Pull-ups actually aren’t a great measure of strength. But if you want to get better at them anyway, try these proven strategies.
Many believe that if you’re strong, you should be able to do a ton of pull-ups with added weight. But that’s not quite accurate. In a recent video, pro strongman Brian Shaw struggles to get four bodyweight pull-ups, and he only gets his chin over the bar in the first two.
This should tell you that pull-up performance isn’t a realistic measure of strength for everyone because it involves other variables, like body weight and body type. If you think you “ought” to be awesome at pull-ups, then you’ve got a false perception of your progress and current strength level.
Here’s why, plus how to get stronger on pull-ups anyway if that’s your goal.
Is Doing More Pull-Ups Even a Good Goal?
For some, sure. But one of my male clients, who’s making tremendous progress in all areas of strength and fitness, still can’t do a pull-up. And it’s not just him. This is something I’ve heard from figure girls, too. These are often people I train who, despite their amazing gains in just about every other metric of fitness, are frustrated with their pull-up numbers.
Sure, improving pull-up performance is a respectable goal, but it’s not a realistic one for many. And if you’re in the same boat, fixating on this single exercise will set you up for failure.
First, having long arms is less conducive to being good at pull-ups. You not only have to cover more distance (than someone with shorter arms) to get your chin above the bar, but you’ve also got less of a mechanical advantage over your bodyweight.
Second, research shows that the ability to perform pull-ups is closely influenced by physique composition (1,2) and is probably not indicator of absolute vertical pulling power (3). This explains why folks with a thicker and stronger decrease physique usually battle with pull-ups.
Simply take a look at some heavyweight powerlifters who’ve spectacular lifting numbers however couldn’t do a chin-up in the event that they acquired free PEDs for all times. But you’ll find rock climbers who can bang out actual one-arm pull-ups for reps as a result of they’re lean and don’t have thick, muscular decrease our bodies. They’re all higher physique and core.
Moreover, a bigger physique mass – even when it’s largely lean physique mass – might invoke a sure penalty when performing pull-ups (2), however may support in performing lat pulldowns.
You see, while you achieve muscle, you’re gaining general physique weight (lean mass). So, getting greater and stronger legs, glutes, chest, arms, and many others. works in opposition to your pull-up capacity. This explains why some folks make nice good points in muscle and power on nearly each train however battle with pull-ups.
I’m not saying pull-ups don’t show power. They clearly do. Pull-ups are a “relative power” train – your efficiency in relation to physique weight.
So, in case your present max stage of power is 100 kilos and also you weigh 150 kilos, you’ve acquired to realize 50 kilos of power to do a single pull-up. To place that into perspective, most elite lifters are stoked after they’re in a position so as to add 10-pounds to a elevate. And that will take a 12 months to attain.
This highlights why it’s unrealistic to make use of pull-ups to gauge progress. It usually requires a significant enchancment in power that even elite lifters can’t get after years of coaching exhausting and taking Mexican dietary supplements.
What About Band-Assisted Pull-Ups?
You can’t micro-progress pull-ups or chin-ups like you can with most other exercises. You can’t gradually add the small amounts of load needed to create enough overload to stimulate strength adaptations without being too heavy for you to move through a full, controlled range of motion.
Band assistance is one way to train pull-ups, but it’s still difficult to make small enough progressions for consistent strength gains. Why? Two reasons: First, a band will help you a ton at the bottom when it’s stretched, but it’ll help you less and less as you pull yourself up.
Second, one band may offer too much help, but switching to the next closest level won’t give you enough of a boost. There’s too big a gap to make small loading increments.
Sure! The lat pulldown improves pull-up efficiency for these engaged on their first pull-up or who can’t get previous one or two reps.
In a number of research, pulldown repetitions seem to have the potential of predicting 1RM pull-up power with cheap accuracy in school males, male athletes, and grownup ladies. (4-8)
Apparently, one other research discovered that based mostly on muscle activation patterns, the kneeling lat pulldown is probably the most just like the pull-up for close to maximal efforts (9).
This additionally means the Gravitron (assisted pull-up) machine discovered at many gyms can be more likely to elicit comparable muscle firing patterns as a result of it’s additionally carried out from a kneeling place.
The researchers famous: “When performing the kneeling lat pulldown, members had been pulling a load that was equal to 80% of their physique weight. In consequence, they had been lifted off the bottom for a portion of the pulling (concentric) section of the motion, just like the suspension side of the pull-up.”
Additionally, “The rectus abdominus (abs) needs to be emphasised in coaching packages, because it was probably the most energetic muscle group assessed for each the pull-up and kneeling lat-pulldown for all members.”
When you’re dead-set on mastering the pull-up, then do lat pulldowns and kneeling lat pulldowns two to a few occasions per week. Do them early in your exercise when you will have probably the most psychological and bodily power.
Every exercise, alternate between underhand grip, impartial grip, and the standard overhand grip to make sure you’re not solely stronger from all angles but in addition not overusing one particular angle that would result in an overuse situation.
Do 4-6 units of 1-5 reps. Relaxation 3-5 minutes between units.
You possibly can apply these identical programming tips to the Gravitron machine. Alternate between utilizing the Gravitron and utilizing the lat pulldown whereas nonetheless mixing up grips on every.
For kneeling lat pulldowns, a good way to keep away from being lifted off the bottom whereas nonetheless going heavy sufficient to maximise power good points is to do them one arm at a time.
There’s no must crap on anybody who has a aim of doing their first pull-up or desires to do extra. However set your self up for achievement by having sensible targets, then strive one among these confirmed methods:
The more unnecessary weight (fat) you’re carrying, the weaker you’ll feel and the less work you’ll be able to complete.
Pull-up performance isn’t a great tool to gauge your progress (yet) because there’s too much of a difference between your current bodyweight and strength levels.
So, make fat loss (whereas minimizing muscle loss) your principal aim. When you obtain it, your pull-up efficiency will enhance mechanically, and taking your pull-up sport to the following stage will probably be extra sensible.
The reason why it’s so hard to do your first pull-up or to go from two reps to three, is because you’ve got to be able to pull your entire bodyweight. To make the breakthrough you’re after, focus on gradual and consistent progress on lat pulldowns by following the programming guidelines above.
In addition, do some eccentric overload pull-ups and chin-ups before you do your lat pulldown sets.
Let’s say you can barely do three pull-ups.
- Find your 1RM pull-up weight by gradually adding small weight plates to your dip belt.
- Once you’ve found your 1RM, add 5%. Researchers found that a 1RM can be increased by applying a supramaximal load (105 percent of 1RM) only on the eccentric/negative phase of the lift. This increase in eccentric loading improved 1RM concentric performance by 5-15 pounds. (10)
- With this extra load on a dip belt, do eccentric-only sets. Step up on a bench or box that allows you to start with your chin above the bar. Now do only the lowering portion of the pull-up. Go slow. Take 6 to 8 seconds from top to bottom.
- Once you’ve lowered yourself all the way down, remove your hands from the bar and step back up to the top of the bench or box.
- Do 2-3 reps for 3-4 sets. Rest 3 minutes between sets.
- Johnson D et al. Relationship of one repetition maximum lat-pull and pull-up performances to relative muscular endurance and body composition. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 May;23(3):1022-8. PubMed.
- Vanderburgh PM et al. The impact of experimental alterations in extra mass on pull-up efficiency in match younger males. J Power Cond Res. 1997 Nov;11(4):230-233.
- Ricci B et al. Comparability of female and male practical capability in pull-ups. J Sports activities Med Phys Health. 1988 Jun;28(2):168-75. PubMed.
- Ball TE. The predictability of muscular power and endurance from calisthenics. Res Q Exerc Sport 1993;64:A-39.
- Chandler T et al. Relationship of lat-pull repetitions and pull-ups to 1-RM lat-pull power in male athletes. J Human Mov Research 2001;41(1):25-37.
- Ball TE et al. The connection of relative muscular endurance to maximal lifting capability in school women and men. J Power Cond Res 1995;9:277.
- Kuramoto A et al. Predicting muscular power in ladies: A preliminary research. Res Q Exerc Sport. 1995 Jun;66(2):168-72. PubMed.
- Halet KA et al. Relationship of 1 repetition most lat-pull to pull-up and lat-pull repetitions in elite collegiate ladies swimmers. J Power Cond Res. 2009 Aug;23(5):1496-502. PubMed.
- Hewit JK et al. A Comparability of Muscle Activation throughout the Pull-up and Three Different Pulling Workout routines. Journal of Bodily Health, Drugs & Remedy in Sports activities. 2018 Nov;5(4).
- Doan BK et al. Results of elevated eccentric loading on bench press 1RM. J Power Cond Res. 2002 Feb;16(1):9-13. PubMed.