Mastering The Pull Up With Ian Cawston
September 14, 2021
How many pull ups can you do? If you can’t even get one yet, don’t feel bad. Chances are, you’ve been going about it the wrong way. Pulls ups are a lot more technical than most guys think. You gotta break it down then build that technique back up.
Pull ups are one bad ass exercise. Nothing looks as impressive as walking into the gym and banging out a series of sweet pull ups like it ain’t no thang.
Ready to learn the secret of smooth, easy pull ups? We put together this guide with our ambassador Ian Cawston. Take a look, and you’ll be doing the perfect pull up in no time.
What kind of exercise is a pull up?
Exercise type: mass builder, strength, muscle gain, hypertrophy, mobility, bodyweight exercise
Main muscle worked: back muscles (especially latissimus dorsi), shoulders, arms
Equipment needed: just a pull up bar, can add weight with a dipping belt to advance the pull ups exercise
Level: beginner, intermediate
Other names for pull ups: pull-ups, chin ups, chins, bodyweight pull ups, assisted pull ups, weighted pull ups
Are pull ups and chin ups the same exercise?
No, bro! Too many guys think pull ups and chin ups are a different name for the same thing. But they’re completely different exercises. Pull ups (which is what we’re talking about here) have a pronated grip, with your palms facing away from you. Chin ups have your palms facing you. You can also do a neutral grip pull up, with your palms facing each other. This needs a specialist bar and extra handles.
Pull ups and chin ups work different muscles. This is partly cos of the difference in grip, but also cos you’ll want to take your grip a lot wider for pull ups.
Which muscles do pull ups work?
Pull ups are mad effective for your back, your delts, and your arms. Hell, they even hit your core and chest (yes, really). You can maximize your pull ups by hammering the technique and then slowing the tempo right down.
Latissimus Dorsi: Pull ups work your lats like nothing else. The lats get stretched right out at the bottom of the pull up, then have to do a ton of work to pull your body weight up. Your lats play a major role in getting your arms close to your body and your body up toward the bar.
Trapezius: Your traps are gonna get a major workout from pull up exercises. The vertical pull movement of the pull up stimulates the traps and puts a ton of load through it.
Deltoids: Your shoulders will get worked hard doing pull ups, too. Watch the back view of someone doing a pull up and you’ll see exactly what we mean. Wide grip pull ups will hit your delts hardest.
Pectoralis major: Believe it or not, pull ups also work your chest. Your pecs give your lats a helping hand in pulling your arms towards your body. Plus they get a great stretch at the top of the pull up movement.
Smaller muscles of the back: You know all those small back muscles that show up when you’re lean? They get worked hard during a pull up – whether you can see them or not. We’re talking the teres major and teres minor, infraspinatus, and rear delts.
How to do pull ups properly
Have you always struggled to do pull ups (even though you can max out the stack on lat pull downs)? Or maybe you bang out 10 pulls ups but barely get a pump. You need a technique check. We think anyone can get one pull up. You just need to know how to do ‘em.
We asked CrazyBulk ambassador Ian Cawston to show us exactly how to do a pull up. Check out this video for his step-by-step advice.
If you can’t jump straight into bodyweight pull ups, don’t worry. Hey everyone has to start somewhere. Start with banded pull ups, negative pull ups, or have someone hold your feet. Get the technique right, build some strength, then you’ll be able to get a regular pull up. You got this!
Pull up progression (How to get better at pull ups)
1 – Reach up and take a hook-like grip on the bar, palms facing away from you. For pull up progression, use a neutral grip (palms facing) or underhand grip (palms towards you).
2 – Want a wide V-taper look to your back? Take your grip wider. Wide grip pull ups are really gonna work those lats.
3 – Don’t make this major pull up mistake – Keep your head up and looking forward. Tipping your head back (looking up the ceiling) is a common mistake.
4 – Start pulling up by bringing your elbows into your waist.
5 – Think about bringing your sternum to the bar so you pull up in a curve, not straight up and down.
6 – At the top, hold and squeeze for a second before lowering slowly with control. Don’t let yourself drop down.
7 – Go right to a full stretch at the bottom before starting the next pull.
Two ways to use pull ups in your back workouts
If you’re a bodyweight kinda guy, you should put pull ups front and center of your calisthenics style workouts. Add in press ups, leg raises, and some kind of plyometric lower body work (like jump squats or lunges) and you’ve got yourself a full body workout.
Guys who train with weights should add pull ups to their back day training sessions, or to their pull sessions (on a push/pull/legs rotation). Pull ups can be a warm up, a mobilizing workout, or a finisher. You could also superset them with a weighted vertical pull (like a lat pull down).
5 Similar exercises to pull ups
1 -Chin ups: Like a pull up, but with your palms facing away from you and a narrower grip on the bar
2 – Neutral grip/hammer grip pull ups: With palms facing towards each other and a narrow grip
3 – Partial pull ups: A great way to progress pull ups, or to add some hypertrophy focus to a specific part of your back. Throw in some partial range pull ups (the top third, bottom section, or middle of the pull up) and perform pulse-type pull ups.
4 – Banded pull ups: Banded pull ups are a good choice if you can’t do a full pull up yet. Loop a thick band around the bar and put your feet or knees into it. The band will give you a little extra help and stability.
5 – Negative pull ups: Another great idea for beginners. Negative pull ups mean you’re only doing the lowering portion of the pull up. Sounds simple, but it will still be building plenty of strength in those key muscles. Jump up and grab the bar, so you’re starting at the top of the pull up (with your chest at the bar). Now lower yourself slowly and with control.
Take your workouts to the next level with pull ups
There are a ton of ways to incorporate pull ups into your back workouts, your pull sessions, or your bodyweight workouts. How about this for a challenge? 10 sets of 10 pull ups. Feeling extra nasty? Throw in 10 burpees after the first set, 9 burpees after the second set, 8 burpees after the third set, and keep going until you do just one burpee at the end.
Are pull ups already easy for you? You can make them harder with pull up progression ideas, like wearing a dipping belt and fixing a plate between your legs. Go try it!
Have you tried the techniques shown above yet? Tell us about your progress in the comments below.