Pull-ups are among the best (and toughest) upper-body pulling exercises — but upper-body strength is only one factor in successfully doing this move.
Failure to strengthen and engage the entire body is one reason many people struggle. Pull-ups require strength and stability in the gripping muscles of the hands, wrists, and forearms; the upper arms and shoulders as well as the mid- and upper-back; the core; and the glutes. Even inner-thigh strength to keep the legs together is required.
Moreover, mobility through your shoulders is imperative for achieving full range of motion. This means moving from arms fully extended to clearing the bar with your chin.
Lacking in one or more of these areas creates a missing link in the pull-up chain that can make it hard to achieve a body-weight or weighted pull-up. Muscling through with flawed technique, as well as compensating by swinging or kipping with insufficient strength, can stall progress and cause injury, particularly to the shoulders.
Sticking to crisp, strict technique will help you reap the benefits of pull-ups and allow you to progress safely. Remember: It’s better for overall strength and technique to practice good form with as much assistance as you need.
1. Jump up or use a box to step up to grasp a pull-up bar with a double-overhand grip.
Tip: Set your hands slightly wider than your shoulders. Thumbs can be wrapped under the bar or rest on top with the other fingers.
2. Assume an active-hang position by engaging your scapulae, lengthening your neck, engaging your core, and squeezing your glutes.
Tip: Engage your lower body to keep your legs together.
3. Use your lats to pull your elbows down to your sides. Keep your neck neutral and avoid reaching up with your chin.
4. Stay engaged as you pull your body upward until your chin clears the bar.
5. Reverse the motion with full control and return to an active-hang position.