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Pull Up! 3 Tips To Master The Powerful Pull-Up

Pull-ups should be a permanent fixture in any legit strength training plan. Use these tips to expand their benefits and capitalize on serious muscle gains!

Pull-ups with any grip variation are pivotal to improve strength, size, and remain injury-free. Legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin says pull-ups are the single most important exercise for upper body strength development. I agree. Plus, I think they're just plain badass.

I see many online articles devoted to building a bigger squat, deadlift, or bench press, but there's less content dedicated to programming the humble pull-up. Luckily, I'm here to save the day. Quite frankly, the simplest way to get better at pull-ups is to do pull-ups! Here are my simple tips and variations to help you perform powerful pull-ups quickly.

1 / Use Partials for Starting Strength

Partial reps don't only apply to the end of a working set when muscles are fatigued and can't go through the full range of motion. You can apply partial pull-ups with perfect form to fire up the back muscles.

Hang from a pull-up bar with a standard grip, avoid using momentum, and squeeze the chest upward to depress and retract the shoulder blades. Bend the elbows so the body moves up three inches, hold the contraction for one second, and relax. Perform sets of 6-10 reps depending on your strength.

Partials increase your initial strength from a dead hang. The lats and teres muscles must be especially strong from a fully-stretched position to drive the body upward at the start. This helps them fire up. It's a great exercise to begin a pulling workout and ensure the scapular muscles are engaged. Pull-up partials set the tone for the remainder of the workout by forcing blood into the muscles.

Lee Boyce on Scap Pull-Ups

Watch The Video - 01:59




2 / Focus on Negative Reps

Negative reps are great for people who can't do a single pull-up. They can also help you bust through a plateau because eccentric strength is greater than concentric strength. To clarify my point, there will come a time when you can't bench press the weight off your chest and you'll need a spotter to help the bar up. At the top position, you can lower the bar slowly because your stores of negative strength aren't terribly affected by the exercise. Hitting different fast-twitch muscle fibers with negatives is a vital resource to tap.

The best negative pull-ups, in my opinion, are those where you grab hold of a pull-up bar and assist yourself up to the top position. Jump up or use a box to bring your chin over the bar, avoid a freefall, attempt to maintain good form, and control your descent as much as possible. Start with 10-second negatives for 8 sets.

When you can extend one negative rep to 30 seconds, you should possess the strength to complete one full pull-up. Retest your longest possible negative pull-up weekly.

3 / Use Ladders to Extend Sets

Ladder sets are a simple method to get more reps out of a sub-max effort. They're a perfect tool to employ if you're a lifter who can do a few pull-ups but hit a progression wall. Ladder sets tap into strength and muscular endurance and allow for repeated and prolonged lifting effort thanks to mini breaks.

Pull-Up Ladder Set Example:
Perform 2 reps and rest for 15 seconds
Perform 3 reps and rest for 15 seconds
Perform 5 reps and rest for 15 seconds
Perform 10 reps

For people who can't do more than 10-12 bodyweight pull-ups, ladder sets kick your rear into gear and break up a set of 20 reps. Use ladders before you perform weighted pull-ups. The back muscles are primarily composed of type 1 muscle fibers and are geared toward endurance. They keep your posture in check all day, after all. Training them for pure strength with low-rep, heavy loads isn't the best way to stimulate their growth. When you master ladders, add light weight to the belt, and do ladders again.

Honorable Mentions ///

1 / Dead-Stop Pull-Ups

Dead-stop pull-ups require you to stop for two seconds and dead hang at the bottom of each rep, which eliminates the stretch reflex and keeps you from rebounding into the next rep. Ultimately it makes the set much harder.

Lee Boyce Deadstop Pull-Ups

Watch The Video - 00:15




2 / Isometric Holds

Applying isometric holds during your negative reps are helpful to expose weak spots within your pull-ups. Perform negative pull-ups like above, but use a five-second isometric hold just shy of the top position (where the elbow is 90 degrees).

You're only as strong as what you can hold, so train your grip strength and forearms. Don't neglect deadlifts, loaded carries, and other pulling exercises that build grip strength. It creates a better force transfer through the upper body when your grip is invincible.


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About The Author

Lee Boyce is the owner of Boyce Training Systems, and is a fitness author and strength coach based in Toronto, Canada.

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KiloCarcajou

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KiloCarcajou

Great read! I've often had a hard time getting a pump out of my back during back and bi day, as my biceps tend to get tired before my back. I'll try throwing in some scap pullups first thing, seems like it might be just what I need.

Aug 22, 2013 6:11pm | report
 
mcorem

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mcorem

Do you tuse lifting straps

Aug 22, 2013 9:04pm | report
leeboyce

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leeboyce

Thanks for the love!

Aug 22, 2013 10:07pm | report
andrewk1991

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andrewk1991

you may get more of a pump in the forearms, back and bi's will take a lot of focus on form though.

Aug 23, 2013 5:52am | report
dajunglebrotha

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dajunglebrotha

thats all mind over muscle bro

Aug 23, 2013 9:18am | report
mmanningfitness

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mmanningfitness

Try slightly internally rotating your elbows at the top of the movement to engage your lats, removing your biceps out of the movement. Keep your hands and forearms relaxed once your lats are engaged. (This is applies to all rowing exercises.)

Aug 23, 2013 12:31pm | report
crumpledoor

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crumpledoor

Thank you so much for this article and suggestions to improve. This is by far my worst exercise but I know the importance of being able to perform them for size. I have always had to use resistance bands to help me which is neither practical or easily done. This article will help me immensely to reach my goal.

Aug 22, 2013 9:23pm | report
 
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 5'10"
  • wt: 178.57 lbs
  • bf: 11.8%
leeboyce

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leeboyce

Glad to help :)

Aug 22, 2013 10:07pm | report
eddie_gym

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eddie_gym

Pull ups IMO are one of the best exercises. I do them at least twice a week. The key is to go all the way down, so you stretch your lats and arms, and work the eccentric part. I also use different grips to "focus" different areas, but weighted wide grip pull ups are my favorite ones.

Aug 23, 2013 6:41am | report
 
leeboyce

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leeboyce

They're definitely a top grade upper body strengthener. Eccentrics are a really valuable tool. Thanks!

Aug 23, 2013 12:10pm | report
BankaiKurenai

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BankaiKurenai

Being able to do one pull up is like my Holy Grail at the moment! Now I'm even more pumped to work on it and actually clear the bar with my chin, I think I'll try those negative pull ups.

Aug 23, 2013 7:01am | report
 
iamLionman

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iamLionman

Congrats on that pullup, thats a huge milestone! Keep it up.

Aug 23, 2013 3:31pm | report
mexicanalinda18

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mexicanalinda18

I could practice pull ups all day. I love them! Great article.

Aug 23, 2013 7:24am | report
 
leeboyce

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leeboyce

thank you!

Aug 23, 2013 12:11pm | report
Joedzilla

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Joedzilla

Very nice tips, i do my pullups everyday but my strength does not improve so much, i will add this to my routine.
Thanks.

Aug 23, 2013 8:12am | report
 
  • Body Stats
  • ht: 5'10"
  • wt: 176.37 lbs
  • bf: 17.0%
leeboyce

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leeboyce

thank YOU!

Aug 23, 2013 12:11pm | report
RelaxImJoking

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RelaxImJoking

When I do pull ups I look like Sanka in the movie
"Cool Runnings"

Aug 23, 2013 8:33am | report
 
evo_dom

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evo_dom

That's my new sig!

Aug 23, 2013 11:58am | report
MATTR35S

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MATTR35S

Love it!

Jan 18, 2014 10:26am | report
bhappel

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bhappel

Nice article - I especially like the idea of using negatives. I tend to crap out around 8 reps or so. Instead of quitting, I'll try using negs to extend the set.

Aug 23, 2013 10:22am | report
 
GuidryJT

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GuidryJT

pull ups have always been my favorite lift. I do about 15 before and after every workout as a warm up and a cool down.

Aug 23, 2013 10:42am | report
 
andrewprimmer21

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andrewprimmer21

Another great article Lee. Love the blog and the extra effort to contribute on this site as well. Keep 'em coming!

Aug 23, 2013 10:56am | report
 
leeboyce

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leeboyce

Hey Andrew - Thanks for the love :) Will do!

Aug 23, 2013 12:12pm | report
hitonallsixes

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hitonallsixes

Good tips!

Aug 23, 2013 11:07am | report
 
leeboyce

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leeboyce

:) Glad to help.

Aug 23, 2013 12:13pm | report
Showing 1 - 25 of 59 Comments

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