Pull ups are one of the strongest upper body movements. Everyone feels like a total bad ass when they can perform them, so let’s make sure that you’re progressing and strengthening your back as much as you can.
STEP 1: Start performing scapular pull ups. These will help strengthen the musculature and create a strong mind/muscle connection that you will need in order to get better at pull ups. You can perform these on the lat pull down, assisted machines, or a pull up bar. Do a set of 5-10 of these before performing any sort of pull up. Here is how to perform them.
That being said, there are many different types and ways you can modify and intensify pull ups. Let’s break down a few ways, easiest to hardest.
1) LAT PULL DOWNS
If the assisted pull up machine can’t get light enough, if your form is struggling, or if you are having a hard time activating your back, lat pull downs are a great option. Focus on stabilizing and strengthening your entire back. You will be targeting the same muscles as you would during pull ups. Remember to work your muscles in the full range of motion, and to intensify it, hold the flex (when the bar is against your chest) for 1 solid second, and take 4 seconds (slow negative) while releasing the flex in your back and stretching your lats. Check out this awesome video for an example of slow negative lat pull downs-
2) ASSISTED PULL UP MACHINE
Here you can adjust the amount of weight you pull up. This is a great machine, but it is important to be very aware of your form. It’s easy to rock back and forth and to use a lot of momentum from your hips to pull yourself up. This is going to call for more body awareness and stability when compared to lat pull downs. Again, to intensify this movement, hold the flex (when your chin is up to the bar) for 1 solid second, and take 4 seconds (slow negative) while releasing the flex in your back and stretching your lats. Here is a great video on how to perform slow negatives on the assisted pull up machine (your machine might look a little different, thats ok)
3) NEGATIVE PULL UPS
These are a great way to really strengthen your back and stabilizing muscles. Here you will only be performing the negative using a pull up bar, so you wont actually be pulling yourself up. Emphasizing he eccentric phase causes a ton of muscular stress, adaptation, and strengthening. Remember to use a box or bench to help yourself up (chin over bar) and to go as slow as possible on the way down. Make sure you watch this really great video explaining and showing you for to perform negative pull ups:
4) USING A SPOTTER ON A PULL UP BAR
Now that you are getting stronger and your form is perfect, you can advance to the pull up bar! Ask your gym buddy or a stranger, “Can you please spot me for a few sets?” Ask him/her to spot you from your rib cage. Again, to intensify this movement, hold the flex (when your chin is up to the bar) for 1 solid second, and take 4 seconds (slow negative) while releasing the flex in your back and stretching your lats. Here is a great video on how your spotter should spot you.
5) RESISTANCE BAND PULL UPS
If you don’t have a spotter or want more or even less assistance, using resistance bands is a great way to be spotted. The assistance will be more at the bottom (stretched position) where you want it to be, and less at the top (flexed position) where you are naturally the strongest. There are many different resistance levels that you can advance to. The thinner the band, the less the assistance. I love banded pull ups! Here is an awesome video on how to hang the band and perform banded pull ups:
6) BODY WEIGHT PULL UPS
Awesome! You’re able to do body weight pull ups! Remember to work the full range of motion and to keep your body straight (no swinging!). Go from a full dead hang to a strong, hard, compete flex. Make your muscles as short and tight as possible at the top. To make it more challenging, hold the flex at the top for a few seconds, before slowing releasing down (4 seconds). Here is a great example of the perfect pull up:
6) WEIGHTED PULL UPS
By now you have perfected the pull up and are able to do 10+ easily, with impeccable form, and slow negatives. Grab a belt and slap on some weight you beast! Here is a great video to use as an example of how to perform weighted pull ups: