How to train your body to do pull-ups

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Rachel Buschert

Pull-ups are hard, but if you want to learn to do them, you can. You just have to, well, do them.

"Any athlete knows that if you want to get good at doing something, you have to do that thing. And if you can't quite do it, you have to get as close to it as possible," says expert Equinox trainer and Insanity star Rachel Buschert.

Why? Pull-ups are functional movements that require the strength and coordination of lots of muscles—biceps, triceps, latissimus dorsi, abs, etc. "So in addition to strengthening, you want to train your neuromuscular system to coordinate all the muscle groups at once," she says. And consistency is key.

If you can't just grab on and lift yourself up, there are plenty of ways you can train to get there. Here are three that Buschert recommends...

Rachel Buschert1. Use a band
Secure a resistance band from your bar and put it under your feet. The band will help lift you up as you rise, but will still make you work. "You’re not as stable as you’d be on an assisted pull-up machine, so the instability is going to help you get stronger," Buschert says. As you get stronger, you can try lifting up with the band under only one foot or your knees.

Rachel Buschert2. Use a bench
"Real" pull-ups are done from a dead hang, but you can make it easier by placing a bench or chair under your feet so that you're not hoisting so much weight. Just like with the band, you can then progress to standing on one foot as you get stronger. You can also jump to the bar from the floor or a box, using your momentum for assistance.

Rachel Buschert3. Use a friend (or a trainer)
Having someone lift you up to the bar is another way to go. But since the distance you'll be pulling up will be so much shorter, the key is to exercise control and lower yourself slowly, making your muscles work hard on the way down.


4 Comments | ADD YOURS

  1. December 18th, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Good tips:
    Pull ups are something I am not good at, but want and need to do for optimum health. I did a few pull ups last week for first time on Dec 13 and still feel a slight pain in abdomen area. I think I pulled it. Oh well no pain no gain.
    Happy Holidays James

  2. December 18th, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    James you were probably just experiencing some post workout soreness from the pull-ups you did. Pull-ups work your Abs!
    I’m surprised the article makes no mention of “reverse” “negative” or “eccentric” pull-ups, which are all one in the same. You may not be strong enough to do a full pull-up from the bottom but you should be able to lower and control your bodyweight from the top position. Use a chair, box or the apparatus to get to the top position with your chin over the bar and lower yourself to the bottom as SLOWLY as possible. On every exercise you do you can lower more weight than you can lift. Its one of the tenets of strength-training and you can apply it to many exercises. It’s called accentuating the “negative”!

  3. December 18th, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Mike I do mention eccentric pull-ups as one of my tips (the pic of trainer assisting me up and then focus on lowering!) you are right it can be a great tool! :)

    and James you def used your core! if you think you pulled it of course rest but some soreness is to be expected, keep it up! :)

  4. January 6th, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    Is it important which way you hold the bar while you do the pull ups?

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