One of the most significant tests of upper body strength is the pull-up. Performing a certain number of pull-ups in a row is even a physical fitness test used to recruit soldiers and measure strength in professional sporting athletes.
But if you’re stuck at only being able to perform a few, then I have some awesome ways to get better at pull-ups.
Table of Contents
7 Wickedly Effective Ways To Get Better At Pull-Ups
Do More Pull-Ups
Doing more pull-ups seems like a no-brainer. If you want to get better at something, you need to do it more often. Pull-ups are no different. The beauty of this exercise as it requires only your bodyweight and no special equipment other than a bar to hang from.
Further, it doesn’t require any warm-up, so you can bang out a few reps every time you see a perfect pull-up location. There are many ways to do more pull-ups. Firstly, when you have pull-ups in your program, you can perform more sets or reps than you normally would.
However, if you’re doing pull-ups once per week, this isn’t going to give you the gains you are after. I advise you to increase the frequency of your pull-ups (do them more than once per week). The best way to do this is to do pull-ups between your sets in almost every workout.
You’re not doing these to failure. You’d do approximately 50% of your max reps each set, so you are always fresh. For example, if you can do six pull-ups as your maximum, you would do 2-3 pull-ups between sets of pressing or legs.
The volume adds up quickly as if you are doing five sets of legs and five sets of pressing within a workout, that is ten sets of pull-ups.
If you are doing pulling exercises, don’t superset with pull-ups. You are training similar muscle groups and will fatigue you too much. Lastly, you can invest in a doorway pull-up bar at home. Every time you walk past the bar, you crank out some reps.
When doing pull-ups every day like that, be sure to vary your grips. Underhand (chin-ups), neutral, and pronated grips are all good to use to keep your elbows healthy.
If you struggle to perform one or two reps, negatives are a strategy to get your first pull-up. It’s simple to do. Stand on a box with your hands on the pull-up bar. Jump and then hold yourself in the top position with your chin over the bar.
Slowly lower yourself taking 4-6 seconds to get to a fully extended position with your arms. Maintain a big chest and focus on your lats doing the work. Once fully extended, stand back on the box and repeat.
What are eccentric quasi-isometrics, you ask? Sounds complicated. But it’s a scientific term to explain holding yourself in a flexed position, and as you fatigue, the weight or yourself will lower to the floor. This is a unique form of eccentric exercise and isometric exercise combined.
In the context of a pull-up, you would jump and hold yourself at a position where your nose is in line with the pull-up bar. Hold the position for as long as possible. As you fatigue, your arms will slowly extend but fight it until you are in the dead hang.
The advantage of the eccentric quasi-isometric is having longer set durations at higher intensities resulting in greater mechanical tension and metabolic stress . Two important mechanisms for strength and building muscle .
Here is a video example:
Lose Body Fat
To put it bluntly, you’re either not strong enough or too fat if you cannot perform a pull-up. Losing body fat is a simple strategy to get better at pull-ups. You have less weight you need to pull! There are some simple strategies you can use to slowly strip away body fat, such as:
- Tracking calories and reducing them by 300 under maintenance each day.
- Increasing NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis). Also known as being more active.
- Reducing portion sizes if not wanting to track calories.
Prioritize Pulling Workouts
Increasing your pulling strength will improve your pull-up performance. The biceps, lats, and mid and lower traps need developing as they are the primary muscles involved in the pull-up. You can do this by using a back specialization program or increasing the volume of back training you do in the gym.
If you are doing full-body workouts, you can also place pulling exercises first in your workout, so you are doing them when fresh. For example, you may perform barbell rows or weighted pull-ups as your first exercise before your lower body or upper body pressing exercises.
Use The Dead Hang
A weak grip can make pull-ups infinitely harder. While you don’t want the forearm muscles to be the focus of the pull-up, you need the strength in the arms to support your lats. The dead hang will strengthen your grip simply using your bodyweight.
The goal is to hang as long as possible or perform multiple sets of a set time—for example, 4 x 20 seconds. The added benefit of hanging is the stretch it places on your shoulders and lats, increasing mobility.
Use Weighted Pull-Ups
Once you can perform more than five pull-ups in a single set, you’re ready to start adding weight. It doesn’t have to be much. Start with 5 kg (10 lbs) hanging between your legs and build from there.
You mustn’t go so heavy that you can’t maintain a big chest during the pull-up, as this will take the tension off your lats.
Implement these tips within your training so you can get better at pull-ups. Whether passing a fitness test or building a wide back, increasing the number of pull-ups you can do only has upsides.
1. Oranchuk, D. J., Storey, A. G., Nelson, A. R., & Cronin, J. B. (2019). Scientific basis for eccentric quasi-isometric resistance training: a narrative review. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 33(10), 2846-2859.
2. Schoenfeld, B. J. (2010). The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(10), 2857-2872.