How to Do More Pull Ups
Pull ups are perhaps the best exercise out there for improving your upper body strength, but they can be incredibly difficult to do when you’re just starting out. Thankfully, with some hard work and dedication, you can get better at performing pull ups and increase how many you can do, even if that number is currently 0.
Perfecting Your Form
Warm up for 5-10 minutes before you start. Warming up will get your blood flowing and help prevent injury. To warm up, do some cardio exercises like walking or jogging. You should also do some active stretching, like arm circles or arm swings.
Set your shoulders and arch your back. If pull ups are hard for you, it may feel natural to "scrunch up" your body while performing them. This can put extra stress on your neck and back muscles, making the entire workout process harder. To avoid this, set your shoulders by pushing them back and keep your spine arched.
Use the muscles in your back, not just your arms. For those who don't know any better, pull ups may seem like the ultimate test of arm strength. However, your back muscles are just as important, if not more so. To make your workout easier and more effective, try to use the muscles on your back and around your armpits to help pull yourself up.
- Specifically, try to engage your latissimus dorsi muscles (“lats”) and rear deltoids (“delts”).
Cross your legs while working out. When performing your pull ups, try crossing your legs close to the ankles. Though it may seem unimportant, this can reduce some of the pressure in your arms and will make it easier to maintain proper form while exercising.
- When crossing your legs, you can either bend your knees or keep them straight. Neither will affect the overall routine, so choose whichever option feels best.
Perform assisted pull ups if you’re struggling. Assisted pull ups will allow you to perform the same basic motions you would for an ordinary pull up, but with a little extra help so you can more easily complete the exercise. Since these closely mimic actual pull ups, they're great for getting your form right before you attempt the real thing. You can do assisted pull ups by:
- Using a pull up machine.
- Looping a resistance band around the bar and your foot to support some of your weight.
- Standing on a stool with one foot.
- Asking a partner to hold your feet or legs while you workout.
Vary the type of pull up you do. Even the most basic up-and-down pull ups have several different variations that you can switch between as you please. These different styles make use of slightly different muscles, meaning you may be better at 1 than the other. Some styles you can try include:
- Standard style: Grab the bar with an overhand grip and keep your hands shoulder-width apart. Then, use slow, steady motions to bring your chest close to the bar.
- Neutral style: Grab 2 parallel bars that are between 1 and 2 ft (30 and 61 cm) apart, making sure the palms of your hands face each other. Then, pull yourself up until your chest is as level with the bars as possible.
- Chin up style: Grab a bar with an underhand grip and keep your hands about a shoulder-width apart. Then, slowly squeeze your biceps to bring your chin closer to the bar.
Add negative pull ups to your routine. Negative pull ups are basically the second half of an actual pull up: start with your chin above the bar and your chest as close to the bar as possible, then lower yourself down as slowly as you can. These are less intense than full pull ups, so try using them as a warm up exercise to get you ready for the real deal.
- Make sure you start at the "up" position every time.
Aim to do 1 more pull up during each workout. Every time you start a new workout session, remember how many pull ups you did last time and aim to do at least 1 more this time. Though it may seem impossible to accomplish when you feel tired and exhausted, push yourself and keep trying until you literally can’t hold onto the bar any longer.
In addition to your individual workout goal, try setting a long term pull up goal for extra motivation.
You don’t have to measure your success in full pull ups! If you find yourself struggling, try to do another half or quarter pull up each time.
Perform your pull up routine 2 to 3 times a week. Though changing your form or techniques can make the process easier, dedication is the only sure-fire way to reach your pull up goals. The more you practice, the stronger you'll get and, ultimately, the more reps you'll be able to do. For a balanced yet focused pull-up regimen, try doing 3 or 4 sets of pull ups between 2 and 3 times per week.
- To give your arm and back muscles time to rest, make sure to take at least 1 day off between pull up sessions. If you’d like, use this time to work on your core or lower body.
Gaining Strength and Energy
Do back and arm strengthening exercises. Pull ups use a lot of upper body muscles, so exercising each of those muscles individually can make your primary workout routine far easier. Before performing your standard pull up sets, try doing some of the following exercises:
- Lat pull downs: Sit at a pull down machine, grab the bar with a shoulder-width grip, and slowly pull it down toward your collarbone. Keep your shoulders back and your arch your torso slightly backward. This exercise will strengthen your upper back and lats.
- Bicep curls: Hold a dumbbell with both hands, then squeeze your biceps to move the weight up and down.
- Seated rows: Sit in front of a weighted rowing machine and bring the handle bars toward your waist line using slow, even movements. This exercise will strengthen your lats and back.
- Prone reverse fly: Lay on a bench face down with a dumbbell in each hand, then raise the dumbbells out to your sides and lower them back down. This exercise is great for your deltoids.
Eat a lean, wholesome diet. To help yourself get big, strong pull up muscles, try to eat a balanced diet filled with lean protein, nutritious carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Though this change of diet may sound unpleasant, there are plenty of tasty, nutritious, and muscle-building foods you can still eat. A few examples include:
- Proteins like chicken breast, lean cuts of beef and pork, lentils, beans, milk, eggs, and fish.
- Good carbs like whole wheat grains, bread, pasta, quinoa, barley, and bulgur.
- Healthy fats like nuts, avocados, olives, tofu, and soy products.
Do aerobic activities and eat less if you are overweight. Pull ups are a body weight exercise, so the heavier you are, the more difficult they will be. If you have lots of weight in the form of fat, it can be nearly impossible to do a pull up no matter how strong you are. To fix this, try tracking your calories to make yourself eat less and do fat-burning aerobic activities like running, dancing, and swimming.
Get a full night’s sleep before and after each workout. If you're not getting enough rest, you'll find it hard to build the strength you need to do lots of pull ups. Your body needs rest both before and after strenuous workouts, so try to get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night.
- Working out right before you go to bed can make it hard to fall asleep, so try to exercise at least 3 hours before your normal bedtime.