5 Common Mistakes When Doing a Pull-Up

Can you do a pull-up? How about a chin-up?

Whether you can or you’re working towards your first, are you suuuuuuure you’re learning how to do them the right way?

As someone who has been training in a commercial gym for the past 15 years, I see people every day doing “pull-ups” and “chin-ups” … but probably 90% are doing them wrong.

It’s like watching Joffrey sword fight. Yeah, he’s putting a lot of energy into it and moving around, but anyone with experience can tell that it’s not terribly effective.

Whether you can string together 10 pull-ups already or are still working towards your first one, today we’re going to cover all of the big mistakes people make when doing a pull-up or chin-up, and how to make sure you’re doing them right.

Your shoulders, back, and arms are complex pieces of machinery – do proper pull-ups and you’ll be building uber strength and mobility in all the right places. Do them improperly and you might be setting yourself up for an injury.

Zoinks!

I can tell you’re awesome, so I went ahead and made a video for you to walk you through all of this stuff. Watch the video below and read about the mistakes underneath it to make sure you’re training your pull-ups correctly!

5 Mistakes People Make with Pull-ups and Chin-Ups

Mistake #1: You don’t extend low enough or pull high enough. Full extensiooooooon and full range of motion are major problems for many people training pull-ups and chin-ups. Most people I see in a gym are doing half pull-ups. Either not pulling high enough, not dropping low enough, or both! It’s not a full rep, and it’s robbing your body of effective work.

Solution: Leave your ego at the door! Yes, pull-ups are tough, but half effort gives you half results. With each repetition you want your body to be in a straight line at the bottom – keep your elbows extended and your shoulder relaxed slightly up to your ears. Full range of motion for the win! Better to do a few proper pull-ups than more half-rep ones.

Mistake #2: You don’t engage your shoulders at the start. Another problem I see with people is not setting their shoulders properly when they start their pull-ups, which can put unnecessary strain on your joints/tendons/muscles. It can also be the difference between being able to get your first pull-up or chin-up and flailing around on the bar!

Solution: Imagine pinching a pen in between your shoulder blades, then do the pull-up. In other words, pull your shoulders down and back before you bend your elbows to pull-up. This puts us in a far more efficient position. By not using our back and shoulder muscles fully, over the long run we’ll be weaker and at a higher risk for injury.

Mistake #3: You’re doing too hard a variation. Whether it’s lack of strength or too much body mass, you should choose a variation that allows you to have great form while getting stronger. Use a box, an assisted band, or an assisted pull-up machine to start at a low weight and build up your strength.

Solution: Always do proper pull-ups and chin-ups. Get your chin over the bar from a hang with every rep, and maintain good form. If you find yourself committing the mistakes on this list, make your variation easier.

Mistake #4: Not engaging your shoulders at the top. Many people will get a good extension at the bottom of their chin-up and start off with great form. But then as they perform the movement, will find their shoulders in a poor position at the top.

A classic sign this is happening is if the chest/neck doesn’t touch the bar, or the body curls inward significantly at the top. Is your shoulder elevated to the ears or rolled forward? Are you shrugging your shoulders as you’re struggling to get above the bar?

Solution: Make your variation easier by working on an assisted chin-up and maintaining a strong shoulder position at the top. Keep your shoulders down and back and engaged through the movement.

A chin over the bar is a chin-up – we aren’t trying to take away your chin-up if you aren’t getting your chest to the bar. But consider this a progression to even better form so you can eventually work on harder skills like pull-up variations or the legendary muscle-up.

Mistake #5: You use violent kipping motions to do your pull-ups or chin-ups. We know CrossFitters use the kip to get more pull-ups in a short amount of time. NOW, it is the humble opinion of our team that you should only be kipping AFTER you are capable of doing perfectly functional and safe pull-ups and chin-ups (in fact, many CrossFit gyms require qualifying strict pull-ups before you can kip).

Solution: Build strength and good position (the foundation!) before you worry about speed. You want to know how to drive a car before you learn how to race it!

Start doing better pull-ups today!

There you go, my dear rebel friend, you now have everything you need to get started down a healthier path to crushing pull-ups.

To recap:

  • Not full range of motion
  • Shoulder not engaged at the beginning.
  • Shoulders not engaged at the top
  • Too hard a variation.
  • Kipping before strict.

Check back later this week for more articles and videos on how to improve your favorite bodyweight movements. And if you’re not already signed up for our email list, make sure you are so you don’t miss email-only bodyweight information this month!

Can you do a pull-up? What was or is currently your biggest challenge?

Any pull-up or chin-up related questions for us?

-Steve

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  • Aaron Piercey

    I’ve always struggled with this exercise. Can anyone point to a step by step guide for a super beginner?

  • Taylor
  • Oramac

    THE major issue I have with pull ups is height. I’m 6’4″, so getting full extension on any kind of equipment is damn near impossible.

  • Big Adam

    Even if you bend your knees and lift your feet off the ground?

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  • Moussa Alexander

    Thank you for showing the assisted pull up with the box. Never seen that before. Can’t wait to be the first person at the gym doing these. Love ya nerd fitness.

  • Tony Langdon

    Great article. It’s always good to get a reality check on exercise form.

  • http://astra-hc.com AstraHealth

    Great share!
    But pull ups can be risky!!
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  • Anita K. F.

    Great timing! I just did chin ups today, still feeling like my form wasn’t quite right – and now I know why! Thanks guys!

  • Rhia

    I’m wondering about exercise in general. I’m a beginner and I’ve recently joined a gym. I feel like my body is sore all the time now. I’ve been at this for about 3 weeks and it’s extremely difficult for me every time I go. Does it get easier? After a while does the exercise hurt less?

  • Jim Bathurst

    Your body will grow stronger and acclimate, and yes there will be less of that initial debilitating muscle soreness. Continue with the gym, but also find physical pursuits that you love to do. This will help drive motivation and keep you in a healthy mindset. Good luck!

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  • Oramac

    This works, but it also makes the movement somewhat more difficult. And, not that I personally need it, but it also makes assisted pull ups considerably harder.

  • Ulfi

    my biggest problem are my shoulders. I have a really hard time squeezing my shoulder blades back and keeping them there when pulling up. Okay, 93kgs do not help either, but I am still struggling with 30kgs assist bands.

    I can do nice rows on the rings and always get the ring touching the side of my breast. Currently, I can not really think about an intermediate step here, this is where the typical progression say “do some pull-up variation”.

  • http://www.dynamin.in/ Dynamin

    Its true most of us are doing the same mistake that will not give best results. Moreover it will harm your body rather than benefiting.

  • Jim Bathurst

    Have you tried the assisted chin-ups with the box? This will allow a more consistent assistance during the exercise. Bands can be a great tool, but they will naturally give less assistance at the top – where a lot of people need it most!

  • Pingback: 5 Common Push-Up Mistakes to Avoid | Nerd Fitness()

  • Julian Rickards

    What do you think of the Gravitron machine as a means of assisting with pullups, chinups and dips? This machine is basically a weight machine that instead of loading weight, it unloads your bodyweight. I am about 170lb and if I set it to 100lb, I’m only doing pullups/chinups/dips with 70lbs. You kneel on a platform that is tied to the weight you had set.

    http://www.discountonlinefitness.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/409×546/9df78eab33525d08d6e5fb8d27136e95/s/9/s9grv_-_model_pullup.jpg

  • rob

    It will not help train you to do a regular pull up. Better to do the negative part of the pull up or scapula pulls.

  • rob

    Yes it will get easier. Try doing one training day hard then the next easy. I workout every day and never feel sore. because you are untrained you will feel sore but have the most to gain. I envy you.

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  • Brenn

    Does anyone know the dimension of the box used for the assists? I’d like to build something like this that I could use for pullup/chinup assists as well as step ups and I like the look of these boxes. It seems like all three sides have different dimensions and could give different heights.

  • Delit

    “It will not help train you to do a regular pull up”
    Why?