Pull ups are tough! Upper body strength is a weak spot for many just starting out on a training regimen. Since it's always smart to have a few goals in mind while training, a great way to assess your upper body strength is the ability to perform an unassisted pull up or chin up.
Feel like this is an unattainable goal? Don't be discouraged! Pull ups are a challenging move and can take a long time to master. We recommend starting with a chin up (palms facing you) and working up to a pull up (palms away from you). Chin ups allow you to engage your biceps more than a traditional pull up, and they distribute the workload more evenly, allowing you to balance out the muscle fatigue throughout your body more efficiently. Here are our favorite supplemental exercises and tips that will help you smash this goal:
These can be performed on a Smith Machine, barbell, or TRX and are a terrific way to build up to a traditional pull up. It targets your core, back and arms, and has a similar movement to the traditional pull up.
A band assisted pull up mimics the pull up movement and is the best way to work up to an actual pull up. Loop the band through the bar and then wrap the band either around your thigh or your foot. If your gym doesn't have bands available, they are relatively inexpensive and a great tool for many different exercises.
Band pull aparts are performed with a long resistance band. They are terrific for shoulder health and teach your body to retract the shoulder blades properly. This is important for a pull up as it's important to retract your shoulder blades as you pull yourself up towards the bar.
Core activation and grip strength are important for performing a pull up, and hanging knee raises train both. All you need is a pull up bar... and remember not to swing!
Once you're hanging on the bar, ready to go, remember these tips and cues:
This is a fantastic mental aid to help you use proper technique. As you begin to pull, imagine that your elbows are driving straight down into the ground. This helps engage the strong latissimus muscles in your back. It keeps your arms from flaring out, and it also helps get your shoulder girdle in better position by allowing your body to retract the shoulder blades.
Engage your core first. This means squeezing your abs and glutes as you pull your body up. This will keep you from swinging and allow you to have a nice, controlled movement the whole way up and down.