If you’re into calisthenics, you undoubtedly know what a muscle-up and a pull-up is. Getting to know how to perform it well is a great calisthenics goal. Previously, we wrote an article about how to master the muscle-up. But before you can master the muscle-up you need to master the pull-up. This article is meant for beginners in calisthenics and those who want to achieve perfect form. If you are advanced already but find it hard to progress with the pull-up, click here to find out how to increase your reps. Now, let’s get started with the pull-up and how to master it.
What Is a Pull-up?
A pull-up is a bodyweight exercise in which you pull-up your body. You need a bar that is preferably the height of your arms stretched above your head. That way, you don’t have to jump to reach it and to keep your body relatively stretched during the exercise. If a bar at that height is not available you can always bend your knees. For perfect form, we do not recommend this though because your center of gravity will be more backwards. Plus, you are more likely to hollow back that way. To complete a repetition you need to lift your chin above the bar without literally lifting up your chin.
There are some awesome records with this exercise. For example, John Orth (USA) did 7600 pull-ups in 19.5 hours. The highest number of reps in one minute is held by Adam Sandel (USA) who did 68 reps. He had previously held this record but beat his own personal best.
First, let’s break down the pull-up into three phases: basic scapula pull-up. Second, the pull-up and finally we’ll give some essential tips voor beginners to progress faster.
Phase 1: The Active Dead Hang (Scapula Pull-up)
Start by hanging on a bar with your arms extended. Use a pronated grip (palms facing towards the bar) with your thumbs on the upper side of the bar. Start in an active dead hang. This means that your shoulders are retracted and your scapula (shoulder blades) are contracted in a retraction. A retraction is like pulling the shoulder blades together as if you would hold a pencil in between them.
Before we continue, we want to emphasize how important this is. Without being able to do this your form of the pull-up will not be perfect. You can still do pull-up without it but will not reach full range of motion (ROM). Without a full ROM, exercises like the muscle-up are very hard, plus the chances of injury or imbalance between back muscles is high.
So, after making the retraction try to squeeze your shoulder blades to your lower back as well. You can try this movement without a bar first, with your hands in the air. Your arms should stay stretched. Next, try this when you’re hanging on the bar. A repetition is completed when your arms do not move but you are moving your shoulders up and down. Make sure you can perform at least 3 times 15 repetition and hold this position for 30 seconds before you move on. Congratulations you can do the scapula pull-up and the active dead hang!
Phase 2: The Pull-up
Now we come to the actual exercise: the pull-up. Again, start with an active dead hang on the bar. Your hands are placed a bit wider than shoulder width. The technique is like this:
- Bend your arms by lifting up your body. Try to keep your trunk and legs still (best with extended legs)
- As you pull yourself up, make sure your elbows keep pointing sideways and for a full ROM pull until they are in your sides. It is like forming a W with your arms.
- Make sure you keep looking straight ahead and do not lift your head
- Keep your scapula active like we discussed in phase 1
- Slowly go back down
That it. There is not more to the perfect pull-up form than this. But still, it can be quite challenging to perform it correctly.
Tips to Master the Pull Up
If you do not have the strength to perform one or a couple of pull-ups or lack the strength to maintain your perfect form in your reps you should try this:
Use Resistance bands
They are your best friend here. Like an assisted pull-up bar, resistance bands assist your weight and make it easier to build muscle. They come in different kinds of resistance, which makes it possible to progress nicely. And they are cheaper than an assisted pull up bar. You could also ask someone to push you up. But this could affect your form if the other person helps too much.
Low bar pull-ups
Start on a lower bar. For example, one that reaches your chest. Now you will not have to come off the ground entirely and will not lift your entire body weight. With this you can do negative pull-ups (startin the end position and go to the start position as slowly as possible. Or pull up as fast as you can and focus on increasing your ROM.
Practice makes perfect. So do not give up. In time, you will get better.
How Many Reps?
A lot of you are probably wondering how many pull-ups you should be able to do to be considered fit. We created 2 tables of averages out of different studies. One is by age and the other one by weight for adults. M= male and F= female.
By Body Weight
If you have any questions or want help with your muscle-up progression feel free to ask us. We are here to help. Click here to get resistance bands or your own pull up bar. And stay tuned for more articles on your favourite exercises. You can already find a ton of calisthenics exercises right here.