5-Minute Trainer: The Dos and Don’ts of Pull-Ups

Pull-ups are challenging but not impossible. Here’s how to master this move.

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How many of you out there can do a strict pull-up? Raise your hand. Only a few of you probably shot your hand toward the sky, because of all the bodyweight moves around, pull-ups are one of the hardest to master, especially for women.

Whether it’s because we don’t typically have the upper body strength of men, have a lower center of gravity, or just plain don’t like to practice them, pull-ups present a formidable challenge. That being said, everyone reading Oxygen should add pull-ups to her training protocol. They’re the bomb for adding strength and size to your back and biceps, shaping your shoulders and serratus and strengthening your grip. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you master this mega-move and get your back on the fast track for shape and development.

DO pull-ups to get better at pull-ups. Even though you may be able to do heavy machine pulldowns that doesn’t translate into being able to do pull-ups since the two moves are different kinesthetically. Do pull-ups right out of the gates on back day when you’re fresh, and add a few sets to other training days to get in a little extra practice.

DON’T hang from the bar like a limp lox. The more muscle tension you can create in your total body the more it will help you pull yourself upward, so draw your shoulders back, engage your scapulae and tighten your abs to keep your hips steady.

DO look up toward the bar. This lifts your chest and gives your back a slight arch, which helps engage your muscles so you can power yourself up to the bar.

DO use different hand positions on the bar to hit different parts of your back. A wider grip will hit more of your outer lats, while a narrow grip will target the mid back area. In addition, flipping your grip to an underhand position will engage more biceps and mid-back.

DON’T let your bodyweight fall back to the start. Control yourself all the way through the descent to build optimal strength and protect your shoulders, elbows and wrists from strain.

DON’T rely on your arms. Pull-ups are primarily a back move, with the smaller arm and shoulder muscles working as assistors. Drive your elbows down and back in order to lift yourself upwards rather than trying to haul yourself up with your arms and grip.

DO use negatives to help build strength. Stand on a box, grip the bar and jump up and hold so your chin is over the bar. Then lower as slowly as you can to the start and repeat for three sets of 8 to 10 reps.

DO set a target number of pull-ups to achieve each workout, say eight or 10. Do as many as you can in a row, then take a 30-second break and repeat that cycle until you hit your target.

MORE:5-Minute Trainer: The Dos and Don’ts of Planks