© Joslyn Thompson-Rule
Pull-ups: they’re the exercise you wish you could do. But right now, you fail at the first rep then schlep downbeat towards the changing room. Sound right?
And, what doesn’t help is the stream of Instagrammers who crank out multiple reps faster than you can search ‘how to do pull-ups’ on Google. (That’s you @KaylaItsines).
‘I like to call pull-ups an honest exercise because you can either do them, or you can’t – there’s no faking it,’ shares Joslyn Thompson-Rule. ‘You just can’t cheat this movement – it’s literally impossible – as it requires both body control and strength, working as one.’
Why then, can some women do them and others can’t?
Commonly, women put a lack of pull-up ability down to weak arms. However, you need more than strong arms to pull your entire body weight up to the bar. Your lats, scapula and core play a role too. If you’re confused by these terms, let us decipher the pull-ups lexicon.
Body control: an awareness of how your body functions as one unit.
Latissimus dorsi: The broadest muscle of the back that plays a major role in a pull-up.
Packing your scapula: Keeping shoulder blades pulled down and not allowing them to wing or poke out.
With that out of the way, it’s time to turn your attention to the very common errors that make lifting your whole body weight harder than it needs to be. Over to WH Strength Coach and Nike Master Global Trainer Joslyn Thompson-Rule for how to do a pull-up and the mistakes you don’t want to make.
Once you correct these, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your fitness goal.
3 PULL UP MISTAKES TO AVOID
1. Not doing workouts to help with pull-ups
The assistance of resistance bands is a fairly popular method among pull-up first-timers, but the truth is that the band ends up doing part or most of the work.
This is because pull-ups with a band don’t require the body control that an actual pull-up does, and the exercise is made a lot easier. So when the band is taken away, so is your ability to do a pull-up.
It’s much more helpful to spend time working on your core, and build strength by doing eccentric pull-ups – jump from a box to get to the top of the pull-up, then slowly lower yourself back down.
Or have a go at eccentric ‘chin-ups’, the underhand-grip version of the pull up.
2. Not knowing what muscles pull-ups work
If you look at someone doing a pull-up, it would be easy to think that it’s all arms.
But in reality, the lat muscles in the back initiate the movement, while the core muscles stabilise the body from start to finish. Yes, the arms are doing some of the work, but think of your core as the engine and your lats as the driver behind the manoeuvre.
A great way to strengthen the core and to integrate it into compound movements like a pull-up is to practise hollow holds.
Meanwhile waking the lats up, so that they can be efficient pull-up-initiators, can be done by working on active hangs.
3. Lack of consistency
Every exercise that you think you’re ‘bad’ at gets better with consistent time and dedication. If you are patient with your progress and ‘grease the groove’ (train) regularly, the results will eventually come.
When training for your first pull-up, you are placing high neuromuscular demands on your body – but with each session, you get a little stronger and your body knows what to do a little more. It’s a slow process, so you have to persevere.
In Chasing Pull Ups, my step-by-step guide to getting your first pull-up, you work on both strength and body control in just two 20 minutes sessions per week.
You progress at your own manageable pace, in line with the goal that you set yourself on the ebook’s accompanying goal-setting sheet, and keep on top of things with the progress tracker. When you finally get that pull-up, you’ll be able to see just how far you’ve come.
Bear all of the above in mind, and if you’re committed, there’s no doubt that you will eventually nail it.