How to do a Pull-Up

What is a Pull-Up?

Pull-ups are one of the most effective, strength-building bodyweight movements for your upper body. The pull-up is simple; all you need is a bar, your body, and some brawn. It engages all of the muscles involved in “pulling”, which includes your back, biceps, forearms, and even your core. The movement can be progressed and regressed easily, which allows you to adapt this movement to any level of fitness (ideas at the bottom of this post). In short, a pull-up is a simple movement that can provide a brutal workout.

The following muscle groups are engaged by the Pull-Up:

  • Back
  • Biceps

How to Do a Pull-Up (Instructions):

Start by standing underneath an elevated bar (monkey bars, pull-up bar for doorframe, etc…). Grab the bar with your hands with your palms facing away from you, keeping your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart. Pull your body up until your chin is over the bar keeping your knees bent, and then with control lower your body back to the starting position, keeping your knees bent and off the ground. Repeat.

Trainer Tips for the Pull-Up: 

  • Progression (make harder)
    • Perform the movement with your palms facing towards you, which now makes this movement a chin-up.
    • Perform at a 1/1/2 tempo. 1 second to raise your body, 1 second hold at the top of the movement, and two seconds to lower your body back to starting position. 
    • Perform the movement, and at the bottom of the movement do a Hanging Leg Raise.
    • At the top of the movement, laterally move your body to the right until your head is by your right hand, pause, then laterally move your body to the left until your head is by your left hand, then return to the middle of the bar and lower yourself to starting position.
    • Perform at a 2/1/4 tempo. 2 seconds to raise your body, 1 second hold at the top of the movement, and 4 seconds to lower your body back to starting position. This variation is grueling. 
    • Add a weight vest (or a toddler). 
    • Perform using only one arm. For the arm not holding the bar, use that arm to hold the wrist of the arm on the bar. 
  • Regression (make easier)
    • Perform Inverted Rows
    • Perform the movement with assistance from your legs. You can do this by  having either one or both legs on the ground or elevated surface underneath the bar.
      • Instructions on how to do leg assisted pull-ups on monkey bars are found here.
      • Instructions on how to do leg assisted pull-ups on a low bar are found here.
  • Application:
    • Do a “Ladder” workout with pull-ups.
      • A “Ladder” is a workout that is comprised of  ascending and descending repetitions. For example:
        • Perform one pull-up, then rest. Perform two pull-ups, then rest. Keep ascending until you feel like you are going to fail. Once you reach the failure point (let’s say 8), rest, then perform seven pull-ups, then rest. Descend until you are back at one.

Pull-Ups in the LF 12 Week Bodyweight Program:

Pull-ups are used in the Layman’s Fitness 12 Week Bodyweight Program, which you can learn more about here
In Phase III of the Layman’s Fitness workout program, one of the workouts is designed around utilizing the Pull-Up variations. Here is a list that shows the Pull-Up progressions/regressions from easiest to hardest.
  • (easiest) Perform Inverted Rows
  • Perform Leg Assisted Pull-Ups. You can do this by  having either one or both legs on the ground or elevated surface underneath the bar.
    • Instructions on how to do leg assisted pull-ups on monkey bars are found here.
    • Instructions on how to do leg assisted pull-ups on a low bar are found here.
  • Perform the Pull-Up: Classic movement. 
  • Perform the movement with your palms facing towards you, which now makes this movement a chin-up.
  • Perform at a 1/1/2 tempo. 1 second to raise your body, 1 second hold at the top of the movement, and two seconds to lower your body back to starting position. 
  • Perform the movement, and at the bottom of the movement do a Hanging Leg Raise.
  • At the top of the movement, laterally move your body to the right until your head is by your right hand, pause, then laterally move your body to the left until your head is by your left hand, then return to the middle of the bar and lower yourself to starting position.
  • Perform at a 2/1/4 tempo. 2 seconds to raise your body, 1 second hold at the top of the movement, and 4 seconds to lower your body back to starting position. This variation is grueling. 
  • Add a weight vest (or a toddler). 
  • (hardest) Perform using only one arm. For the arm not holding the bar, use that arm to hold the wrist of the arm on the bar.