The Perfect Pullup

Pull ups are one of the most difficult calisthenic exercises to perform.

Pull-ups and chin-ups are words sometimes used interchangeably – some say they’re the same but some say they’re different.

Here are explanations on how to perform them and how they’re differentiated on bodybuilding.com:

  • Pull ups mainly work the lats (latissimus dorsi) but also the middle back and biceps. Palms face away from you.
  • Chin ups also mainly work the lats but work the forearms, biceps, and middle back. Palms face towards you.

Honestly, do both!  Or, use a mixed grip (see Various Forms below).  Two sets of ten for each should be enough to get you sweating bullets!

It takes lots of practice to be able to do this exercise so don’t give up. Keep trying and eventually you’ll get it!

Various forms of pull ups:
  • Perpendicular pull ups – Palms facing each other on parallel bars (bars perpendicular to the torso).  Be sure to find an adequate piece of equipment that allows you to do this exercise.
  • Thumb-less grip pull ups – No thumbs while doing pull ups!
  • Mixed Grip Pull ups – Using a different grip for left and right hands. For example, left hand faces you and right hand faces away.
  • Fat Bar Pull ups – Using a “fat” bar helps gripping power and strengthens the forearm tremendously
  • Horizontal Pull ups – Get your body parallel to the ground, back facing the floor, by hanging from a support bar with your arms and using support equipment to support your feet – your body will be horizontal. Performing a pull ups with your arms while in this position.
  • Towel Pull ups – Using a towel thrown over a support bar, you grasp the ends of the towel and perform the pull up.
  • Kipping Pull ups – “Kipping” involves a hip snap that generates additional momentum that will lift the body with minimal upper body pulling. It is an efficient technique for getting your chin over the bar but is not a good technique for isolating or targeting the muscles of the upper back.
  • One Arm pull up – Yes, one arm only pull up!  This is an extremely advanced calisthenic exercise requiring unbelievable strength.  It may seem impossible, but it has been done.  Maybe you’ll never be able to do this in your lifetime, but that’s okay!  The alternative is to grab the pull-up bar with one hand and have your other hand hold the forearm of the arm holding the pull-up bar – also called a supported or assisted one arm pull up.
Common mistakes with pull ups:

As difficult as pull ups are, do not cheat yourself out of proper technique and form. Some people do not complete the range of motion required for doing a pull up and are thus do not benefit from the exercise.

Please keep in mind these common mistakes:

  • Not going all the way down and straightening the arms. Going all the way down to a “dead hang” is the proper way to perform a full pull up.
  • Do not use your hips or legs to force yourself up (unless you’re doing kipping pull ups). Using only your upper body will target the correct muscles to build strength.
  • Not pulling yourself over the bar. If you’re only getting your forehead or hair over the bar your using to perform the pull up, you are cheating yourself! Get your entire head over the bar, or better yet, touch your chest to the bar.
  • Breathing – be sure to breath in while going up and breath out while going down.

Okay maybe it’s just too hard to follow all the rules, bend them only if you’re really having difficulty – but keep working towards proper form! Don’t continue working up to 10 “half pull ups” when you really can only do 5 with proper technique.

Pull yourself together!

The Perfect Pullup

It takes a lot of practice to increase the number of repetitions with pull ups. Remember, this is a difficult calisthenic exercise so do not feel demoralized because you cannot do more than a couple, or even none.  Practice makes perfect.

If you are finding yourself unable to perform a pull up, you can always get the The Perfect Pullup or the Iron Gym Total Body Pullup Bar to practice at home.  They are very simple and inexpensive pieces of equipment which are must have items.  I personally cannot go without one one of these in my home.  They’re also a way great way to show off to any potential guests (or easy to take down if you can’t do any yet!).  Practice makes perfect!

Good Luck!