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March 21, 2022 4 min read

Reach New Heights: How To Master Your First Pull Up

The Pull Up, it could be said, is the foundational ‘MacDaddy’ of Calisthenics. It is not only one of the best pulling movements for solid muscle engagement throughout the body, particularly the Posterior Chain (the muscles on back side of the body), but the Pull Up also advances us into gains, key skills and lifts across the spectrum, such as Levers, Deadlifts and Muscle Ups.

Why is the Pull Up so important? Well, not only is it fun to throw yourself up and down a bit, safely of course, but it is a fantastic way to recruit musculature throughout the back, particularly the Scapulae, Triceps, Lats, Infraspinatus, Lower Traps, Core and Obliques. If you have a job where you’re at a desk all day, the Pull Up is a fantastic exercise which creates a solid foundation for strength in these areas, leading to much better posture.

The Pull Up is also a fantastic base movement to train because it can be done anywhere you can find a horizontal bar. Gravity Fitness have Pull Up Racks and Pull Up Bars that you can have up at home! Check those out in the online store.

This also means the Pull Up is a great way of working on a solid foundation for grip strength, which can be applied to literally any skill or discipline where you are holding on to something. Also just by slightly widening your grip in a Pull Up you can work different musculature. With a wider grip you can focus more on your upper Lats and rear Delts, and with a closer grip you can bring the lower lats and biceps into play, making the Pull Up incredibly versatile.

Now with the foundational knowledge and science explained, how can you master your first Pull Up?

Scapula Engagement – This is the key one for me. Correct Scapula engagement recruits the Lats and massively stabilises you, solidifying the posterior chain. In other words, allowing more strength to pull yourself up. Start by hanging from the bar and performing Scapula Shrugs;

-Grab the Bar with your hands shoulder width apart in a Supinated Grip (palms on the bar with your fingers away from you)
-Let yourself hang. Get used to that position
-Engage your scapulae – when you do this your chest will round upward slightly so that you’re looking up towards your hands
-Hold for a 2 count
-Lower with control and repeat
-You should perform this movement with Resistance Bands if necessary to feel what the correct form feels like. Lower the resistance as you become stronger and more confident. But take you’re time, and don’t rush it.

Negative Reps – Once you have learned what the correct muscle engagement feels like, you can also use negative reps to help master the Pull Up. Eccentrically (i.e. the negative) you can take 5 times more weight than you can with the Concentric part of a movement. You can use resistance bands here too, to start lowering yourself down gently to get a feeling of solid engagement through the negative, as well as to learn how your body moves. Mastering the negatives also make for greater gains as you can take a longer period of time lowering yourself down adding time under tension. You’ll need an elevated surface, such as a box, to get up into that elevated position.

With Pull Ups, as you pull up, you will be pushing yourself and your chin forwards over the bar slightly, creating a very slight C shape from the engaging the scapula at the base of the movement, to pulling up and then as you come over the bar, so remember to start from the end of that C shape when working on negatives.

Use of Resistance Bands Resistance bands are a fantastic way to learn and master the Pull Up. With a thicker resistance band, you can learn what the full movement of a pull up feels like to prepare your body in advance of the load to come. This means you can also scale the movement to a correct level for you, and slowly take away resistance to allow your body to take on more load. You can also perform the Pull Up at any height by putting both feet or both knees inside the band. Just remember to keep that solid core engagement!

Adding weight – You can also add weight using a dip belt or weight vest to create progressive overload with your Pull Ups, by adding weight in small increments. Just remember to balance out your pushing and pulling strength! Make sure you’re making the most of your pull ups by getting on the bodyweight bodybuilding train!  

Mastering the Pull Up is also wonderfully gratifying. I have clients I work with that have mastered this movement and to see the realisation of a huge goal and the smiles on their faces, having literally worked from the ground up to get there, is incredible.

There are a lot tutorials on the Pull Up out there to help you, so feel free to scour the interwebs and YouTube for an athlete or coach you admire, who has a teaching style that you respond to.

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