There’s no denying it… pullups are badass.
There’s something primal, something animalistic about being able to pull your own bodyweight up over a bar.
Perhaps it’s because humans (and our greater ape ancestors) have been pulling themselves up for hundreds of thousands of years.
But our ancestors weren’t repping out pull ups because they looked badass. Not even close…
They did it for survival.
Long before the luxuries of safe homes and guns, the only way to escape from a wild beast chasing you was to pull yourself up and away from danger.
If our ancestors lacked the ability to pull themselves up, they were DEAD.
Fast forward to today. If we still needed the ability to pull ourselves up to survive, the population of earth would probably shrink by more than half overnight!
Today we have the luxury of stepping outside our front door and not having to worry about getting mauled by a savage animal.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that this luxury has contributed to the pitiful pulling strength that most people have today. Since people don’t need to do pullups to survive, they don’t.
That’s a shame because this primal need to pull ourselves up still exists deep within… locked away inside our human biology.
If you don’t believe me, head to your local playground and watch what the kids do. They gravitate like a magnet towards the monkey bars and other things to hang from.
Why? Because it’s natural.
As we get older, society conditions us to sit in chairs and cars. Rarely if ever do we hang from something.
But the kids know what’s up…
How To Start Pullup Training
If you’re new to pullups, I recommend first mastering the horizontal row progression before even thinking about doing pullups.
Pullups are extremely demanding, and there are only so many regression exercises you can do before you reach full pullups.
By first mastering the horizontal row progression, you’ll have the preliminary pulling strength to be able to tackle the pullup progression, no problem.
Other than a lack of pulling strength, many people also have a weak grip. This causes problems when trying to hang from a bar to do pullups.
Oftentimes if your grip is weak, your pullups can be limited by grip rather than pulling strength. You never want this to happen.
When doing pullups, you want to be limited by pulling strength, not grip.
Ironically, the best way to beef up your grip is to hang from an overhead bar. If you’re struggling with a weak grip, start hanging, baby.
3 Killer Tips To Execute Pullups With Perfect Form
Walk into any commercial gym and look at how the majority of guys do pullups. They’re flailing around on the bar like a fish out of water.
DON’T do this.
Instead, focus on executing your pullups with picture perfect form:
- Use a full range of motion and maintain “tight shoulders” in the bottom position (more on this below).
- Use whichever grip feels most comfortable for you. Many people find pullups easier with an underhand grip (often referred to as a chinup). You can also experiment with different grip widths.
- Avoid using momentum, swinging, or kipping your feet to help you perform the exercise. Instead, your reps should be smooth and controlled.
Regarding maintaining “tight shoulders,” check out the two photos below. The first photo shows a dead hang position with the arms completely straight and the shoulders elevated up to the ears.
This is NOT the bottom position you want to maintain with your pullups as it can lead to injury.
Instead, engage your back muscles and pull your shoulder blades down and back. This helps form a protective layer around your shoulder and prevents injury.
You also want to maintain a very slight kink at the elbow, almost unnoticeable to an outside observer. This protects the elbows.
This position is sometimes called the “active hang.”
Before you begin a set of pullups, first get into the active hang position and maintain it throughout the entire set. Do not allow yourself to go back down to the dead hang position.
Alright, that’s enough chit-chat. Let’s get to the steps.
Step 1: Assisted Pullups
The first step in the pullup progression is assisted pullups.
Find an elevated surface high enough such that your feet can maintain contact in the top position of the pullup. Chairs usually work well.
Place your feet on the edge of the elevated surface and grab an overhead bar with the grip of your choice. Bend at the knees until you are in the active hang position.
This is the start position.
Using assistance from your legs, pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar. Pause for a second at the top before lowering yourself down to the start position slowly and with control.
It’s easy to modulate the difficulty of assisted pullups. Obviously, the less assistance you use from your legs, the tougher the exercise becomes.
You can also switch to using only one leg for assistance.
Step 2: Negative Pullups
The next step in the pullup progression is negative pullups. Negative pullups involve the “lowering” or “eccentric” portion of the pullup.
Use the same elevated surface you used in Step 1. Now instead of using your legs for assistance to get to the top position, jump up to the top. This helps reserve your strength for the negative.
At this point your feet should be fully off of the elevated surface, and you should be holding yourself in the top position of the pullup (sometimes referred to as the “flex hang” position).
This is the start position.
Now, as slowly and with as much control as you can, begin to straight your arms as you lower yourself back to the active hang position. Don’t let your feet touch the elevated surface.
At first you may only manage a split second on the negative. That’s okay. Over time aim to increase your time up to 10-15 seconds per negative.
Once at the bottom, place your feet back on the elevated surface and repeat.
Negative pullups take advantage of gravity. Most people who are not strong enough to do the concentric (raising) portion of the pullup can still manage to do negatives.
Once you’ve boosted your negative times, you can further increase the difficulty of this step by adding assistance back into the equation.
Instead of jumping up to the top position, simply do an assisted pullup (Step 1) followed by an unassisted negative.
Step 3: Half Pullups
Muscles are weakest at the edges of their range of motion. In regards to pullups, this means your arm muscles are weakest in the bottom position of a pullup because they are almost fully stretched out.
Even if you have the strength for the full pullup, you still might struggle getting out of the bottom position.
That’s where half pullups come in. With half pullups, you focus only on the top range of motion of the pullup. This avoids the dreaded bottom position.
Using your elevated surface, get your body halfway up to the bar. Now remove your feet from the elevated surface. This is the start position.
Without assistance, pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar. Pause before lowering yourself back to the start position. At no point should your feet be used for assistance throughout the entire set.
In previous steps, you’ve used some form of assistance in between reps. Now we’re removing all assistance until the full set is complete.
This really ratchets up the intensity.
If you’re struggling with half pullups, go back to Step 2 and start doing assisted pullups with unassisted negatives. Build up your reps and negative times and come back to half pullups.
Step 4: Full Pullups
By now, if you’ve mastered the previous steps you should have the strength to perform a full pullup.
Grab hold of an overhead bar with the grip of your choice and get into the active hang position. Be sure your feet are clear off the ground.
This is the start position.
Using your pulling strength, pull yourself up until your chin passes over the bar. Pause for a second before returning to the start position under control. Avoid swinging or using momentum.
Congratulations! The pullup is an incredible feat of strength.
Be sure to spend some time with the full pullup. Build your reps up to at least 10, ideally 15 or 20 before considering anything more advanced.
Advanced Pullup Training
Once you’ve mastered the full pullup, you have many options as to where to go from here:
- Begin working explosive variations of pullups such as muscle-ups or clapping pullups.
- Start working towards the one-arm pullup.
- Start adding weights to your pullups with a dip belt.
- Experiment with different types of grips: wide, close, etc. You can also start working pullups on the rings.
- Try archer, uneven, or L-sit pullups.
One thing’s for sure… unless you have a solid pullup none of the above will be even remotely possible.
Pullups are as old as the hills. They’re a fundamental calisthenics exercise that you should aim to master if you wish to pursue a training career in calisthenics.
They’ll add serious beef to your upper body, specifically your back and biceps. Seriously… if you want major guns, get doing pullups.
It’s also a very satisfying exercise to achieve. Most people can’t do pullups, so once you can you are in rare company.
Maintain perfect form, progress slowly, and always remember to have fun. If you follow this simple formula, you will busting out pullups for reps in no time.
Thanks for reading. As always, leave those comments down below and let me know what you thought.