If you can master it, then you’ll be able to benefit from one of the best single exercises for your upper body and your core. But, it takes a lot of practice and dedication, and you need to make sure you’re doing it properly – and not cheating!
It is the simple pull up.
The benefits of a pull up or chin up
It’s one of those moves that some people can make look effortless, and yet, it’s one of the hardest to perform with correct form and consistency. When you know how to do it properly, the pull up is a highly effective multi-joint exercise, providing a range of motion across your upper body with just a single move.
The pull up is also great at aiding almost all training goals, including weight loss, toning and bulking up. It’ll get heart rates pounding, target those bingo wings and help you increase muscle mass in your arms.
Basically, it works your biceps and triceps (depending on the variation), your back, your shoulders, and your abs – as well as strengthening your grip. It’s a tough exercise, but it gives plenty of rewards – IF you do it correctly!
The basic move
In order to avoid injury and get the full benefits of the pull up or chin up, you need to make sure you maintain correct form at all times. That means starting with the basics and perfecting it, before moving on to any more challenging variations.
To get started, you need to remember a few things:
- No swinging – a pull up should always be performed from a static position, to allow you to focus solely on the arm movement. Swinging can damage your shoulder socket
- Hang low – always start from a completely dead hang, with straight arms. Half reps can cause a lot of muscle fatigue, and skip the benefits of working your back, chest and core!
- Set your grip – make sure you have a firm, comfortable grip from the start, and be ready to squeeze the bar as you lift up
- Push your shoulders back and down – like a reverse shrug that retracts the shoulder blades. This will ensure your shoulders lift first, angling your chest high before your elbows kick in
- Tense the lower body as you pull up – crunch the abs and squeeze the glutes to keep everything tight. This will also help prevent unnecessary momentum and swing
- Tuck in at the top – complete a full range of motion, with your face above the bar, and tuck your elbows into your body, so most of the work is focused on the back, rather than the arms
- Control your descent – don’t just drop down, but instead lower back to a hang slowly, taking at least 2 seconds compared to a 1 second lift
- Exhale as you lift up, using your abs to control the air in your lungs. Inhale on the way down
It’s not easy, and initially you should only aim to complete 2 or 3 full movements. As you progress, work to at least 3 sets of 5 reps in the traditional pull up motion, before moving on to any other variations.
The challenging variations
Of course, once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll want to move onto some more challenging variations. Here are some of our favourites:
- Wide grip: a simple, minor variation of your grip can work wonders for your chest. Extend your hands beyond shoulder width, as wide as you can on the bar, and muster strength to lift up slowly, pushing up to the bar with your chest, or ducking your head under the bar to focus on the back and rear deltoids
- Straight leg: many of us will bend our legs and crunch our abs as we perform a pull up. It helps with momentum – but we should avoid it as much as possible. This variation takes it to the next level, as you focus on keeping your lower legs together and straight, pointing down for the duration of the move. Perform with an underhand grip to target biceps
- Hanging weight: pull ups too easy with just your body weight? Grip something between your feet and try them now! A medicine ball is a good place to begin, but as you become more confident in the movement and increase your strength, progress to a sand bag weight or kettle bells
- Using a towel: drape a strong, sturdy towel over the bar, and grip each side tightly, with your arms close together. Pull up to bring your chest into your forearms, keeping your legs extended out at hip height. Add an extra towel for a double arm pull up
- Side extension: A tough one on the shoulders, the side extension pull up requires you to hold side grips, as opposed to the main bar, and extend your left arm as you pull up, shifting all your body weight over onto your right arm, which will be bent at the elbow. Return to centre, lower and repeat. Try a few reps on one side, before switching and extending the opposite arm
- Raised leg: Great for working the abs, this pull up variation forces you to keep your legs extended straight out from your body at hip height as you perform a chin up. Squeeze a medicine ball between your legs to ensure your thighs remain engaged throughout the movement
Want to try a pull up but not sure where, or how, to begin? Just speak to any of our personal trainers on the gym floor, and they’ll be more than happy to help!