pullup-featured-image

How to Do Pullups


I love pullups.  Not those hybrid diaper – underwear, but the exercise.  Believe me I’m not proud of that joke either.

 

You can tell a lot about how strong someone is by watching them perform strict pullups.  A traditional back exercise you can also assess shoulder mobility as well as arm and core strength.

 

Plus, there is real world survival crossover.  Hypothetical situation, say you are revenging the death of your puppy and trying to get back you ’69 Mustang from the son of a Russian mobster.  The Russian goons that are sent to stop you, push you over a second floor railing.  You grab the railing to prevent possibly breaking your legs on the fall. Now you are just hanging there like a giant salami.  How do you get back over the railing?

 

A pullup.

 

Guess who’s been watching a lot of John Wick before writing this?

 

Next time you find yourself hanging off the side of a building or a second floor railing trying to beat the bad guys, you’ll be thanking me for writing this.  Your welcome for saving your life.

 

Like my previous post on dips, I’m going to show you how to go from 0 career pullups to your Game of Thrones title being Master of Pullups.

 

One caveat before we start.  If you are overweight cut yourself some slack. It is going to take you longer to get up to unassisted pullups.  It’s just physics, if you have more weight to move you are going to need more strength.  Strength takes time.

 

BACKGROUND MUSIC SONG A:  CABLE LAT PULLDOWN

 

Who would have guessed we would start with lat pulldowns?  But I’m not doing it for the reason you think.

 

I’m not a fan of substituting machine exercises for bodyweight or barbell exercises because you need to be practicing the actual movement.  That practice creates better form and it helps with the little stabilizer muscles that don’t get worked on a machine.

 

I want to start with the lat pulldown so you can feel the muscles working.  As Arnold would say, “Get your mind in the muscle.”  This is Austrian for feeling the correct muscles contract when lifting.  This will ensure you are using the right muscles going forward to ensure proper form.

 

HOW TO DO IT:

 

  • Using an overhand grip, position your hands so your thumb is about an inch outside your shoulder.
  • Arch your back by sticking your chest out like a proud rooster.
  • Without rocking back, pull the bar down as far as you can towards your collarbone by pinching your shoulders together. (Depending on how wide your back is and shoulder mobility, bringing the bar all the way to the collarbone might not be possible.)
  • Control the bar all the way to the point your arms are fully extended.

 

PRESCRIPTION:

 

Twice a week do three sets of six to eight reps with a weight you can do normally for ten reps.  Use a two second lower to the chest and control the return of the bar for three seconds.  Once you can do all three sets of eight reps with the same weight, add ten pounds and repeat.

 

BACKGROUND MUSIC SONG B: HANG

 

Besides back and arm strength your hands need to be like vie grips.  Without a strong grip this whole endeavor would be an exercise in futility.

 

This is about as complicated as it sounds.  You are basically going to be hanging from the pullup bars.  That’s it.

 

PRESCRIPTION:

 

Three times a week grab on to the pullup bar using the same width as the lat pull down, get your feet off the ground and just hangout.  Take as many sets as you need to get 60 seconds of total hang time.  Start with six sets of ten seconds then progress to three sets of 20 seconds all the way up to one set of 60 seconds.

 

After you can do that be careful shaking hands.

 

BEGINNER MODE: HOLD AT THE TOP

 

Starting here does a few things.  First it helps so you can feel what it’s like to be at the top of the pullup but most importantly, you can learn to keep your body from swinging.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Keep your hands the same width as the lat pull down and focus on your back muscles as you get into position.
  • Get to the top of the pullup position either by jumping up or using a bench.
  • Puff up your chest and bring the bar as close to your collarbone as possible.
  • Remove any support (if used) and hang up at the top position (chin within six inches of the bar).
  • Keep your body as straight as possible by tightening up your abs like you were going to get punched.
  • Hold the position as long as you are within that six-inch range. Don’t overcompensate those six inches like you do in other areas.

 

PRESCRIPTION:

 

Work yourself up to 30 secs of total hold time.  Break up if necessary like you did for the hanging portion.  Once you can do one set of 30 seconds move to the Intermediate Mode.

 

INTERMEDIATE MODE: NEGATIVES

 

Being able to support your weight is numero uno b.  Grip strength is numero uno a.  Don’t worry about getting up there.  You’re only concern is to control the lowering portion.

HOW TO DO IT:

 

  • Use the same grip width as you did in the lat pulldown.
  • Get to the top of the pullup position either by jumping up or using a bench off to the side.
  • Puff up your chest and bring the bar as close to your collarbone as you can.
  • Remove any support (if used) and hang up at the top position for one second to stabilize yourself.
  • Keep your body as straight as possible by tightening up your abs like you were going to get punched.
  • Take five seconds to lower yourself until your arms are fully extended.
  • Get back up and do it all again.

 

PRESCRIPTION:

 

Two to three times a week do three sets of five.  Once you can get all three sets of five then you are ready to hit the Advanced Mode.

 

ADVANCED MODE: ASSISTED PULL UP (BAND/PARTNER, BENCH/CHAIR)

 

If pullups were a delicious cake we’d be taking it out of the oven right now.  We just need to do one thing before we can go HAM on it.

 

For assisted pullups, I put them in order I consider them to most accurately represent a full on pullup.  Opt for the band or partner avenue, if you don’t have access to either use a bench or chair.

HOW TO DO IT (BAND/PARTNER):

 

  • Grab the pullup bar with the same grip you have used throughout.
  • If using a band, place the band under both knees. (If using a partner, bend at the knees and have them grab your both feet.)
  • Puff your chest out and pull the bar down to your collarbone.
  • Keep your body straight throughout the movement by engaging your abs. Try to limit pushing off as much as possible.
  • Control the lowering portion, aim for two seconds lowering then repeat.

 

HOW TO DO IT (BENCH/CHAIR):

 

  • Same as above but put the bench or chair behind you.
  • Bend at the knees and place both feet on the bench/chair.

 

PRESCRIPTION:

 

Two to three times per week do three sets of five.  Once you can do all three sets of five reps using both feet to support yourself, progress to one leg as support.  After you can hit all five reps for three sets with one leg then you can move on to the Boss Mode.

 

BOSS MODE: REGULAR PULLUPS

 

It’s time to put all your hard work to good use.  This is your 8 Mile moment.

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Use the same grip width as you have been using throughout.
  • Bend at the knees and cross your feet behind you (necessary if you are tall.)
  • Puff your chest up and pull the bar towards your chest.
  • Keep your body straight by embracing your abs.
  • Hold at the top for one second and slowly lower your body to the starting position.
  • Rinse, lather and repeat.

 

PRESCRIPTION:

 

Two to three times a week aim for 20 total pullups.  Break them up into as many sets as you need with the end goal being 20 pullups in one set.  Once you can do that you can move onto God Mode.

 

GOD MODE: WEIGHTED PULLUPS

 

It’s time to turn some heads.  Doing an exercise that most of the population can’t do like you did in the Boss Level is pretty cool.  But now we are saying that is not good enough for you, you need weight to make a seemingly impossible exercise a challenge for you.  Welcome to God Mode.

 

The best way to dominate this exercise is to get a weight belt.  If you walk into a gym with a weight belt people know your legit.  Pick one up on Amazon (Affiliate Link) otherwise Dick’s might have some tucked in the back.

  • Start with a ten pound weight.
  • Put the chain through the center of the weight and clip it to the other side of the belt.
  • Step into the belt and shimmy the belt to just above your butt. This will prevent it from sliding off.
  • Step up to the bars and pull that bar down to your chest like you own it.

 

If you can get 20 reps with a weight move up another ten pounds.

 

KIPPING AND BEHIND THE HEAD PULLUPS

 

Watching the Crossfit games, kipping pullups might seem like the way to go to do a pullup.  DON’T.

 

Kipping pullups for the normal everyday person is asking to separate your shoulder or at very least do some serious damage.  The Crossfit athletes that can do 30-40 kipping pullups in a row also go through extensive shoulder mobility training to increase the range of motion.  For the casual gym goer forgo the kipping pullups and focus on regular pullups.

 

Behind the head pullups or lat pulldowns were popular back when people were still rocking Starter Jackets.  Then people started having shoulder injuries because of it.  You might get a few old timers still doing them, but most people steer clear.  In the right circumstance behind the neck pullups are good, but in most cases it’s bad news.  Again it comes down to shoulder mobility.

 

If you don’t actively work to increase the range of motion of your shoulder, then stay away from these two brands of pullups.

 

When you do your first pullup I want to know!  Email me at Dave@aesthetic-physiques.com and tell me all about it.

 

Dave

 

P.S.  The new 30 day challenge is starting tomorrow (2/20).  This one will make you hate me for 30 days and then love me when you get results.  This one is a lunge challenge.  Great for booty, deadlifts and the masochistic. Here is the link to get the challenge.