How to Do a Proper Pull Up, and Why You Need to Do Them

UPDATE: I’ve written an updated article on “how to do a pull up” that is a must read.

So you want to do a pull up, eh?
wrk_pullups

When many people think of fitness and the gym, they picture meat-heads doing countless arm curls, staring at themselves in the mirror.  Sounds about right to me.  As I stated in a previous blog, I have yet to see a single person in my gym do a deadlift, and I’ve probably only seen a handful of people (in a year and a half) doing legitimate pull ups.  As far as I’m concerned, if you’re not doing deadlifts, squats (going all the way down to parallel!), and pull ups and you want to “build muscle,” you’re just wasting your time.

When preparing for their roles in the movie 300, all the actors went to train with Mark Twight, who had them train by emphasizing “athleticism by combining compound movements, lifting, and throwing. Primitive tools – medicine balls, Kettlebells, rings – were used instead of machines. Each session was competitive, with a penalty-reward system tied to performance and results posted daily for all to see.”

Appearance is a consequence of fitness

That’s right, these guys weren’t training to have bulging biceps and chiseled abs.  Their motto, “appearance is a consequence of fitness,” meant that these guys worked on getting in the best shape possible – doing deadlifts, running sprints, Olympic ring push ups, doing pull ups until their arms fell off, etc. – and then doing it all over again.  This type of training really struck a chord with me, because I’ve always been fascinated with turning myself into an absolute machine; if I happen to look good as a side effect, awesome.  There’s a reason you need to do 50 pull ups to complete the 300 challenge: only the fitness elite can attempt such a thing.

You can read Mark’s article on 300 training here. It’s fascinating and highly recommended.

Proper Pull Ups

Personally, I believe pull ups are one of the most important exercises in a routine and I recommend them to anybody that comes to me for advice.  Forget bicep curls; show me a guy who can do 25 pull ups and 25 chin ups and there’s no WAY his arms aren’t well-developed.

Find a bar that will support your weight, anywhere. I don’t care. Just find one. If you have a gym membership there will be pull up bars all over the place.  At your house you might have “the perfect pull up” in your door way.  If you have neither of these things, find a local playground and use their monkey bars.  This is one piece of equipment that NEEDS to be in your arsenal, so find a way to get one.  No excuses, play like a champion.

  • A PULL UP is when your hands are facing away from you.  This will work your back and biceps.
  • A CHIN UP is when your hands are facing towards you.  Although this also works your back, it has more emphasis on your biceps.

Grab a bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder width, with your hands facing away from you.  Hang all the way down.  Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.  Slight pause  Lower yourself all the way back down.  Go up, and really concentrate on isolating your back and biceps.  Don’t swing!

Once you can do a single pull up, work on doing them in sets. Do one pull up, then wait a minute or two and do another one.  Then wait a few more minutes and do another one.  A few days later, try to do two in a row, and do a few sets of two.  You need to start somewhere, but as soon as you can do one, you can find a way to do two.  After that, find a way to do three, and so on.  Remember, don’t cheat yourself by only going halfway down and not going all the way up.  Straighten your arms out at the bottom, and get your chin over the bar!

Want big biceps? Do close-grip chin ups.  I guarantee if you’re banging out 3 sets of 12 at the gym, maybe even hanging some weight around your waist, your arms will be built like cannons.

Remember, appearance is a consequence of fitness.  Pull ups are a true test to somebody’s level of fitness, so where do you fit in?  For those of you who follow the blog, you know my obsession with Ninja Warrior on G4tv.  Here’s a video of a guy on stage 3, which is extremely back-intensive.  I guarantee this guy trains like crazy and as a result has one of the most chiseled frames I’ve ever seen:

Ninja Warrior

Happy Friday!

-Steve

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  • Arsenal1Again

    Might be an old comment like you say Michael, but the topic is still actively monitored. I clicked your link and bookmarked your blog. I have kept abreast of bodyweight exercises for 30 years now because and it has enabled me to work out at many unlikely places over the years. Also after lifting weights, even just one bodyweight routine per week will help you maintain your gains way longer than anything else when weights are not an option for a while. Like you say, bodyweight exercises have infinite variations which in turn also stops development freezing because of repetitive movement, plus it stops routines being boring. My 260Ibs (6’4″) frame is my only limiter. A 140Ibs guy obviously can do way more than me because he is not lifting as much weight as me.

  • Michael Prince

    I do have the benefit of being about 140lbs! I have stopped lifting weights traditionally all together. I still do some kettle bell work but most of my routine is all bodyweight based. I have also really enjoyed “movement” lately, I’ve been following Ido Portal and the people at MovNat on Youtube. Its awesome and I really recommend it if your interested in bodyweight work!

  • http://epullupbar.com Alpha Beyond

    A pull up is one of the greatest body weight exercises known to men. When I wasn’t doing pull ups I was focusing on arm isolation movements like curls and that stuff but my arms didn’t grow. Try doing close hand chin ups and tons of different pull/chin up variations and you arms will be bigger than ever. Solid advices.

  • http://homemadepullupbar.com maria

    Can’t argue with the power of the pull up. I installed a pull up bar in my garage. Standing rule: I do 10 reps every time I walk underneath it to get inside my house.

  • kie

    Hey Steve. I’ve finished the book and I gotta say, I appreciate it! I’m working on leveling up and it’s pretty awesome so thanks for that. Anyway, do you have a practical approach to building up to doing 1 real unassisted pull-up? I’m a girl and I’m doing assisted pullups but one of my physical quests is to work up to doing 1 real one unassisted. Tips?

  • anuj

    boost testosterone level by these 6 foods
    http://blogs4uall.com/foods-boost-testosterone-level/

  • Tanya

    Do i have to become a member to read Mark’s 300 training article?
    because the link brings me to the Gym Jones website…..

  • John C. Anderson

    My best is 29. chin ups.

    I’ve done 28 several times and couple of weeks ago I did 25 with perfect form which is not bad for a guy who is 71 years old

    But on September 2nd I’ll be 72 and I expect to increase my chin up numbers as well as my overall strength.

  • http://healthyandripped.com/ Umer Imran

    What many people don’t realize is that we are lifting our whole weight while doing pull ups or chin ups and that is way more than what we normally lift while doing barbell curls. So unless your are genetically doomed, you will surely get bigger biceps and forearms while doing these exercises.