you with momentum to get over the bar, it will also prevent you from building upper body strength.
Don’t swing. Once again, while the momentum of the swing will help you get over the bar, it won’t help at building strength. It will also prevent you from developing a solid core. Or, in other words, say bye bye to your abs.
Learning How to Crawl
If you’re a beginner, then this section will benefit you the most. For those who are capable of performing many pull-ups in one set, you can skip ahead. However, I’m sure you can still find value in this section.
To pull yourself over the bar, you first need to build the necessary upper body strength. Below are three ways to develop the appropriate strength adaptations to sustain your own body weight.
The name says it all. Grab onto the bar and let your body hang. Keep your shoulders pulled down and back. Make sure that your chest is raised up.
Dead hangs will help to strengthen your grip, and, over time, you will notice an increase in strength. If you have a doorway bar, you can practice dead hangs each time you pass through to the next room. Of course, your wife/husband, boyfriend/girlfriend will hate you for it…but hey…all are welcomed to hop on to the bar.
Just hanging around.
After grabbing hold of the bar, pull yourself half way up. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Isometric holds will help to build shoulder and arm strength. It will also do wonders to your abs, which means, extra time in front of the mirror.
Eccentric (negative contraction) movements can produce more muscle growth than concentric (positive contraction). Lowering yourself from the bar is the eccentric part of the pull-up. Pulling yourself up is the concentric.
To build the necessary upper body strength, begin at the top position and continue with a controlled descent. You can use a chair or small child (we don’t judge) to raise yourself to the top of the bar. As you lower yourself, keep your core and glutes tight.
Bands help you recreate the full pull-up movement without the added load. This is a perfect way for your muscles and nervous system to adapt to the movement. As you progress, remove the amount of band usage until you are able to do a full pull up without the added support.
Set a daily routine of one or more of the above. Once you are ready, move on to the next section to complete your training to pull-up mastery.
Level Up Your Pull-ups
By now, you should be capable of cranking out a few pull-ups with great form. The time has come to take it to the next level. To do so, we will increase the difficulty by throwing in a few progression modifications.
The concept of progression overload also applies to pull-ups. By continuously adding weight, you will increase the amount of tension placed on your muscles. In turn, this will lead to an increase in muscle growth.
More muscle = Stronger you
Stronger you = More pull-ups
For support, use a weight belt to add plates. If you can’t get your hands on one, wrap your legs around a dumbbell, grab onto the bar, and pull yourself up.
While pulling yourself over the bar with great speed helps to promote power and strength, lowering yourself – slowly – helps to promote muscle growth. Tempo, or time under tension, causes your muscles to work longer. This leads to better core stability (your abs will pop) and hypertrophy (muscle growth).
To perform: take 3-4 seconds lowering yourself from the bar. Pause for 1 second at the bottom. Pull yourself over the bar as fast as possible. Pause for 1 second at the top, and repeat.
Remember to keep your core tight during the descent and avoid swinging your body.
Want to sculpt broad shoulders? Wide grip pull-ups will do the trick.
To perform: Grab the bar so that your hands are a bit wider than shoulder width. Pull yourself up and lower under control.
Because of the difficulty level, you might need the help of a spotter or pull-up assistance machine.
While brutal, raising your legs and sustaining the hold during the full range of motion will not only improve upper body strength, it will do wonders to your abs.
To perform: hang on to the bar, keep your legs stiff and raise them in front of you forming an L. Using your core, stabilize yourself and maintain the hold. Then complete a full pull up and repeat.
Once you have a good handle on these, increase the difficulty by adjusting the tempo.
After the eccentric (lowering) is complete, hang at the bottom for 2-3 seconds. This is similar to the dead hang. The only difference being, that you will do a pull up after every few seconds of hanging. This removes the quick rebound effect at the bottom, which in turn, prevents you from cheating.
Used to work the middle of your back, the switch grip pull up might feel a little unnatural at first. With the palm of one hand facing you, and the other facing away, you will pull yourself up with regular form. On the next set, switch your hand position so the palm that was facing away, is now facing you. The palm of your other hand should now be facing away.
Want to develop thick lumberjack forearms?
Place two strong towels over the bar. Grab each end with a strong grip. Proceed to pull yourself up and lower under control.
As you can tell, this pull up variation is difficult. Before attempting this, make sure you are capable of performing ten straight normal pull-ups.
For progression, begin with a basic hang. Hold for a few seconds and repeat. Continue to do this until your grip is strong enough to complete one full pull-up.
As with any exercise, you will only get better with practice. Pull-ups are no exception.
By including a variety of these progression in your next workout session, you can begin to build the necessary strength adaptations for a better, more powerful pull-up.
So now it’s your turn. Have you tried any of these pull-up variation? Which are your favorite? Which ones did I miss? Leave a comment below.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list to get amazingly awesome articles – just like this one – sent directly to your inbox, plus insider-only information.
Trying to get fit on a busy schedule?
We got you covered. Simply sign up and receive insider methods and strategies for burning fat, building muscle, and looking really, really, ridiculously good looking.
Latest posts by Julio Hannibal Canario (see all)
- The 5 behavior changes that helped a 9-5 desk jockey regain his college physique - March 20, 2018
- Leveraging Intensity for Maximum Results - September 27, 2017
- The Complete Guide to Building Bigger Calves - September 5, 2017