| Article written on June 10th, 2015 at 8:30am | Follow Garrett on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram |
The pull-up, when done correctly, can be one of the most valuable body weight exercises around. I mean let’s be serious, you can pretty much do a pull-up anywhere. Whether you are at a local park, walking in the woods, or even have one of those portable bars in the doorjamb at your house, you have plenty of opportunities to practice this movement. But, that’s only if you know how to complete the movement properly with good form for it to be effective.
First, let’s talk about why the pull-up matters. In terms of shoulder health, the pull-up strengthens muscles like the latissimus dorsi, teres major, rhomboids, and lower trapezius. All of these muscles play a vital role in health of the scapulothoracic and glenohumeral joints. As I sit here and write this, I am more aware that I am hunched forward typing on my computer. The muscles above are all located in the back and have a strong carryover to proper posture and balance within the upper body. As a society, we usually develop forward shoulder posture as we are so involved with technology, sitting for long periods of time, and driving. Therefore, the pull-up is great for improving performance and postural health.
As a starting point, typically I stay away from those assisted pull-up machines you’ll find in most gyms. There is a variation called the eccentric pull-up that may actually be a more beneficial variation to learn the movement. If you aren’t familiar, eccentric is using a muscle as it lengthens. In terms of the pull-up, that means starting at the top and slowly lowering to the bottom of the movement. Other examples may include: lowering towards the ground in a push-up, or lowering to the bottom of a squat from the standing position.In the eccentric pull-up, it is okay to use any method to get to the top of the pull-up where the chin is over the bar. Jumping, stepping on a chair, or any other way you need, are allowed to get started. The primary goal is to learn the top of the pull-up by recruiting the muscles in the back and using those same muscles to slowly lower down. So, by any means necessary get to a hanging position with the chin over the bar. Squeeze the elbows by your side by using the upper back and pull the shoulders down (don’t start in a shrugged position) before lowering. To really learn this movement it is important not to rush the descent, but go very slowly on the way down. 3-5 seconds is my usual recommendation where people have enough time to feel the proper muscles firing. Complete 3 to 8 repetitions of these slow, eccentric lowers to begin developing the proper movement pattern. Here is a video of the eccentric pull-up:
Now, that you have a starting point and learned the top of the movement, we can progress to the full pull-up movement, with a little help. At this point, jumping right into full pull-ups may still be very challenging. So, the assisted band variation is next. Wrapping a strength band around your foot or knee, while looped to the bar, may provide enough assistance to prevent you from being stuck in the low position. The goal is to use as little resistance as possible to complete the movement. That way you are building up enough strength to work towards the unassisted version. You may be at this step for a while as you start with a thicker, more assistive band, and slowly progress to the smallest band you can find. Here is a video of the band assisted pull-up:
With the basics out of the way you may be ready to try a few pull-ups on your own. By now you have developed the movement enough to know which muscles to use. The next step is to be strong enough to handle your body weight. Typically, if you can do more than 5 band assisted pull-ups, you can do 1-2 repetitions using your own body weight. All of the same rules apply as above. Get the chin over the bar, slowly lower down, and drive back up using the muscles in the back. Here is a video of the pull-up:
Goodluck in your quest for the perfect pull-up! This movement is something many people strive to get down, but more often then not begin at the wrong starting point. There aren’t many exercises that develop as much strength and value than the pull-up. So start working today and within weeks to months you will be doing the regular version.
By: Garrett McLaughlin, MS, ATC, CSCS, ART