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Strength challenge: how to do a pull up

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22 December 2021|3 min read

Key Points

  • Learning how to do pull ups is about strength, technique and mental fitness.
  • As a compound exercise, pull ups work many muscles across the arms, back and torso. 
  • You could also do assisted pull ups with a resistance band and work on your grip strength to improve your pull up technique. 

What are your fitness goals? Some people may want to get flexible fast while others want to walk 10,000 steps per day. Then there are people, presumably like you, who want to learn how to do a pull up. 

It’s an impressive exercise. You’re using your arms to lift your entire body weight. If you’re wondering how to get better at pull ups, it’s all about practice, strength and getting your form right. 

When a pull up is done correctly, it involves hanging from a bar and pulling your body up so your chest is in line with the bar. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Whether you’re new to trying pull ups or you’re trying to perfect your technique, let’s dive into everything pull ups. 

What muscles do pull ups work?

First things first, if you want to learn how to do a pull up correctly, it’s important to understand which muscles you’ll be working. 

Pull ups use multiple muscle groups located across your arms, back and torso.

Arms:

  • biceps (i.e. biceps brachii)
  • rotator cuff muscles
  • triceps

Back:

  • lats (i.e. latissimus dorsi)
  • traps (i.e. middle and lower trapezius)
  • rhomboids 
  • erector spinae
  • delts (i.e. rear deltoid)

Torso:

  • pecs (i.e. pectoralis major)
  • external obliques

That’s a lot of muscles getting in on the action. With all that muscle work, you’ll certainly need to be conscious of how to get rid of sore muscles if you’re starting to do pull ups. 

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How to do a pull up

Unless you’ve got a super fancy setup, you’re unlikely to have the at home gym equipment you need to do a pull up. While you’re learning how to do a pull up, you might actually prefer to do them at the gym where you’ve got someone who could spot you. 

There are two elements to a pull up – technique and strength. So how do you get better at pull ups? You work on both elements.

When you’re ready to go, place your hands on the pull up bar with your hands a little bit further than shoulder width apart. You’ll need to use an overhand grip. You might need some assistance to reach the bar, or you could stand on a step.

To do the pull up movement, lift your feet so they aren’t touching the floor or the step. Using your strength in your back and arms, pull yourself up towards the bar. If you can’t get your chest up to the bar, just go as far as you’re able. Lower yourself and repeat. Or simply jump down and cheer that you did a pull up. 

How to do pull ups with resistance bands

If you want to try an assisted pull up while you perfect your form and build your strength, using a resistance band is a good option. 

It’s simple to learn how to tie a resistance band to a pull up bar. Tie each end of the resistance band to the bar. Make sure they’re tired securely as you’ll be using the resistance band to support your body weight.

To do a pull up with the resistance band, place one foot into the centre of the band with the other foot gently crossed behind it. Then perform the same pull up action. 

When you set smart fitness goals, it’s about working within your boundaries and gently challenging them.

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How many pull ups should you be aiming for?

How does one sound? Or ten? Maybe 20? How many pull ups are good depends on the individual. 

If you’ve never done a pull up before and you’re able to do one, then that’s amazing. If you’ve mastered one, you might be able to gradually build up to more. Just be aware of the signs of overtraining and consider whether you should exercise every day or take a day off

Are pull ups good for swimmers?

Swimming is an activity that requires a lot of back and arm strength. In fact, research has found that there may be a link between swimming performance and pull up strength. 

So if you’re a swimmer, pull ups may be a good exercise to include in your routine.

How to do pull ups without hurting your hands

Mastering the pull up grip could be a challenge in itself. If you don’t have good grip strength, you may notice that your hands tire very quickly. 

Before you even try a pull up, you might try hanging on the bar to build up your grip endurance. Otherwise, you could try a farmer’s walk, which means walking around with your arms down by your side with a dumbbell in each hand. 

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Pulling up strong

In your quest to master the pull up, don’t forget about other types of exercise. Add in some bodyweight exercises for your glutes, free yoga online classes and even some core exercises at home. 

Maybe you could even incorporate this strength challenge as part of a 30 day family fitness challenge to include the kids in the fun!

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Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board November 2021.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. If you have any concerns or questions about your health you should consult with a health professional.