Pull Ups – Big Numbers, Big Back

What Is The Pull Up?

The pull up is a common back exercise targeting the latissimus dorsi, teres major, rear shoulder, and biceps muscles. It involves an overhead bar that you hang onto and pull your body towards. Pull ups are easily accessible, with most gyms having pull up bars mounted on walls or as a part of a machine available.

Pull Ups – A Potent Back Building Exercise

The pull up is a potent back building exercise with good potential for loading; using a belt to add on weight can be a way to make the exercise more progressible. The pull up is a great exercise for developing the back, but it is oftentimes limited by stability, grip, and bodyweight. In order to build towards the pull up, a similar exercise done on a machine, the lat pulldown, is frequently used.

Differentiating The Pull Up From The Lat Pulldown

While the movements look very similar, two very big differences between the pull up and the lat pulldown exist. Firstly, the pull up involves pulling your body towards the bar, while the pulldown involves pulling the machine handle or attachment towards you. This makes the pull up exercise more similar to climbing, which requires you to balance your bodyweight, whereas the pulldown is more akin to rowing, with a very fixed path to the exercise. Secondly, the pull up tends to have the legs freely swinging in the air, whereas the pull down anchors the thighs under pads to keep you down. This allows the pull up exercise to engage the full body as you need to stabilise not just the trunk but also the legs to prevent swaying, while the pull down better isolates the upper body pulling muscles.

Getting Your First Pull Up

Achieving your first pull up is the biggest step to doing more pull ups. However, many will ask: “How do we start?” Getting started is not too difficult, you need to find a pull up bar, which can normally be found at most fitness corners, but if you would like a private place to practise, The Gym Pods located across Singapore and worldwide provides a personal location for you to get started.

Common Exercises To Achieve Your First Pull Up

These 3 exercises are common ways to progress into your first bodyweight pullups:

  1. The Dead Hang
    The Dead Hang refers to holding on to the bar, developing the necessary grip strength to hold onto the bar. A weak grip often precedes an inability to do pull ups; building your grip with timed dead hangs is a specific way to prepare for the exercise progressions ahead.
  2. The Assisted Pull Up
    The Assisted Pull Up involves some form of assistance in the bottom portion of the exercise. Most commonly, resistance bands are looped around the pull up bar and your knee to reduce your load at the bottom of the exercise, making it easier for you to perform the bottom portion of the exercise. Assisted pull up machines come with an assisting pad that makes the full range of the pull up easier to perform.
  3. Pull Up Negatives
    Pull up negatives refer to doing only the lowering phase of the pull up. Pull up negatives require an initial boost or a jump to get yourself to the top range of the pull up, before controlling the lowering of your body down. A duration of 2 to 8 seconds is normally applied to this lowering phase and upon reaching the bottom of the range, you reset and perform more repetitions to develop your lowering strength.

A sample program that you can perform twice a week is shown below:

WeekExerciseSets and Reps
1Dead Hang3 to 5 sets of 10s holds
2Dead hang3 to 5 sets of 15s holds
3Assisted Pull Up2 to 3 sets of 3 reps
4Assisted Pull Up2 to 3 sets of 4 reps
5Assisted Pull Up2 to 3 sets of 5 reps
6Assisted Pull Up2 to 3 sets of 6 reps
7Pull Up Negatives2 sets of 4 reps, 2s lowering
8Pull Up Negatives3 sets of 5 reps, 2s lowering

These exercises are often included into programs featuring dedicated pull days, such as a push-pull-leg program, and are done alongside other back exercises, which may speed up the rate of progress in achieving your first pull up.

Building Big Pull Up Numbers And A Big Back

Once you have achieved your first pull up, you’ll definitely want to do more. Doing more pull ups is a matter of practice: diligently doing pull ups in your training program, adding more volume by doing more repetitions per set, and resting and recovering to allow your body to grow and adapt. When starting off a program at 1 repetition per set, many sets should be done. Reduce the number of sets once you can perform 2 or more repetitions. Most pull workouts with pull ups often include 2 to 4 sets of pull ups.

Mastering The Pull Up Variations

The pull up is done with the palms facing away from you, in a pronated grip. Two other common variations based on the grip direction are known as the chin up and the neutral grip pull up. Chin ups are done with the palms facing into you, known as a supinated grip. The neutral grip pull up requires separate handles that are parallel to each other, with your palms facing each other. Both the chin up and neutral grip shift more loading to the biceps, which can make the exercise easier as both the back and biceps work better in unison. Another method of making a pull up variation involves the hand spacing on a straight bar. Wide grip pull ups are harder variations that increase the loading on the teres major muscle, while close grip pull ups tend to be easier, shift more loading to the latissimus dorsi muscle.

Get Your First Pull Up With The Gym Pod

Achieving your first pull up may seem like a daunting task, but with the support of a good, knowledgeable personal trainer from The Gym Pod Academy, getting to your first pull up will be a smooth and enjoyable process! The many Gym Pods located across Singapore and worldwide contain all the necessary equipment to build your pull ups and your back. What are you waiting for, book a consultation now!