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Pull-Up: The Complete Guide to Pull-Up Form

By Lukas Hambsch

Posted in Exercise Guides, Upper Body, Pull Up

Pull-Up Benefits

The pull-up and the row are the best exercises to work your lats and biceps. It's also great for your forearms and grip since you have to hold your weight up. If you're a beginner, you can easily progress into the full movement then add some weight later. Doing them with correct form is easy since it's such a natural movement for your body. They also play an important role in balancing your upper body posture so your chest and shoulders don't slump forward.

Pull-Up Progression

Don't worry if you can't do a pull-up. There are many ways you can work your way up to a full one with correct form. The best way is by using an assisted pull-up machine, which helps you so you don't have to pull your entire bodyweight. If you don't have access to one of these you can do jumping pull-ups, pull-up negatives, or a combination of both.

Jumping Pull-Up

Jumping pull-ups let you to use some momentum from your legs to complete the movement. It's similar to the assisted version, except the assistance comes from your own jump. This makes it difficult to track your progression, but it's still a valuable way to progress. The key is using the least amount of jump necessary to complete each rep.

Pull-Up Negative

To do a pull-up negative, start at the top of the movement and hold yourself up as long as possible until your arms are straight. This uses the same back muscles as a normal pull-up. It's great because you know you're getting as much work as possible out of each rep, as long as you don't cheat.

Combination

Besides an assisted machine, the best way to progress to full pull-ups is a combination of the jumping pull-up and the pull-up negative. To combine them, start by doing a jumping pull-up. Once you reach the top of the movement, hold yourself up as long as possible until your arms are straight. This familiarizes you with the full range of motion while also doing the more difficult work of the pull-up negative. So you get the best of both worlds.

Once you're close to being able to complete a normal pull-up, try doing one before each set. Once you can do one before each set, try to do two before each set. Before you know it, you'll be doing full sets of pull-ups.

Pull-Up Form

Set Up

  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip with your hands just outside shoulder width apart.
  • Let your legs to dangle straight down. If they hit the floor when your arms are straight, keep your feet up with your heels touching your butt.

Movement

  • Pull your chin towards the bar as fast as possible. This may be slow, but still focus on exploding in all of your lifts.
  • Keep the rest of your body still, you shouldn't use any momentum from your legs or any other part of your body.
  • Once your chin is level with the bar, lower your body back down in a controlled manner.
  • As soon as your arms are straight, start your next rep. Keep your shoulders blades pulled back.

Common Pull-Up Mistakes

Kipping or Swinging

Kipping was popularized by Crossfit. They've done a great job exposing the general population to weightlifting, but kipping is not the best way to do a pull-up when you're trying to get stronger. Kipping or swinging makes the movement more skill-based instead of a strength building exercise. Use the pull-up to build strength in your back by not using any additional momentum.

Releasing Tension at the Bottom of the Pull-Up

When your arms are straight at the beginning of each rep, make sure you keep your shoulder blades pulled back. Keeping them pulled back instead of hanging on your shoulders keeps your body ready for the next rep. Maintain the tension in your body until the entire set is complete.

Not Going All the Way Up or Down

It's often tempting to stop when the top of your head reaches the bar. Don't cheat yourself by doing partial reps. Those last few inches still make a difference for you lats and especially your mental discipline. They build the habit of doing everything correctly, even when it becomes challenging.

You also cheat yourself when you don't go all the way down. Don't start your next rep until your arms are completely straight. As soon as they're straight, pull yourself up as fast as possible. Make sure to keep the tension by keeping your shoulder blades pulled back as your arms straighten.

Skipping Your Back Exercises

Many people mistakenly neglect their back exercises since they don't see their back muscles in the mirror everyday. But they're extremely important for maintaining a healthy, pain-free body with good posture. By skipping your back exercises, your posture suffers which can lead to pain because of imbalances.