Pull ups are a problem exercise for most people.
So today’s post will teach you how to get better at pull ups – fast.
In my opinion, pull ups are as important to upper body strength as squats are to lower body strength.
They have earned their place in even the toughest workout programs.
But the fact remains, despite how beneficial they may be, most of us struggle to perform a single full repetition.
That’s why I put together this quick post teaching a few tricks on how to get better at pull ups in a short period of time.
Have a read, then apply a couple of these tips to your own training for the next 4 weeks and note the difference.
1. Improve Your Grip
One of the biggest areas at fault during a pull up is grip strength.
Your forearms are small in comparison to the other muscles being worked during a pull up, so you should expect them to fail rather quickly.
It makes sense to strengthen the weakest link in the chain.
The solution here is to work on developing your grip strength, which you can do thanks to various grip-enhancing exercises including – but not limited to – deadlifts, timed hang, bent over barbell row, reverse curls, plate grips and the farmer’s walk.
2. Be Negative
Do not underestimate the negative phase of each rep.
In fact, over 50% of the strength gains waiting to be achieved in any of your biggest lifts (bench press, squats, deadlifts) are hidden in the negative portion of the rep.
And by focusing on the part of the exercise which offers the most strength gains, you will notice a sizable improvement in your performance.
For example, take a look at my recent articles on box squats vs regular squats, or the trap bar deadlift, in which we showed how slight changes to your biggest exercises can reap rewards when you return to performing the standard technique.
Pull ups are no different.
Sadly, most people overlook the negative (lowering) phase on all of those big lifts, often just pushing out reps so quickly they look like they’re having a seizure.
A guy once told me he could do 30 pull ups without rest. I then watched him stay in the top 20% of the range of movement, his biceps never extended beyond 90 degrees, choosing to shy away from the tough challenge the negative phase of the rep offers and instead feed his own ego.
“If it moves it’s a rep, right?”
Optimal results come from a full range of motion and the only way you’ll ever master it is to work at it.
Jump pull ups are a great technique for this.
Get yourself up there with a jump, then work on lowering yourself back to the starting position. Start by taking 2-3 seconds per rep, then increase it to 5 seconds.
Once you can master a 25 second negative rep – i.e. 25 seconds to lower yourself back down – you will be able to handle a pull up very easily indeed.
3. Climb The Rack
You may have seen me use this technique in workout videos before. I picked it up from the awesome Jim Stoppani.
It combines elements of the bent over row with elements of pull ups, to create an excellent body weight move that targets every major muscle in the back.
We begin by setting the bar of a smith machine to it’s lowest setting and lying on the floor underneath it.
From here, we take a wide grip and perform 10 inverted rows with our body weight. It’ll look like you’re doing an ‘upside down push up’.
The inverted row is a great exercise for improving pull up capability, but this technique sees us add another ingredient to the melting pot.
After reaching 10 reps, we raise the bar one setting and go again. We keep going, set after set, raising the bar until we hit the top of the rack.
With each set that passes, those rows begin to turn into pull ups.
But they’re not full reps – your legs can still hit the floor to stabilize you. This is why this exercise is a firm favourite when I have clients who need to learn how to get better at pull ups, as it can be progressed quite easily.
This technique can also be used to strengthen the biceps for chin ups by taking an underhand grip.
Try to reach the top.
- Note: 10 reps qualifies you for the next level up. If you can’t reach ten, keep working at it!
4. Partial Reps
Much like my example of the guy who always stayed in the top portion of the pull up to make it easy, there are numerous benefits to be had by learning to master the bottom 30% of the pull up.
Here’s the thing.
Most people avoid trying pull ups because they feel embarrassed that they might not get up past the half way point of the rep. But, as you’re about to see, that’s actually just fine.
We’ve already established that the majority of the strength gains are hidden in the lowering phase of each rep and it would be a good idea to master that by using the techniques in tip 2.
But in terms of the lifting phase of a pull up, most of the benefits can be found in the bottom 30% of reach rep – the bit you can do!
Start at the bottom and lift yourself up around 3 inches, then lower back to the starting position again. That’s a partial pull up right there.
It will fire a rocket into your lats, greatly improving your strength from a dead hang position. Most people cheat by using momentum to do pull ups – especially the bottom half.
This move teaches you not to cheat and makes you physically stronger each time you use it.
5. Supplement It
Like I mentioned in my first point today, you’re not going to get very far if you’ve got very weak forearms.
The same goes for the other muscles which are involved in pull ups…
Because learning how to get better at pull ups is a case of strengthening every muscle involved in the move.
Look at the primary movers here – your lats, biceps, teres major, deltoids and forearms.
Strengthening these muscles individually will help you when trying to use them in conjunction to perform an exercise like pull ups.
Of course, the main focus in the gym should be on performing big compound lifts (as they will provide you with the greatest strength gains in the shortest time frame), but there are also a number of isolation exercises which will make it easier to build these individual muscle groups at a speedier rate.
I’ve already mentioned a few examples of what you can do to enhance your forearms, but here’s a few for the others:
- Deltoids: Shoulder Press, Lateral/Front/Rear Raise.
- Biceps: Hammer Curl, Dumbbell Curl, Bodyweight Chin Ups, Plate Curl.
- Lats & Teres Major: Pulldown, Underhand Pulldown, Straight-Arm Pulldown.
How To Get Better At Pull Ups
So, there you have it!
I’d recommend applying just a couple of these techniques, note the response your body gives you, and then return to this post to give some of the others a go.
I’ve just typed this up right here in my “office.” Hope it helps you.
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