Pull-ups. The age old bodyweight skill people either love or hate. The hate usually stems from an inability to do them but when you focus on the key fundamentals of pull-ups you can see the benefits long before you achieve that first elusive rep.
There are four key elements you need to consider when progressing your pull-ups:
- Relative Strength – The strength in horizontal rowing movements such as the bent over row, your deadlift and even the squat represent one thing, your ability to maintain tension with a large amount of weight. If you struggle to bent over row over half your bodyweight for reps or you can’t rip bodyweight+ off the floor in the deadlift it’s no wonder that your stuck on doing pull-ups with bands because as soon as we get to vertical pulling your lats, arms, ligaments and tendons simply aren’t up for the challenge.
- Bodyweight – It’s a really simple equation, to more you weigh the more you need to move. This is where the big boys that love throwing big numbers around on their squat hate when a smaller guy comes into the gym and destroys them at pull-ups. But it’s a simple fact, if you’re carrying a few extra kilos you are going to need to either build strength or lose weight. If the weight is in the form of excess body fat, it’s a great reason to shed a couple of kilo’s to help achieve your goal.
- Posture – Do you sit at a desk all day or do you love that forward flexion position to check out your newsfeed? This may be another reason why you are struggling to achieve or improve your pull-ups. If we spend all day in flexion and we then want to get into a difficult extension pattern whilst suspending a whole bodyweight off the ground it’s no surprise that we end up with sore shoulders or worse yet, injuries. Spoiler: the lats are internal rotators also, if you’re program consists of high volume practice to achieve pull-ups it will naturally have an effect on shoulder health.
- Time – Good things take time. Pull-ups are one of those things. If we are simply new to our journey or we have come back from injury we may simply need to spend time mastering the levels below the pull-ups in order to be in the best condition possible.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. We’ve laid out the key elements that effect your pull-ups, now let’s look at some targets and systems you can use to give you the best chance possible to complete pull-ups.
- Lift Heavy – Get comfortable with being under tension. It takes time for muscles, tendons and ligaments to adapt to the demands. Enjoy learning to pull big weights in your deadlift and bent over row. You will most likely notice cross over effects for many other movements and abilities.
- Body Composition – Focus on getting to a healthy range of body composition. The side effects of this will be increased energy and ability to train, less risk of lifestyle related diseases and better strength to weight ratio.
- Extension – Get into extension patterns to offset the desk hours. Focus on horizontal pulling exercises at a ratio of 2 pulls to every 1 push. If you struggle with shoulder problems check out Unlock Your Movement.
- Enjoy – Learn to enjoy the process. The goal is often not pull-ups themselves but a mastery of bodyweight skills that transfer to other elements of your life. Use the video above to practise the basics and fundamentals so ruthlessly well that when it comes time for pull-ups it’s just a matter of standing under the bar and going for it.
Good things take time. Focus on ruthless execution on the basics of pull-ups, getting or maintaining a healthy bodyweight and building strength in other movements to improve confidence and competence under tension and you will be giving yourself the best chance possible for success.