5 Exercises To Help With Your Pull-ups

Are you aspiring to do a pull-up?

Can you do a few, but have plateaued and want to be able to do more?

Have you thought, I am never going to be able to do a pull-up, why try. But damn they look awesome!

If these are things you’ve said out loud or in your head, then keep reading for some tips to help you go for more pull-up(s)!!

Where to Begin?

Before we start our pull-up training, we need to have a really good hanging hollow position. This is our starting point.

Hang from the bar and see if you can come into a hollow body shape as I am in the photo to the right. If you are shaped more like a pike or your ribs are flaring/back is arching, then some work on your hollow body is needed.

Strengthen Your Hollow Body First

In the video below my partner and I go over several movements to begin with to help you find a good hanging hollow.

Side note: If your hollow body on the floor looks more like the left photo below then you will need to work on strengthening your hollow body shape on the floor first before you begin your pull-up training. We need our hollow body shape to look like the photo on the right below before we can work on trying to translate the hollow shape from horizontal to vertical. This is because it is much easier to find a hollow body shape lying down, than it is while hanging. This is because it requires even more muscular engagement, as well as openness in your shoulders.

Exercises for achieving one or more pull-ups

  • Have a hanging hollow that you can hold for 30 seconds (demonstrated in video above)
  • Hollow Body Pull Down with a band wrapped around a solid anchor point. Do 8-10 pull downs with a resistance that is challenging, but while you can maintain a good hollow shape. (demonstrated in video above)
  • Low Rows, the lower your bar (be it a trapeze bar or a barbell on a rack in the gym); the more challenging this exercise. The progression for more strength gains is to move the bar closer to parallel to the floor. Do 8-10 rows. Pulling the bar to your chest, maintaining a braced core, glutes squeezing, upper traps relaxed and not trying to do the work. (demonstrated in video below)
  • Reverse Bicep Curls with dumbbells or a resistance band. Continue to increase the challenge of the resistance as you get stronger. Maintain a tall posture, braced core and glute engagement, as you perform 8-10 reps. (demonstrated in video below)
  • Slow Pull Up Negatives on a trapeze bar or pull up bar. In the beginning use your feet to help you hold some of your weight to ensure you are maintaining good mechanics and posture during the negative. Lower as slowly as possible until your arms are fully extended (elbows straight). Finish at the bottom with shoulders still engaged so when you are ready for the pull-up you will be ready and in a strong position for the ‘up’ phase. Keep your core braced the entire time, ribs down and shoulders away from the ears. Also lower with elbows out to the side or slightly in front of you (I usually cue a 45º angle) and not pointing behind you. (demonstrated in video below) **If you have 1 or more pull-ups now, perform the negative as slow as possible and make the pull-up action more dynamic. An example would be pull-up on a 1-2 second count and lower down on 5-10 second count.**

How or When To Do These Movements

If you are strength training already, you can cycle some of these exercises into your weekly strength training sessions. You can also spend some dedicated time outside of your weekly workout sessions working on these movements to have some very specific pull-up training time. Both are good and both will be needed. Like with any new skill you are trying to learn, you’ll need to spend some focused time on the movements that will help you acquire this new skill–in this case it’s your pull-up(s)! If you don’t currently strength train, I can’t stress enough that doing so is really good for your health. I have several posts of why you want to strength train and even how to train while at the gym or supply your home gym. I also train clients in person or online if you need more personal guidance. Please feel free to contact us.

If you are brand new to strength training, starting with one day a week with the movements is a good place to start. We want to gradually over load the body, but not so much so that you are really, really sore. If we jump in too quickly we could overwhelm some of the smaller muscles in the forearms and find that our elbow(s) begin to hurt. We want to make gradual strength gains that our bodies can handle at your current fitness level. Some soreness is normal, but it shouldn’t be all the time.

How do these exercises help with your Pull-ups

The slow negatives are helping to train the muscles that are activated during the lowering phase, which are the same muscles that will be activated during the lifting phase. The slower you make these the more strength and control you build. Incline Rows are training your back muscles also in a pulling action, which is helping to strengthen the middle/upper back and helping with the top of the pull-up. Rows also work your shoulder muscles to strengthen around the scapula and create stability through movement.

Reverse curls help strengthen the brachioradialis muscle that assists in the bending of your elbows and is not as strong as the biceps. Training this muscle independently can help combat any possible elbow pain from the smaller muscles involved in a pull-up that are not quite ready for the task of pulling up your body weight.

Hollow banded pull-downs are training a pull-up in the horizontal plane: a hollow shape with arms pulling down from overhead to the sides of the body. This is practicing the movement is a somewhat unloaded state so you can focus on good hollow shape and pulling with your lats on the pull down. This is also why we work on being able to hold a good hanging hollow for 30+ seconds. We want to make sure we have our core under control before we add a complex movement to the body. A strong hollow body ensures we are keeping our spine stable and thus safe from shear forces. If we lose our hollow and begin to flair our ribs/ arch our backs we are putting a lot of stress on the spine and no longer can transmit force through our body to help us with the pull-up.

The other movements: foam rolling the lats, dead bug and the hollow pull-over with leg press-outs are to help us really train a solid hollow body on the floor (and then bring it to hanging) and help relax any stiff muscles that are involved in hanging with your arms just in front of your ears–which is needed to hang from a bar with proper overhead range of motion. Ultimately all these movements are making us mobile enough and strong enough to transmit the force to create the muscle contractions to execute the movement–your pull-up.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the exercises via an email, contact form or leave a comment. Feel free to share this post with anyone that you think will benefit from these movements and exercises. I look forward to hearing from you, be it a question or just a big smiling emoji!

Happy Training~~~ Theresa

2 thoughts on “5 Exercises To Help With Your Pull-ups”

  1. These are great! What would you recommend for those who have 10+ pull-ups with good form but want to move on to training chest-to-bar pull-ups and strict muscle-ups?

    1. Hi Carly!
      Well, there isn’t exactly a short answer to this one, so here are some quick thoughts:
      * In general, it’s really important to make sure that as you do your pull-ups, your shoulders are in a good position at the top. A ‘guideline’ for this is to think about making sure that your elbows don’t go behind your torso. The idea behind this is that you want to make sure you’ve got good scapular action that helps you keep your humerus centered in the socket (and not dumping forward at the top of your pull).

      * This emphasis on good shoulder position at the top of a chin-to-bar pull-up sets you up nicely for transitioning to chest-to-bar.

      * This is a good time to consider the requisite mobility for muscle-ups:
      –For the hanging position, there is, of course, a combination of glenohumeral (arm bone + socket), scapula and thoracic spine mobility;
      –For the dip position (this is probably more relevant on rings than on a bar, but I don’t think being on a bar really excuses the need for this mobility), I like this drill: https://vimeo.com/224870542 where the goal is to get your thumb as close to your armpit, as if following the seam on the side of your shirt, without allowing your shoulder to “dump forward”–meaning ‘arm bone goes forward in socket’–meaning anterior translation of the humeral head within the glenoid.

      * And then, from there, it’s worthwhile spending some time building up to a solid set of dips (mainly if you’re doing muscle-ups on rings or straps)…again, with an emphasis on good shoulder position.

      * We’ve kind of skipped past the forearm considerations for the false grip (but this is turning into a long comment response)

      * With all of that said, I think you could also get some good mileage out of the following drill: