Going to the Bar
One of the most difficult movements you will be asked to do in a gym is the dreaded pull-up. As a trainer I have seen almost every possible variety of pull-up performed in a gym. Some were beautiful to watch and others, well, beautiful would not be the word used to describe them. You could always tell someone who used pull-ups in their fitness routine by the size of their back and arms. The ideal physique has always been described as a V shape, where the shoulders are wide and the waist is small, and the taper from the shoulders to the waist forms an impressive V. Pull-ups contribute more to that illusion than any other exercise.
So how do you do a pull-up? First, let’s talk about the differentÂ variations of a pull-up: You have heard them often described asÂ chin-ups. These, technically, are a pull-up with the palms facingÂ the individual. A traditional pull-up is with the palms facing awayÂ from the body. Then there are wide-grip, narrow-grip, mixed-grip,Â strict, kipping and butterfly pull-ups. They all work to build yourÂ strength, so don’t mind the negative attitudes toward certainÂ kinds of pull-ups.
Maybe you are ready to try a pull-up. Can you do one? Jump up,Â grab the bar, hang still below the bar and attempt to pull your chinÂ over the bar. If you can, great. Your goal is now to do sets of asÂ many as you can. I would vary the width of your grip to challengeÂ yourself in different ways. If you cannot do one, which is the caseÂ with most people who make that attempt, then where do youÂ start to be able to do one someday soon?
Most commercial gyms have assisted pull-up machines, whereÂ you kneel or stand on a pad, place a pin in a stack of weights,Â and let the weights help offset your body weight to help you pullÂ yourself up. If one is available, great. A caution though: don’tÂ use too much assistance/weight or it will slow your progress. IfÂ an assisted machine is not available to you, no worries; there isÂ always a way.
Pulldown machines are also very common, and they will help youÂ build the strength to perform a pull-up. It will take longer though,Â as the motion is not a great representation of an actual pull-up.Â On this apparatus, you sit on a seat, lock another pad over yourÂ knees, grab the bar hanging over head and pull it down to yourÂ collarbone or clavicle. Since you can set the weight you areÂ pulling to a much smaller number than your body weight, this isÂ a great place to start for someone who is a long way from gettingÂ a pull-up. I have used this machine many, many times over theÂ years and I like the strength result. The idea is to use more andÂ more weight over time; that is the only way to get stronger. If youÂ work on either assisted pull-ups, or pulldowns, make sure youÂ keep getting up on a pull-up bar and attempt them. Once you getÂ a few, keep after it until you can do a few sets of a few. That timeÂ will come.
If you don’t have access to assisted pull-up or pulldown machines, and you only can get to a pull-up bar, don’t worry; hereÂ are a couple tips:
1. If the bar’s height is adjustable, lower it to 6 inches aboveÂ your head. Grab the bar, jump up so your chin is above the bar,Â and lower slowly. Working the down, or negative, will build moreÂ strength than trying and failing to pull up. I would work theseÂ “jumping pull-ups” in sets of 5. Do 3-5 sets.
2. Lower the bar to between shoulder and waist height, standÂ under the bar, and lean back with a straight body. You will be atÂ an angle, keeping your body straight, like during a push-up. PullÂ yourself up to the bar. I would work this for the same number ofÂ reps and sets. If you can’t lower your bar, you can get a set ofÂ handles that attaches to the bar and will hang down so you canÂ do this same movement pulling up to the height of the handlesÂ that you hold on to; this is known as a ring row.
Keep with these tips to get started on learning the pull-up. TheyÂ are a challenging movement and one of the best to build goodÂ upper body strength. If you work out for looks, and not necessarily for strength, the pull-up is one exercise that will give you a veryÂ nice aesthetic shape.