Improving on Pullups

pullupsThere is nothing more than impressive than a man or woman who can do good numbers of pullups in a good form. It is a basic routine that any mankind needs to master for survival skills. Just imagine in the post-apocalyptic zombie time, you might need to do a lot of climbing to save your life! Too drastic? Okay, how about you got caught in the Spanish bull running and you got stuck behind an alley; the only way to get out from being horned by the bull, is to be able to pull your body up on a nearby rooftop. Having strong arms and back will help you.


1. Do Chin Ups – palms facing you and grip is about shoulder width. This is easier as you’re working more on your biceps than your back. The more chinups you can do, the more pullups you can do

2. Avoid Machines – Machines balance the weight for you and force you into fixed motions. The strength you build on the Lat Pull-down and the Assisted Pull-up Machine won’t carry over to pullups. Don’t use them. Based on my observations from working out at Santa Monica Muscle Beach, and at the gym, guys who are doing pullups have better V shape back and lat definition than those who are only doing lat pulldown and rowing.

3. Lose Excess Bodyfat – If you are carrying excess body fat your ability to do pull ups will be greatly reduced. Extra body fat is good for lifting more weight in certain exercises that require greater leverage like the squat and deadlift. But that’s all it’s good for. Other than that it’s unhealthy and unsightly. Dont you want to be Ripped Like Nick?

4. Use assistance – If you cant do full motion pullups, use chair asssistance by placing either one or both feet on the chair, and use your leg power to push your body up. You can use 100% of your back and arms to bring your body down slowly. Or get a pullup assistance band.

5. Start in Proper Positon – All too often people start in the dead hang position with their scapula elevated and their shoulders touching their ears. This is dangerous and incorrect.

When you do this all of the tension is placed on your tendons and ligaments instead of your muscles.

When you get on the bar you want to pull your shoulder blades down and lock your shoulders into their sockets. This is a far safer position and ensures that the stress will be placed directly on the muscles and not the tendons and ligaments.

6.  Do not go till sloppy failure – This is the biggest mistake you can make with pullups.  As soon as a single rep does not look exactly like the previous one and you can’t get as high, the set is over.

If your speed slows down noticeably the set is over. You would never continue a set of squats if you could no longer lock out the weight. If you got all the way up on rep five but were only able to get up ¾ of the way on rep six you wouldn’t proceed to do four more reps of partials until the set ended with the weight crashing down on you and crippling you.

But that’s exactly how people finish their sets of pullups. The form gets worse and worse and worse, and they keep going and going and going, climbing up the invisible ladder, swinging and kipping.

When you do this you get no stronger. And most of the time you get weaker. The negative effect of training to failure is seen more on chin ups than any other exercise. No one knows why this is, but trust me, that’s how it is.

When doing complex movements like this, always stop 1 or 2 repetitions short of failure. This means to do 8 reps when you are capable of doing 9 or 10. Training to failure is a viable tool when it comes to breaking down a muscle so it can recover and grow bigger and stronger. Pull-up and chin-up performance, however, comes down to learning to use your back and getting more efficient at it.

7. Use momentum / kip – Pull yourself up while using hip drive. Once you can do about 5 pullups this way, drop the hip drive and use strict technique again.

8. Grip is everything – You won’t be good at pullups if you can’t stay on the bar long enough. You need a strong grip. Train by hanging off the bar for time with two arms (eventually try hanging off one arm). Barbell holds with heavy weights for time also will help. It also helps if you have a workout gloves or use gymnastic chalk

9. Work on the negative reps – Grab your pull-up bar and get yourself in the top position by jumping up. Lower yourself slowly and jump back up on each rep. 5 sec count on the way down is enough. Expect lots of soreness using this method. Everyone is actually stronger on negative reps.

10. Work on it daily – this is something that I learn from a master pullup. On the days you’re not working on your back, do pullups 2x per day, once in the morning and the 2nd one later at night. You can do either 1 or 2 sets of 5-10 reps.

Keep in mind that these tips are just there to help to get to get better at pullups, if you’re not good at it yet. If you can already do 8 pullups, focus on the clean form more (without kipping) as that will help