What better way is there to prove your upper body strength than by busting out a set of pull ups with perfect form? Pull ups are one of the most challenging body weight exercises possible — being able to do just a few is usually seen as a sign of above-average strength (especially for women and young people). However, almost anyone can increase the number of pull ups they can do with hard work, even if that number is currently "zero". Start working out your arms, lats, and back today to take your pull up game to the next level!
Building Your Pull Up Strength
1Always aim to do one more rep than you think you can. If you can already do pull ups, the best way to be able to do more pull ups is simple: just push yourself to do more pull ups than you can easily complete! Setting ambitious but realistic goals gives you a reason to try harder and add more pull ups to your routine. Make doing pull ups a point of pride for yourself — every time you do just one more pull up than is easy for you, consider it an accomplishment.
- For example, let's say that we are currently only able to do two pull ups in a row. In this case, we might make it our goal to do three pull ups the next time we try. Even if we're only able to do two and a half pull ups, we are still making slow and steady progress.
2Attempt pull ups more often. Another way to increase your pull up strength is to attempt the exercise more frequently throughout the week than you currently do. This makes sense if you think about it — the more you practice, the stronger you'll get, the better your form will become, and, ultimately, the more pull-ups you'll be able to do. For a balanced yet focused pull-up regimen, try doing three or four sets of pull ups two or three times per week (with days off in between each day of pullups).
- Don’t forget to give your lats and arms time to rest. With very few exceptions, working the same muscle groups continuously day after day is a bad idea — not only will this lead to uneven muscle development, but also soreness, fatigue, reduced results, and even health problems in extreme cases.
3Consider adding resistance. If you can already do more than 10-15 pull ups easily, you may find it worthwhile to make the exercise more difficult by adding weight. Tying or securing weights, chains, or other heavy objects to your body makes your effective weight greater and increases the difficulty of each pull up. The greater the difficulty, the greater your gains (assuming you're eating properly and getting plenty of rest!)
- One common way to add weight to yourself as you do pull ups is with something called a dip belt. This exercise tool looks like a weightlifting belt with a chain attached. The dip belt works by looping weights onto the chain so that they hang from your waist while you do pull ups or dips, increasing the resistance. Dip belts are usually available for less than $50 from certain sporting goods stores and specialty bodybuilding retailers.
4Try pull up variations for added upper body strength. Standard palms-facing-away pull ups aren't the only kind of pull ups you can do. Along with regular pull ups, a significant number of pull up variations and related exercises can help you hit every last muscle group in your arms and back. Here are just a few pull up variants that you may want to try out:
- Chin ups: Like normal pull ups but with your hands close together and your palms facing towards you. Usually considered slightly easier than normal pull ups. Good for working biceps and deltoids.
- Wide grip pull ups: As the name implies, these are exactly like normal pull ups but with the hands spaced farther apart. This engages the back muscles even more than regular pull ups.
- Triangle pull ups: An extremely challenging variety of pull up that involves pulling the chest diagonally up to the right hand, horizontally across to the left hand, and down to the starting position, then repeating in the reverse direction.
5Eat a lean, wholesome diet. Most people who can already do pull ups are likely to know the importance of a lean, balanced diet for muscle growth. To get big, strong pull up muscles, a balanced diet that favors lean protein, nutritious carbohydrates, and healthy fats, sources is key. There are many, many ways to work these important nutrients into your diet without sacrificing the enjoyment or satisfaction you get from your meals — a simple search engine query can reveal literally dozens of delicious recipes. Just a few examples of nutritious foods for muscle-building exercise programs are:
- Protein: Chicken breast, lean cuts of beef and pork, lentils, beans, milk, eggs, most seafood.
- Carbohydrates: Whole wheat grains, breads, and pastas; quinoa, barley, bulgur, some corn products.
- Fats: Some fattier seafoods (like salmon), most nuts, healthier oils (sunflower, olive, canola, sesame, corn, soybean, and more), avocados, olives, tofu, soy products.
6Get plenty of sleep. If you're not getting enough rest, you'll find it hard or even impossible to build the sort of muscle you need to do lots of pull ups. Not only will it require more effort and concentration to keep yourself focused during your exercise — you'll also find it harder to make progress in terms of building muscle. Your body needs rest after strenuous workouts, so be sure to get a full night's sleep as often as you can while you're on a strength-building program. Though everyone's different, most adults do best with seven to nine hours per night.
- You'll also want to make sure to time your workouts so that they don't interfere with your sleep schedule. Working out right before you go to bed can make it hard to go to sleep, which can rob you of the gains you might otherwise have gotten from your workout. For an easier rest, try to workout at least about three hours before bedtime.
Improving Your Form
1Use the proper motions for your grip style. Even the most basic up-and-down pull ups have several different variations that you can switch between as you please. You can also use a gripping powder . No matter which grip you use, it's very important to use proper form to prevent injury and maximize the gains from your workout. Below are three common grip styles and instructions for each — all are similar, with minor differences for each:
- Regular grip: Grab the bar with an overhand grip and your hands shoulder-width apart. Hang from the bar with your arms extended. Use slow, steady motion to bring your chest near to the bar and your chin above it. Slowly lower yourself back to your hanging position. 
- Neutral grip:Grab two parallel bars or handles positioned about a foot or two apart so that the palms of your hands face each other. Starting from a full hang, pull yourself up until your chest is as close to the two bars as possible and your chin is above them. Lower yourself back down.
- Chin up grip:Grab a bar with an underhand grip so that your hands are about shoulder-width apart. Squeeze your biceps to bring your chin over the top of the bar, going slowly as you do so. Carefully lower yourself down again.
2Focus on using your lat and deltoid muscles. For those who don't know any better, pull ups may seem to be the ultimate test of arm strength. In fact, the back muscles are just as important, if not more so, than the arm muscles for pulling off a perfect pull up. For perfect form (and, thus, the maximum possible benefit), try to use the muscles around the backs of your armpits and on your sides to pull you up, rather than straining your biceps and shoulders.
- Specifically, the muscle groups along your sides and at the backs of your armpits are called your latissimus dorsi (or "lats") and rear deltoids (or "delts"). If you find it hard to use these muscles more than your arms during your pull up, try widening your grip.
3Don't "kip". Doing a pull up isn't easy, but the actual process is very uncomplicated: just hang from the bar, pull yourself up, and let yourself down. Any extra motions that make the pull up easier are basically robbing you of the full benefit of the exercise. Remember, pull ups are supposed to be hard — that's how they build your strength! For this reason, you'll probably want to avoid a technique called "kipping", which basically involves swinging the body to make a pull up easier. Although some advocates are big fans of kipping pull ups, there's no question that this motion makes the exercise easier.
- While kipping is sometimes seen as a "cheat", other pull up movements can be downright dangerous. Don’t let yourself shudder, twist, or jerk while doing a pull up. Under the intense muscular exertion needed to do a pull up, these sudden motions can actually put strain on your back and shoulders and cause injury.
4Cross the bottom of your legs while doing pull ups. One thing you'll see pull up experts do frequently is to cross their legs while they pull themselves up to the bar. Though it may seem unimportant, this can actually make it easier to maintain proper form during the exercise: with their legs crossed, many people feel that it's harder to fall into the bad habits of swinging their legs or kipping during their pull up.
- Note that it's acceptable to put a slight bend in the knees while crossing the legs if this is easier for you — it shouldn't affect your form.
5Keep your head up and your body straight. If pull ups are hard for you, it may feel natural to "scrunch up" your body as you exert yourself during a pull up, turning your head toward the floor, putting a bend in your back, and hunching your shoulders. Resist the urge to do this, as this can put extra stress on your neck and back muscles and even lead to lasting soreness and injury. Instead, keep your body straight and your head looking forward or up at the bar. This lets your muscles do the heavy lifting, not your spine.
Working Up to Your First Pull Up
1Try doing assisted pull ups. If you can't do a single pull up, don't worry — you're not alone, and you can absolutely achieve your goal with hard work. Try starting with assisted pull ups — these allow you to do the same pull up motion you'd do for an ordinary pull up, but with a little extra help so that you can complete the exercise. Since these closely mimic actual pull ups, they're great for getting your form right before you do the real thing. Assisted pull ups can be done in two ways:
- Using a pull up machine: Usually, these work by kneeling on a cushioned pad underneath a pull up bar that's counter-balanced with adjustable weights. The more weight you select, the easier your pull up is.
- Using a partner: Have someone hold your feet or legs while you do your pull up to take some — but not all — of your weight out of the equation. The more strength your partner uses to hold you up, the easier your pull ups will be.
2Incorporate negative pull ups into your routine. Another way to work up to full pull ups is by doing negative pull ups. Negative pull ups are basically the "second half" of an actual pull up: start with your chin above the bar and your chest as close to the bar as possible, then lower yourself down as slowly as you can. Repeat as needed, starting each time from the "up" position (you may need a stepping stool or a willing partner to help you do this).
3Do back and arm strengthening exercises. Since the pull up is an exercise that uses many different muscle groups in the upper body, exercising these groups individually is one way to make pull ups easier. While it can take more time to build these muscles separately than it would to build them all together with pull ups, with gradually-inreasing practice, you'll make steady progress. Below is a sample combination of exercises that can help you strengthen your upper body while you're working up to full-on pull ups:
- Pull downs: These exercises will help strengthen your upper back and lats. Sit down at a pull down machine, grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip, and slowly pull it down towards your collar bones.
- Bicep curls: As their name suggests, these exercises will strengthen the biceps. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your palm facing you. Raise and lower the dumbbell steadily from your shoulder to your hip by squeezing your bicep, keeping your arms at your sides, and bending only at the elbows.
- Seated rows: These can help strengthen your lats and back. Sitting in front of a weighted rowing machine, bring the handle bars toward you with slow, even movement. Don't bend at the hips or waist — keep your body stationary and let your back muscles do the work.
- Prone reverse fly: The exercises are great for your rear deltoids. Lay on a bench face down with a dumbbell in each hand. Slowly raise the dumbbells off of the floor and out to your sides so that your arms are outstretched. Lower the weights back to the floor and repeat.
4Try losing weight if you are overweight. Pull ups are a body weight exercise, so, the heavier you are, the more difficult they are. If have lots of weight in the form of fat, it can be almost impossible to do a pull up no matter how strong you are. In this, case, the most effective thing to do may not be to build muscle, but to lose weight. This usually a simple matter of diet and exercise — you'll want to track your calories, then make sure you spend more calories performing your daily activities than you gain from food. Online calorie counters can be a huge help here.
- There are dozens upon dozens of great weight-loss resources on the internet (as well as some not-so-great ones). For a safe, balanced plan that incorporates information from lots of great sources, check out our article on the subject.
How many pull ups should I be able to do? I'm 15-years-old, 5'10 and 142 lbs.User ContributorIt depends. The average person can do around 4 pull ups but it differs for each individual. Are you healthy? Have you worked out your arm muscles before? Do you eat well? All these factors play into it. However, the more you train, the more you'll be able to do. I used to barely be able to do 2, now I can do over 15 and this is coming from a 14-year-old girl.
How do I become slim doing only pull-ups?User ContributorAttach weights to your body; the heavier the weight, the faster the result.
Sources and Citations
- ↑ http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/28/women-pull-ups_n_5610305.html
- ↑ http://www.fitnessguru.org/exercise/articles/strength-5.php
- ↑ http://healthmeup.com/news-diet-fitness/pull-up-tips-dos-and-donts-for-perfect-pull-ups/24823
- ↑ http://www.oo-rah.com/Store/pt/pt0830.asp
- ↑ http://www.webmd.com/men/features/muscle-foods-for-men
- ↑ http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/guide/good-protein-sources
- ↑ http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/weight_loss_diet_plans/diet_exercise_tips/6_carbs_to_add_to_your_diet_to_help_you_stay_slim?page=6
- ↑ http://www.helpguide.org/life/healthy_diet_fats.htm
- ↑ http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/diet-exercise-and-sleep/page/0%2C1/
- ↑ http://www.military.com/military-fitness/workouts/tips-for-better-pullups
- ↑ http://www.aworkoutroutine.com/pull-ups-vs-chin-ups/
- ↑ http://www.aworkoutroutine.com/pull-ups-vs-chin-ups/
- ↑ http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/ridgely9.htm
- ↑ http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/32_05_Kipping_Pullup.pdf
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