Master Pull Ups - Beginner's Guide

Improve your upper body strength and take the first steps to completing pullups using; resistance bands, assisted reps and full muscular contraction.

The following techniques are tried and tested in improving your pull-up strength and allowing beginners who haven’t yet completed a full rep, to get their chin over the bar! If you are a beginner to this awesome movement or want to increase your current reps then this article is for you.

Pull-ups primarily work the latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and trapezius muscles located in your upper back, with your posterior deltoids (rear shoulder muscles) and biceps assisting as secondary muscles throughout. As there are many different grip widths and hand positions, for sake of confusion, we’ll be referring to regular pull-ups where your palms are pronated, turned away from your body and hands are slightly wider than shoulder width apart.

  1. Negative reps.

Your muscles can either contract concentrically or eccentrically when in motion. Contractions in which your muscles shorten are called ‘concentric’ while contractions when muscles are lengthening are known as ‘eccentric’. 

Studies have shown your muscles can manage up to 75% more resistance eccentrically than they can concentrically which means lifting heavier loads leading to greater muscle growth! For whatever level you are at, negative reps will improve your pull-ups and as a beginner they are vital. The anabolic response from the greater stress placed on your muscles will force growth and improve both the eccentric and concentric parts of the exercise.

How to do them.

Performing a pull-up, our body moves upwards toward the bar concentrically and lowering our body down we move eccentrically, our latissimus dorsi muscles lengthen under tension. Start by using a box or jumping up so you start with your chin over the bar. From here control your body so you lower as slowly as possible until you are in a ‘dead-hang’ position, this means hanging from the bar with your arms and lats fully stretched out.

Practising the dead-hang will make it easier to complete reps with a full range of motion (ROM) as you progress.

Aim for 4 sets of 4-8 reps depending on ability.

  1. Assisted Reps.

Decreasing the resistance using a resistance band will allow you to steadily build strength until you can complete a rep with no assistance. They are versatile and you can carry them around easily.

Resistance band benefits.

  • The resistance band keeps your body from swinging so you can focus on the back muscles.
  • You now know exactly how much help you are getting and can switch to a lighter band as you progress.

How to use a band.

Attach the band to a bar by looping it once over and pulling it tight. You may need to use a box or step to reach the bar before setting up your hands. From here, place your knees on the loop part of the band to hold some of your weight. Now control your body to the ‘dead hang’ position before completing your reps.

Tips! The more you push down on the band, the more it will help you so make it challenging for yourself by altering the pressure.

Resistance band choices:

Purple band – 35-85lbs of resistance

Heavy Resistance Bands 2 Pack – This contains a purple & black resistance band to allow for progression.

Aim for 4 sets of 4-8 reps at the beginning of your workout.

  1. Scapula Retraction.

Getting proper scapula activation and retraction is really important if you want to progress to full repetitions. This means the muscles around your scapula (shoulder blades) contract fully and most importantly at the start of each rep. This means from a ‘dead-hang’ position.

Scapula retraction occurs at the very start of the pull-up and this is where most people find they are weakest. Isolating the very first part of the pull-up will help to increase your strength specifically when the lats are fully extended.

Hanging on a bar without swinging, focus on pulling your shoulder blades down and backwards to lift your body an inch or so upwards. In this way you specifically target the lowest part of the move, where your lower trapezius muscles may be weak preventing you from starting from a dead-hang.

Start off with 4 sets of 4-8 reps before any other exercise

Have a go at some of these techniques and share your training progress on Instagram tagging @letstrain, we would love to see

TIP: To get maximum results, always try to control the negative (lowering) phase of the pull-up. This isn’t cross fit training which uses a ‘kipping pull-up’ – here we are focusing on specifically strengthening the back muscles with good technique leading to maximum results.

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