Pull-ups are one of the oldest tests of pure upper body strength, and it’s also among the hardest for many to improve. If your goal is to do more pull-ups, the key is to use a wide variety of direct pull-up techniques as well as several supplementary strength building exercises.
Form And Technique
No Kipping. There’s nothing inherently wrong with kipping. It’s not evil, or cheating. It has it’s place in the fitness world, especially in Crossfit and the military. But when you’re talking about strict, traditional pull-up strength, kipping isn’t allowed. Kipping is a test of core and whole body fitness, and not a pure test of pull-up strength. Unless you’re a crossfitter, try not to swing or use momentum to get to the top.
Cross Your Feet. This doesn’t make pull-ups easier, or give you a power boost. You see people do this because it limits your ability to swing and kip allowing your back, biceps, and forearms to do most of the work.
On The Bar
When you’re trying to improve your pull-up strength you’ll want to do exercises on the bar itself, as well as supplementary exercises off the bar. A common goal, with all exercises, is to involve as many muscle fibers as possible. Doing a wide variety of movements will involve more muscle fibers, and improve strength at a faster rate.
Here’s a list of exercises while using the pull-up bar:
Negatives. Your main goal is always to lift and get to the top of the bar. Negatives focus on the descent, building grip and back strength on the way down. It forces different muscles and different fibers to do more work.
First, raise yourself to the top of a pull-up then lower yourself on a slow five second count. You may need some assistance to get back to the top after a few reps. Having a stool or spotter while doing negatives is very helpful, and allows you do more negative reps than you would without assistance.
Assisted Pull ups. Strength, muscle and power is developed in the last few reps of every exercise. Pushing past fatigue, and forcing your muscles to continue is the core philosophy of developing strength. Assisted pull-ups falls into this category.
Complete as many strict pull-ups as possible then have a spotter help you complete a few more. These few pull-up “cheat reps” after you’ve already reached a state of muscle fatigue can pay dividends within a few short weeks.
Pull up bands (Beginner). Pull-ups are among the hardest exercises for beginners. It’s hard to make quality gains if you can only do one or two pull-ups. If you’re new to pull-ups, and aren’t getting quality sets you may want to start using pull-up bands.
You attach a specialized cable to the pull up bar that stretches all the way down, and attaches to your feet. It makes you lighter, and propels you up towards the top of the bar during your pull-up. As you get stronger you would use weaker bands, providing less of a boost until you’re able to complete 10-12 pull-ups without needing any assistance.
Weighted Pull ups (Advanced). If you’re already able to complete 10-15 pull-ups but struggling to make further gains you can advance to the next strength level by adding additional weight. You can simply hold a light dumbbell with your knees or feet, or use a weighted dipping belt if you’re more of a power user.
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Biceps are among the most important supplementary muscles groups when doing pull-ups. Focus on power and strength moves when trying to improve your pull-up count. Bodybuilding routines, where you reach hypertrophy after 10-12 reps aren’t going to be very helpful for pull-ups.
Think heavy, with low reps. Strict, heavy barbell and dumbbell curls are considered the most helpful for adding new pull-up strength.
Pull-ups have always been considered an “old school” test of back strength, but they’re coming back into vogue among bodybuilders and fitness professionals.
Adding in weighted back work, will have a direct correlation to your pull-up strength. Again, your main interest is in building raw power and strength. Keep the weight heavy and strict and the repetitions in the 4-8 range.
Here’s the best exercises for back strength:
– Lat Pulldowns (Vary your grip)
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Your forearms play a huge role in pull-ups but are often neglected because they get so much indirect work in other exercises involving the back. If your grip is giving out before your back and shoulders, you may want to start including grip specific work with the following:
– Heavy Duty Grippers (Iron Mind grippers, not the ones at Walmart)
– Hammer Curls
– Farmers Walk
The less you have to pull, the more reps you can do. For many, the limiting factor isn’t just their strength it’s their body weight relative to their pull-up strength. Someone can be super, super strong but can only do a few pull-ups because of excess body weight.
Dropping just a few pounds can help add several reps to your pull-up total.
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