One of the top bodyweight exercises on any fitness professional's list has to be the pull up. As a compound movement, pull ups work the lats, traps, delts, chest, biceps, and triceps – all it takes is a stationary bar teamed with serious strength.
If you can bang out 10 form-perfect pull ups, you are strong, lean, and functionally fit. Unfortunately, they are damn difficult to perform. If that bar and your chin seem like a million miles apart, relax (for the moment). Here's how to get involved and become a pull up pro:
Lose some weight
Inherently the more you weigh, the more weight you have to pull up against gravity. There's a reason the overweight, free rock climber is an extinct athlete. It's simple: after dropping some kilos, your muscles can pull more of you.
Perform lat pull downs
Every gym has a lat machine, which mimics a pull up in a seated fashion. Adjust the weight to start building back and arm strength required to (one day) get over that bar.
Increase grip strength
Pull ups aren't just about the back, biceps, and triceps – they're also about grip strength. Spend time doing simple bar hangs. Further, grab heavy kettlebells and perform farmer walks that increase stability, oblique strength, as well as forearm and grip strength.
Implement negative pull ups
If you're not ready for a pull up, perform 'negatives', which is a strengthening routine only involving the lowering phase of the exercise. From behind, have a mate grab your hips to get you over the bar, then slowly (and under control) lower your body to the hang position. Science says negatives decrease bodyweight by about 20% - using the same pull up motion form, negatives are a tad easier to execute.
Body aided pull ups
You've got three options when you need a little more help. Some gyms have pull up machines – the more weight you put the pin under, the less weight you have to pull up. Second, use a mate - with knees locked, ankles crossed, and feet behind you have a friend grab your ankles and pull up some of your weight. Last, banded pull ups are a good option as a human sized rubber band attached to the bar and around one of your feet contracts, giving the right amount of support to get you over that bar.
Learn to cheat
Gravity sucks, so cheat a little bit by performing jumping pull ups. Getting your chin over that bar is a great accomplishment, and if it takes a little jump to get you there, it's a nice place to start.
Get to 10
So, how to do it? With time, energy, patience, and a combination of: drop some weight while concentrating on the right exercises, weight load, and repetitions to build back strength. While doing that, get involved with negatives, grip strength, and weight aided pull ups. Start with sets of three unaided pull ups. In a couple of weeks try five. Build, build, and eventually you'll reach your goal.
To pull up or chin up?
The overhand grip required for a pull up isolates the lats and is the ultimate back maker. The underhand grip of a chin up is still a great back exercise, but some of the emphasis is placed on the biceps, making it a little easier to perform.
Combine it with a burpee
You've mastered the pull up – that's great. Combining burpees and pullups is a devilish idea, but they'll get you fit as hell. To perform: it's inherent in the title – underneath a pull up bar with legs shoulder width apart, drop for a burpee (of course, do the pushup), and upon standing up jump straight into a pull up. Here's a torturous circuit – 100 skipping ropes straight into 10 burpee pull ups, into 10 heavy kettlebell swings. Then perform 90 ropes, nine burpee pull ups, nine kb swings… 80-8-8 and so on down to 10-1-1.
Or if you're bold, brave, and professional-athlete-fit, turn your pull up into the muscle up – they are next level fitness.
Build strength, and be patient – you'll get there in time, and you'll be eyes and chin over that bar looking at the gym's horizon and your fitness with a whole new outlook.
Passion for lifestyle change is the cornerstone for everything Michael Jarosky does. A Sydney-based personal trainer, he cajoled thousands of Executive Style readers to undertake his 'Cut The BS' diet, and champions a charity weight-loss event, Droptober.