What are Pull Ups?
Pull-ups are one of the most fundamental calisthenics exercises that build up your strength and endurance in the upper body. It is commonly used as a form of physical test from schools all the way up to the military. Many athletes from all sports backgrounds use pull-ups in their training, which makes this one of the best exercises for building the upper body and developing a bigger and stronger back.
Once you are proficient with this exercise, it has a positive carryover effect to awesome skills such as muscle ups, one-arm pull-ups, back lever, and front lever. This single exercise will open doors to your calisthenics journey! Want a proper pull-up bar for your home calisthenics workouts? Check out this Best Pull-Up Bar For Calisthenics Buyer’s Guide.This article will show you how to do your first pull-up with perfect form, and for those of you who can already do pull-ups, you will give tips on how to increase pull-up numbers.
What muscles do Pull Ups work?
The primary muscles worked are latissimus dorsi, trapezius, posterior deltoids, biceps, and teres major. The secondary muscles are the pectoralis major, abdominals, obliques, and forearms.
What level are Pull Ups?
The pull-up is an intermediate-level exercise as it requires you to pull your body weight vertically upwards, putting the workload mostly on your lats. It also requires an intermediate level of core strength to be able to have stability within the body when executing this exercise.
How to do Pull Ups?
1. Hang On The Bar
Grab the bar approximately wider than shoulder-width apart with your palms facing forward. Grip the bar tight and position your thumbs under and around the bar. Your arms should be fully extended, and your feet should be together.
2. Engage Your Core
Squeeze your core and legs tight at all times, this will act as your stabilizer muscles which will give you more control over your body for the pull up.
3. Pull Up
Whilst still in a hanging position, inhale followed by an exhale out of your mouth as you pull yourself up by bending the elbows and pulling your arms down. Pull up until your chin is above the bar. You will predominantly feel lats and biceps engagement. Keep your core engaged all throughout this movement.
During the motion, your shoulders must be depressed and the scapulars must be retracted.
There are 6 grip variations for you to try. A pronated grip will target your lats, whereas a supinated grip will target your biceps. A narrow grip will target your biceps, a shoulders width grip will target your middle back, and a wide grip will target your lats.
4. Gradually Lower Down
Inhale as you lower down to the starting position with your arms locked out. This ensures a full range of motion which will activate more muscle groups and enhance the overall effectiveness of a pull-up. Half efforts will give you half results, so make sure to maintain a full range of movement!
What are the benefits of Pull Ups?
Pull-ups can give size and strength to your upper body muscles. It allows you to target your lats, biceps, traps, and many more muscles. Practicing this consistently along with other variations that target different muscle groups, inevitably will give you the muscular aesthetics that you’re seeking. A study emphasized this by suggesting that this close kinetic chain exercise is designed to increase the muscular strength and endurance of the upper body and torso.
Increase Grip Strength
You will require to hold your entire body weight whilst hanging with your hands and fingers. Training pull-ups will have a positive impact on your everyday life. It can improve performance in other sporting areas in sports such as climbing, tennis, and golf, or even help you in your everyday activities such as opening a jar or carrying your groceries.
Minimal Equipment Needed
No need to go to the gym and wait for the next lat pull-down machine to be available. All you need is a pull-up bar that can be practiced from your own home or at the local park where you can use them for free. This makes Calisthenics one of the most convenient forms of workout as it can be done, anyplace, anywhere, and anytime.
Doing the same thing over and over can be repetitive and boring, so much so that you lose the motivation to work out. Fear not as pull-ups has more than 25 variations for you to try. For example, switching between a pronated to a supinated grip, and from a close grip to a shoulder-width grip, to a wide grip. Pull-ups also work the chest muscles depending on the variation you choose, for instance, the commando pull-up and the one-arm pull-up will hit the chest muscles hard!
Whether you’re a beginner or an advanced athlete, pull-ups will still be worthwhile and you should include them in your training regimen! According to Havard, those who could do 40 or more push-ups had a 96% lower risk of getting heart disease than those who could do 10 or fewer push-ups.
How many reps, and sets, and how often should I do Pull Ups?
Beginners should do between 1-3 reps, for 4 sets, 2 times a week. The intermediate level should do between 4-10 reps, for 4 sets, 2 times a week. The advanced level should do 11 or more reps, for 4 sets, 2 times a week.
It is highly recommended to increase 1-2 reps into your training to ensure progressive overload. After 4 weeks of training, you should see changes in your physique as you will develop more muscles, and improve your physical health.
How many Pull Ups should I be able to do?
An adult male should be able to do 5 reps. With regular training, you should be able to do 12 or more reps, as this will be considered as fit and strong.
Adult females should be able to do 1-3 reps. Typically men can do more pull-ups because they have more muscle mass in their upper body. But regardless of gender, you can do as many pull-ups as you want if you train for them!
How to get better at Pull Ups?
There are two main exercises to help beginners get better at pull-ups: the Australian pull-up and the negative pull-up. These two will act as stepping stones for building up both strength and endurance in your upper body muscles.
Australian Pull Ups
The Australian Pull Up is a great exercise that focuses on building upper body strength, especially your pulling strength. This exercise is great for beginners to intermediate level as it uses less body weight to perform the exercise hence why it is easier than the pull-up, but it still uses the same movement path which strengthens the same muscle groups and requires the same technique.
All you need is a low bar, where your body will be positioned underneath the bar at a slope. Make sure to grip the bar tightly and engage your core at all times. You should practice this between 5-10 reps, for 4 sets. Check out this Australian pull-up tutorial to get in-depth guidance on proper form and it’s variations.
Negative Pull Ups
One of the best ways to learn Calisthenics exercises or skills is to perform it in reverse. This will help aid your body to adapt to the unfamiliar movement or load. Negative pull-ups require you to grip the bar tight, whilst simultaneously jumping from the floor to assist you in the pull-up.
Try to get your chin above the bar as this is your starting position. Gradually lower yourself down by extending both arms until they’re locked out, counting 3 seconds as you do so. This is one rep, you should do this between 1-3 reps, for 4 sets.
Pull Ups Variations
Scapular Pull Ups
This exercise will help to develop your scapular strength, improve your pull-up form and keep your shoulders healthy. Simply hang from the bar and retract your scapulars by pulling your shoulder blades together in a shrugging motion without bending your arms.
L-sit Pull Ups
This advanced-level exercise improves your core strength and stability, as well as your body control and awareness. It is harder than traditional pull-ups as it alters your center of gravity, therefore, making it more challenging to perform.
To perform an L-sit Pull Up, you will hang from the bar and raise your legs up until they’re at a 90 degrees angle in relation to your torso. Keep your core engaged, feet together and toes pointed, pull your body up until your chin is above the bar, and gradually lower down.
Muscle up is an advanced-level skill that many Calisthenics athletes seek to obtain. It involves explosive pulling and pushing motion to get on top of the bar. This is more technique, rather than strength to execute this skill, and it is relatively easy to learn!
The requirements for this awesome skill are 8 chest-to-bar pull-ups, 10 straight bar dips, and 10 hanging leg raises. Once you have these locked down, you’ll be more than ready to rock this awesome skill! I recommend you peep at this muscle-up tutorial as I demonstrate the progressions for unlocking this awesome skill.
The Takeaways: Pull Ups
Whether you are new to training or you have been working out for a long time, pull-ups are a great exercise to add to your routine as this compound exercise will target many different muscle groups, to begin with. There are plenty of other “pull-up variations” you can do to gradually develop strength in your upper-body muscles. Strength takes time!
The key is to practice it consistently with the correct form and your hard work will pay off. If you need help improving your pull-ups in the fastest time possible with a personalized program, then book a consultation with one of our coaches to take your fitness to another level.
Already have the pull-ups on lock? Learn these skills that will have a positive carry-over from the pull-up in these tutorials below:
All Pull Exercises
I’m Pat Chadwick, a qualified Level 2 and Level 3 calisthenics coach and athlete from London, England, with six years of experience. I’ve competed in various UK competitions, including the Kalos Stenos Championships, where I achieved third place in the lightweight category. My passion is highlighting the beauty of calisthenics as an authentic and pure form of body expression. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a champion of their body and mind, and that calisthenics opens the door to personal empowerment.