6 Pull-Up Mistakes You Should Avoid

Strong guy is hardly manage to finish his pull-up

We’ve seen the same Pull-Up mistakes made repeatedly by well-intentioned Calisthenics enthusiasts. The Pull-Up is one of the most popular bodyweight exercises in Calisthenics, so it is natural that many people will want to add this exercise to their workout. Pull-Ups are very effective for developing upper-body strength with just very few repetitions and variations. However, they do require learning the exact technique and how to maintain perfect form. With that perfect form achieved, anyone can benefit from doing Pull-Ups without mistakes. At first, this exercise poses an obstacle to men and women alike as it puts your strength to the test. We’ll examine the 6 most common Pull-Up mistakes we see and discuss ways how you can avoid them.

Why is the Pull-Up so Difficult?

This exercise is an obstacle not only for women in Calisthenics but also for men as they are putting their strength to the test. Paradoxically, the less you weigh, the easier Pull-Ups will be. This means that bulky men who appear strong may have more trouble doing Pull-Ups than for example lithe women do. Pull-Ups almost never get too easy. As you become stronger from doing Pull-Ups, you build muscle mass making you heavier. This increased bodyweight in turn puts more strain on your muscles during the Pull-Up. This makes Pull-Ups simultaneously super effective but also very difficult.

The most common types of Pull-Ups are:

  • Pull-Up: prone grip, with the thumbs turned inward and,
  • Chin-Up: supine or reverse grip, with the thumbs facing outward.

Most untrained individuals cannot even complete 1 perfect form Pull-Up, let alone do a set. Their drive to completion often results in them making Pull-Up mistakes, short cuts or simply using improper form. This may make the Pull-Up less effective or worse, make you susceptible to injury either acute or from repeated wear over time.

The Muscles Involved with Pull-Ups

Pull-Ups are a compound exercise, involving many muscles during its execution. You can compare it to a deadlift in regular fitness in that it requires the use of the entire upper body, arms included, to execute properly. The shoulders, all the muscles attached to your scapula, play a key role and are a very complex system of major and minor muscles which must all work in unison during Pull-Ups. A list of the muscles involved would be:

  • Your entire shoulders including the deltoid muscles and your shoulder’s rotator cuffs
  • Your lower arms to provide grip strength.
  • Your biceps to bend your elbows
  • Your Latimus Dorsi (sides), aiding the shoulders and giving you that tapered look
  • Your Transversus Abdominis, a deep abdominal muscle often overlooked but vital for your core strength.
  • Your Quadratus Lumorum (QLs), another important core strength muscle
  • Your glutes and thighs.

Reading the list, all large muscle groups are involved in Pull-Ups. This makes it a very effective but also very efficient compound exercise for your neuromuscular feedback subsystems. There is nuance of course, in that Pull-Ups do focus on the upper body much more than the lower body. So, never skip your leg exercises, either.

The 6 Most Common Pull-Up Mistakes

In the age of social networks like YouTube and TikTok, which offer daily videos of fitness influencers, everyone is an “athlete”. Many of these “how to” videos contain tips under the guise of pretended expertise. It shouldn’t surprise you that most of them are subpar when it comes to the information provided. To dispel the most made mistakes from the gym floor, here are the 6 common Pull-Up mistakes and how to avoid them.

Pull-up Mistake #1: Not Using the Full Range of Motion (ROM)

A common mistake is not using a full range of motion, which will severely limit the effectiveness of Pull-Ups. Many will stretch their elbows completely into a dead hang. By relaxing your shoulders and scapula, your upper body is not in the correct Pull-Up position anymore and it will be harder to attain a higher number of repetitions. On the return, it is better to keep your elbows just a fraction of fully extended.

Another mistake is not pulling up fully toward your chest. If your chin barely tops the bar, the move is not finished. Pull up until your elbow is fully cocked.

Before starting with the regular Pull-Up, perform 2 or 3 sets of Scapula Pull-Ups to feel the difference between a dead hang (starting position) and active hang (end position). If a Scapula Pull-Up is too hard, consider implementing a Resistance Band to your workout (see Pull-Up Mistake #6).

An active hang is better for your posture and improves your Pull-Ups. Then, pull yourself up as high as you can and touch the bar with your chest. By pulling your hands a bit inward, you activate your chest, which can help you gain more strength in this exercise.

Pull-up Mistake #2: Crossed Legs

Crossing the legs is also one of the more common Pull-Up mistakes. This mistake is related to not using a full range of motion movement, like Pull-Up Mistake #1. You could do this unintentionally, when you hang on a bar that is too low for you. You know it is too low if your feet touch the floor while hanging on the bar. As you start, you cross your legs and flex your knees to give you enough ground clearance. This gives you a bad movement pattern with a hollow back and a lot more tilting or lateral movements. 

You can avoid this mistake by performing the pull-up with your legs tilted or even lifted forward (although this will be a more difficult exercise), or by using a Pull-Up Bar at the correct height for you.

Pull-up Mistake #3: Kipping

If you want to increase muscle strength or induce hypertrophy (or both), do not fool yourself by kipping your Pull-Ups. Kipping is forcefully lifting your knees to gain upward momentum. This may allow you to perform more repetitions, but both the resistance as well as the time under stress will be significantly lessened. These are the two determining factors for the exercise’ effectiveness at building strength and muscle mass. By kipping, you are drastically diminishing the returns you get for your time and your energy.

If you feel the need to kip your knees to complete a Pull-Up, use a Resistance Band. These can help you learn and execute the proper technique without the need for kipping. You can then gradually lessen the resistance of the bands you use as you become stronger.

Pull-up Mistake #4: Not Performing a Full Body Exercise

The Pull-Up is a full body exercise. Sure, the focus is on your back, but you also need to engage your chest, abs and legs to perform it well. If you do not engage other muscles, you could introduce unnecessary movements, wasting energy and oxygen that should go toward doing Pull-Up repetitions. You will notice that as you strain these other muscles, basically your whole body, you may feel more discomfort in some of them. These are called weak points. In case of the Pull-Ups, these weak points can be your abs, pelvis, knees and toes, causing you to give up. 

First, make sure you activate your chest by pulling a bit inward with your hands. You can start doing this with Scapula Pull-Ups before committing to the full Pull-Up. Second, extend your upper back. Third, activate your abs and make a posterior tilt with your pelvis to decrease the hollow in your back. Fourth and last, tighten your quadriceps (thighs) to extend your knees and tuck in your toes. The tension makes sure your movement pattern stays the same for every rep. This way, you can perform your maximum number of Pull-Ups.

Pull-up Mistake #5: Goose Necking

We see this Pull-Up mistake happen a lot every time we are in a gym or a Calisthenics Park. Someone pulls-up and then lifts their chin at the end of the movement to raise it over the bar. First, this is not a full range of motion exercise since you’re cheating a couple of inches. Second, by extending your neck like this, you increase the risk of neck injury since it must lift the load as well. And lastly, you look ridiculous doing this so just stop it.

Before pulling yourself up, make a ‘double-chin’ by nodding Yes and hold this position. It can feel strange at the beginning, but it will activate the right muscles in your neck to stabilize it.  

Pull-up Mistake #6: Diving into the Deep End

Crossing the bridge from 0 Pull-Ups to 1 Pull-Up is often the first mistake made. It can be a hard bridge to cross, but in our effort to at least do 1 Pull-Up we begin to make more mistakes. We find that the root, underlying Pull-Up mistake at the core of most other mistakes is that people dive into the deep end immediately. It’s better to take things step-by-step and first sufficiently strengthen all those parts of the body involved in the Pull-Up sufficiently. 

One way is to divide the Pull-Up into its parts and practicing them in turn or one after the other before attempting the full motion. We’ll give you a clear-cut plan of how to start doing Pull-Ups below. A second way to avoid most Pull-Up mistakes is to take part of your bodyweight away with a Resistance Band. Resistance Bands are so simple in design and use but are almost infinitely versatile to the Calisthenics Practitioner. By hanging a Resistance Band from your Pull-Up Bar and stepping into the loop, you take part of your bodyweight away from your arms. This allows you to focus on that important perfect form. From there, you can decrease the aid you’re getting from the band over time.

These are two sets of resistance you could choose from:
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pullup and dip resistance bands

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How to Start Doing Pull-Ups

Pull-ups have many benefits, so it’s worth acquiring this skill. The most difficult obstacle to overcome is to go from 0 to doing your first Pull-up. But don’t lose confidence just yet. The preparatory steps to follow to do a pull-up are listed below.

  1. Horizontal Pull-Ups / Australian Pull-Ups: use a Dip Bar, low bar, suspension trainer or Gymnastic Rings until you can complete 4 sets of 10 repetitions of Australian Pull-Ups.
  2. Dead hang: hang from the bar and hold the suspended position (feet off the floor) for incrementally longer periods, until you can maintain 4 sets of 60 seconds.
  3. Scapula Pull-Ups: from the dead hang position, perform Scapula Pull-Ups (shrugging your shoulders) until you can again do 4 sets of 10 Scapula Pull-Ups.
  4. Isometric hold: jump or help yourself up to the bar with a chair and bring your chin over the bar, then maintain this position while contracting core, glutes, and quadriceps. Do this until you can maintain the isometric hold for 4 sets of 60 seconds.
  5. Negative Pull-Ups and Negative Chin-Ups: jump or help yourself up into the Isometric Hold like above. Hold the isometric position for a second and then slowly control the descent (negative or eccentric phase) until you can do this for 4 sets of 10.

After step 5, you should have acquired the confidence to do at least 1 perfect form Pull-Up. You can then incorporate them into a weekly Calisthenics Program to increase the number of Pull-Ups you can perform.

Get To Doing 20 Pull-Ups a Day

The 20 Pull-Ups Challenge is a tough one, but certainly not impossible. Many have gone before you, going from 0 to 20 Pull-Ups and beyond (for instance, Weighted Pull-Ups). Now that you’ve avoided the most common Pull-Up mistakes, you will inevitably acquire the perfect form Pull-Up. Getting to that magical number of 20 will set you apart from most people.

Key Takeaways about Pull-Up Mistakes

Pull-Ups are hard for the beginner and it’s very easy to unwittingly or unintentionally introduce Pull-Up mistakes. However, it is important that you learn perfect form and that you eliminate these common Pull-Up mistakes from your exercise. That way, the Pull-Up can be a highly effective and efficient way for you to build strength and muscle mass. Often, Pull-Up mistakes are a result of our eagerness to perform, so we jump right into it with potentially subpar results. By using our simple step-plan above to start doing Pull-Ups, you won’t need to result to mistakes like kipping or goose necking. Using Resistance Bands helps ensure that you learn and maintain proper form while gradually increasing the resistance as you get used to doing Pull-Ups. A mistake-free Pull-Up is a recipe for a great upper-body.

You’ll want a quality Pull-Up Bar for this, which like all Calisthenics Equipment, ought to be affordable and high quality.

Want To Learn More About The Pull-Up? Check The Movement Athlete’s Program!

Frequently Asked Questions about Pull-Up Mistakes

A couple of frequently asked questions to recap what we learned about the common Pull-Up mistakes.

What is a common mistake when doing a pull-up?

A common Pull-Up mistake is crossing your legs while you pull up. This is usually due to the bar hanging too low for you. You should hang completely free off the floor. Another common mistake with Pull-Ups is lacking range of motion, either not fully bringing the chest up to the bar and/or fully extending the elbow during the descent.

Can you do Pull-Ups incorrectly?

Yes, Pull-Ups should be done with perfect form or they will lose much of their effectiveness and efficiency. Common Pull-Up mistakes are kipping your legs to induce upward momentum, crossing the legs, not making a full ascent to touch the bar with your chest and fully extending the elbows into a dead hang.

Why am I strong but bad at Pull-Ups?

This can be either due to incorrect form or a muscle mass distribution that is not optimized yet for Pull-Ups. Since you lift your own weight, Pull-Ups are paradoxically often easier for skinnier people than for bulky and strong people. The more you do Pull-Ups, the stronger you become, which will also increase your bodyweight. This keeps the Pull-Up a difficult exercise for most practitioners, regardless of their strength.

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T. Mahesh

Do the knees have to bent behind the body? Please explain why it should or shouldn’t ?