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Pull-ups and Chin-ups are essential exercises for the vast majority of people who want to get strong, lean and perform at a high level. Unfortunately, this vertical pulling movement can get pretty sloppy for a lot of people. There are tons of different ways that people perform the chin/pull-up, but I think there is really one optimal way to do so… and it’s the least commonly seen version. WOMP.
What’s the Big Deal?
Cheating on all variations of the pull/chin-up is so easy. You can kip, or whatever people call that… you can use body english… you can kick your legs, flail your feet around, you know the drill. All of that is making you better at cheating on pull-ups, instead of actually making you better at the exercise itself.
On top of that, I do not feel like performing these cheats allows you to get the full benefits of the exercise. Some of the benefits you lose out on include:
- Anterior core activation
- Lumbopelvic stability and control
- Differentiation between T-Spine & L-Spine extension
- Total body strength
- Development of the back muscles
- Corrective breathing and bracing techniques
I don’t know about you, but I definitely NEED THOSE types of results. I’m no perfect pull-up machine, trust me. But as long as I adhere to the strict form shown above, I see weekly improvement in my form and results. The same goes for my clients and athletes, especially my youngsters!
So, how do we fix this? Here are some general guidelines that I like to see in chins and pull-ups.
- Start from either a controlled position or a dead hang. Do not just jump up to the bar and start your pull-ups however you feel like. Put thought into the set-up just like you would with a Deadlift or a Bench Press.
- Initiate the movement from your shoulders and elbows by retracting your shoulder blades before you begin your upward pull. It will take a little bit of T-Spine extension to get a good squeeze, but try not to let that spill down into your lower back.
- Hollow out your core during the entire movement. Dorsiflex the ankles, hinge slightly at the hips, exhale and brace your core. Turn this into an ab exercise. Believe it or not, your back is probably strong enough to do a lot of great pull-ups, but your weak core is limiting you. Improving my anterior core strength is, by far, the most beneficial thing I did to improve my pull-ups.
- Pull yourself into your natural range of motion. Do not go reaching for the bar with your chin and neck cranked all out of position. Pull up enough to get a good squeeze with your elbows in line with your sides and that should be good. Over-rowing is only going to cause wear and tear on your shoulders capsule.
- Control yourself on the way down and restart. Be honest with your reps and I promise, you will see awesome progress!
Can’t do a pull up? There are TONS of ways to progress into them. Start with row variations, then leg assistance on your pull-ups, next work in eccentrics, then work into isometric holds, then work in your band assistance… before you know it, you’re going to be crushing them!