Pull Ups: A Coaches Guide to The Boss of Upper Body Strength Exercises

There’s a very good reason why the marines require all trainees to be able to complete multiple unaided pull ups to make it into the core, pulling your entire body weight over a bar repeatedly requires large amounts of upper body strength and endurance as well as mental toughness.

Pull ups are an essential part of any strength and fitness training program, I feel qualified to make this statement as an ex-international level swimmer and now owner of a busy London based personal training business, which looks after hundreds of clients health, fitness and bodies. Utilised and progressed correctly, pull ups will increase upper body strength, back and arm musculature, core strength, flexibility and shoulder health. Whatever a clients strength or fitness level, I always introduce pull ups of some form into their training program.

The Sculpt Pull Up Guide:  From Beginner to Boss

Pull ups are hard, no doubt about that. There are two things that hold most people back- lack of strength and poor strength to weight ratio, if you’re just not strong enough this guide will get you completing sets of 10 like a boss in no time. If you’re also overweight you’ll  need to focus on your diet to reduce excess weight as well as completing the Sculpt pull up guide.

By the way- “But I’m a girl” is not a good reason for not being able to do pull ups! I hear this all the time and find it hugely satisfying when I get a female client to achieve her first unaided pull up!

Step  1: Start with Lat Pull downs as these will strengthen your lats and arms, the muscles that pull you up to the pull up bar, complete  3×10 as part of your strength training routine 2-3 x each week. When you can do this with 75% of your body weight move onto step 2.

Step 2: Eccentric pull ups. Replace your lat pull downs for 3×8 sets of just the lowering phase of the movement. To do this get a step that allows you to start the pull up from the top position (arms bent, chin above the bar) and lower yourself slowly (3-5 seconds) to the bottom position (arms straight), making sure you are resisting gravity primarily with your lats. When you can complete 3×8 fairly comfortably move onto step 3.

Step 3: Assisted pull ups. There are two ways you can do these, either by attaching a resistance band around your ankles or by getting your gym buddy to give you a push on the pulling phase. Do not use assisted pull up machines as they are a poor imitation of the real thing. When you can complete 3x 8 with good form move onto step 4.

Step 4: It’s time for the real deal. Start by completing as many good form pull ups as you can, we’re going to use 5 reps as an example here. We minus one rep to make 4 and then complete 3×4 full pull ups as part of your session twice a week. The following week you should be able to complete 3×5 reps and so on until you hit 3×10 reps. Mission accomplished!

Step 5: There are two ways you can go to keep improving, either keep trying to add reps to your sets or by adding some extra weight to yourself (either by holding a dumbbell between your feet or using a weight belt). If you really want to test yourself check out the Stud 20 pull up challenge via the link below, here’s my first attempt at it, I bomb out at 15!

The Stud Bar 20 Pull Up Challenge


Sculpt Pull Up Technique Tips

Tip #1: A pull up is completed with palms gripping the bar away from you and focuses more on the Lats, a chin up utilises the opposite grip, with palms facing towards you and brings the biceps into play as well as the lats.

Tip #2: A full range rep should start from a dead hang (arms straight) and finish with your chin clearing the bar.

Tip #3: When pulling up, lead with your chest and keep you shoulders back to keep your shoulder joints healthy.

Tip #4: Look up at the bar, not down at the floor.

Tip #5: Don’t swing your legs and hips, this is cheating. Instead brace up your abs and squeeze your glutes to keep the emphasis on the correct muscles.

Tip #6: Pull yourself up explosively and control your drop back down to the floor.

The great thing about the Stud Bar is that you can reap the rewards of pull ups without even leaving your house. I’ve already recommended the Stud to several of my clients for their home gyms and have found it to be extremely robust and can be set at the correct height, unlike all door frame bars.

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Happy training,

David Jones

Sculpt Health and Fitness