In previous posts, we’ve talked about the benefits and struggles that come with practising pull-ups. For one, they’re not easy. It takes time to build up the strength to be able to hoist your entire body weight up and down without feeling/looking like you’re going to die.
But if you do manage to become one of those annoying/inspiring guys at the gym that can rep out a load of pull-ups without scrunching up your face in fear/pain, then the challenge now becomes how to challenge yourself further. Here are 4 things you can do that will help make you even better at pull-ups!
1. Squeeze the bar
Whether you’re advanced or a beginner at pull-ups, one reason you may be stopping at 4 reps instead of 8 is that your grip strength just isn’t where it should be. The best way to improve grip strength is (annoyingly) to keep doing pull-ups. I know, not what you wanted to hear.
Focusing on your grip before you start a set will boost those improvements, allowing you to get a proper muscle contraction in your upper back and shoulders as you perform the movement.
Stand on a box or a step so that you can reach the pull-up bar and, with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, squeeze the bar three times imagining you’re trying to crush the bar.
Maintaining this grip throughout each rep will drastically improve your grip strength and help you progress much faster.
So many different muscles are involved in performing a pull-up, but you want to be sure that the big ones are carrying their/your weight. Hang from the pull-up bar with an overhand grip and shrug your shoulders, pulling the shoulder blades down and towards your spine.
This will prompt your latissimus dorsi – the biggest muscles in your upper body – and teres major – muscles in the shoulder blades – to do most of the work and prevent your traps from being the primary active muscle.
(Note: If you can’t hang from the bar just yet, start by performing the reverse shrug on a lat pulldown machine.)
3. Brace yourself
Arching your back when doing a pull-up can cause injury, while at the same time reduces your strength. So having the correct body position is key.
Brace your abs, press your thighs together, clench your glutes (your butt muscles), and point your legs slightly in front of you (making your body form a wide C-shape). This “hollow-body” position will focus your power where it needs to be and recruit your abs to support your lats during the difficult movement.
It will feel like it’s more work than just pulling yourself up, but it will end up making them easier in the long run.
4. Full range at a slow pace
Don’t cheat yourself out of a workout. Perform a full range of movement, with your shoulders clearing the bar, and allow yourself to hang at the bottom. This will be much harder than relying on momentum to complete the movement, but the more distance you cover the more muscles you use.
Also, work to lower your body slowly rather than dropping from the top of the move to the hang. HUGE gains are made during eccentric movements (the lowering phase) so take at least 1 full second to lower yourself from the bar.
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