Movement Basics: Pull-ups

June 11, 2018


Well hello there!!!! Sorry I’ve been MIA the last few weeks. I wouldn’t exactly use the word “balanced” to describe my current life situation, to say the least. For those of you that don’t know what I do outside of this website… let me give you the cliff notes. I run a full time private/semi-private training gym on my own, I work part time for the Epilepsy Foundation of American in their wellness program, I have online personal training clients and on top of it all, I started back to full time school 4 weeks ago to become a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner through the Nutritional Therapy Association. Can we take a moment to just recognize how hard it is to study after 15 years away from school…. daaaaaaaaaaamn! But, it’s so exciting and I truly am pumped at the knowledge I am acquiring and the help I am going to be able to provide so many people.. including YOU!

Anywho, this blog isn’t a pity party on how busy my life is…we all have busy lives!  In fact I hate the word busy… so I’m going to say how productive my and your life is. I just wanted to let you know there is a reason for the silence on the blog. But, I am back!

I left you all a few weeks ago talking about the some of basics movements that I incorporate into programming of all fitness levels on a weekly basis. We have covered, pushups, horizontal rows, single leg squatting, vertical presses and now we go into vertical pulls…. or pull-ups! Pull-ups are a classic body weight exercise that can be done almost anywhere (gym, tree branch, deck, bleachers, etc). They are a great test for upper body strength, core strength and even keeps us honest with our body weight (it’s much harder to do a pull-up with even 5 extra lbs on our body).

Why should we do pull-ups?

  • Functional Movement: A pull-up is a functional movement and helps to improve the functionality of your shoulders by strengthening the muscles that move the shoulder blades.
  • Improved Posture: By strengthening your back and core, your posture will improve.
  • Pain Relief: Unfortunately most of us sit at a desk or in a car for much of our day. This results in poor posture and weak back muscles. These both can lead to back back. By strengthening your back, this pain can be relieved.
  • Look Dang Good: Now for the vanity piece… Who doesn’t love that “V” looking body? By doing pull-ups and improving your posture, you build your lats, core and biceps.
  • Bragging rights: I mean, how many of your friends can do a pull-up? Not very many I’d bet… so at the next backyard BBQ, jump on that tree branch and brag a bit.

How to perform a pull-up?

  • Start hanging from something with pronated grip (overhand grip) a little wider than shoulder width apart. Note: supinated grip (underhand grip) is a chin up and also a type vertical pull.
  • Find your hollow body (ribcage down, glutes tight, abs on) and maintain the entire movement.
  • Initiate movement with a scapular depression (shoulder blades move down)
  • This flows directly into bending elbows to pull chin over bar and simultaneously retracting scapula (shoulder blades squeeze together).
  • Finally, you will reverse the movement in a controlled manner to a straight elbow.

What are common errors?

  • Flaring ribcage/broken midline: the most common mistake I see is that people arch their back and flare their ribcage when doing a pull-up. Keep those babies locked down and abs on.
  • Protracted shoulders/rounded shoulders at the top: it’s very common for people to round their shoulders at the top. This is a sign of weakness or shoulder dysfunction. Start with just scap pulls and even go back to horizontal pulls.


Scap Pulls – 10 reps

Assisted Pull-ups – 5-8 reps until able to do without assistance

  • Box Assisted
  • Band Assisted

Chin Over Bar Holds – these can be done forever in programming for all levels. Start with where you are and work yourself up in time under tension.

Pull-up Negatives – 3×3-5 reps @5111 (5 second lower, 1 second pause, 1 second pull, 1 second pause). These are done in conjunction with assisted pull-ups.

Pull-ups – Once you’ve got them, keep doing them 2-3 times a week in some variation (pull-ups, chin-ups, legless rope climbs, negatives, chin over bar holds, weighted pull-ups, single-arm pull-ups).

*Please notice that I do not have kipping pull-ups on here. I don’t have the majority of people I work with kip. The reason, most people’s shoulders aren’t ready for it and most people don’t need it. Unless your goal is to compete in CrossFit, then kipping isn’t really a necessary thing for vertical pull strength. Yes, it does serve it’s purpose for some things in life (i.e. getting chased by an animal and needing to kip yourself quickly up into a tree)… but for most people again, that’s not going to happen.


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