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Pullups – All you need to know

Pullps, chinups, basically pulling yourself up over a bar.  Well there can be a lot more to it than just that, but let’s take a look at what you need to know about this basic and awesome movement.

What are your aims?

Are you goals to get bigger? To get stronger? To do more pull ups? First you need to nail down your aims, and then you can tailor your training around it. If you are looking to get bigger and stronger, then focusing on your form is a priority. If you are hoping to do more pull ups via “kipping” then form isn’t important, you just flap like a fish until you get your chest to the bar. Nail down your aims, and then think about programming. Adding pull ups aimlessly to your program isn’t a good idea. Goals make the whole thing work.


Chin up and pull ups are always recommended by personal trainers, and if you have ever been in the army, then they were a staple of the regime there too. In short, they are widely recognized to produce awesome levels of strength in your body. The movement is primal and thus something that you should be good at if you are hoping to be an athlete.

Which muscles benefit most from the pullup? Well, your traps, lats, biceps forearms, and hands can all become stronger. You can trigger huge amounts of hypertrophy in your back and arms from this movement also. In terms of strength, if you become proficient at heavy pullups, then if will have an effect in all of your major lifts. Your upper back is used for stabilization in overhead pressing, squatting, deadlifting, bench pressing. A strong upper back will help all your strength work improve.

On Form

So let’s talk about some of the most commons sins in the pullup, how you can fix them, and what that will do for you.

1. Push the shoulders down. This is a great piece of advice that can transform your pull ups. Many people have the habits of flaring their elbows when they start the lift, this brings the arms into the movement too much, and eliminates the proper use of the back. If you depress your shoulders before the move, your back will be engaged to the proper degree. This will result in more strength and hypertrophy.

2. Don’t lean forward. In the movement, you should be visualizing the bar being brought toward you. This means that you should be bringing the bar to your chest. By wriggling and flailing around, you are not going to execute the movement properly.

3. Pullups start when the arms are fully extending, and finish when the bar is near your chest. Anything else is not a pullup.

4. Imagine squeezing a tennis ball between your shoulders. That kind of retraction will give you massive stimulation in your traps.


So there are many different ways to do pullups. We are going to examine a few of them, and talk about the potential benefits of each one.

The Pull Up

This is the standard movement, it involves a pronated grip (your hands facing away from you) and goes from full arm extension until your chest is near the bar.

The benefits of this movement is usually seen as a lat builder, this is generally due to the fact that people will perform pullups with a wider than shoulder width grip. Research shows that the wider the grip, the greater the recruitment from the lower lats is. Summary? The wider you go, the lower down the lats are activated.

The Chin Up

This involves a supinated grip (hands facing toward you) generally with a shoulder width grip. This movement has been shown to stimulate the biceps more than the pullup. It is mechanically obvious as to why, since the biceps are getting involved through the whole movement.

If you are to bring the hands close together in the chin up, then it has been shown that this activates the upper lats better than any other pullup/chin up variation. Summary? Good for biceps, good for upper lats when with a narrow grip.

Ring or “Perfect” pullups

If you have access to rings, or rotating handles, this variation can be a great addition to your routine. The reason these are viewed as so good, is that the rotation of the handles allows for a much more natural movement pattern. Then then hands are fixed on a bar, then a fair around of pressure is placed on the elbows and wrists. For people looking to do pullups daily, this is the option to go with. This movement pattern has all the benefits of the other two variations we have spoken about, and are great for a long term healthy relationship with the movement.

How To Get Better At Them

A mistake that many people make is the assumption that sheer number of pullups is the measure by which to track your pullup progress. If you can do 20-25 strict and decent form pullups, then the odds are you are a beast. However, in the long run, where should you be aiming to progress?

The trick is, just like with any weight lifting movement is to add weight. Whether your aims are hypertrophy or strength, simply adding reps to how many pullups you do will have diminishing returns. So to improve there are two options.

1. Undertake a program that increases volume significantly. This will require daily pullups. As mentioned, if this is the road you will go down, a rotating handle is required to avoid injury

2. Progressive overload with weight. Just as you would with any other movement, add weight, and keep doing it. Getting stronger in the pullup should be treated just like the squat or deadlift. The results will be amazing both in muscle and strength gains.

So that should give you plenty of things to chew on regarding pullups. Now go an implement this awesome movement more intelligently into your program.

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