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The Art of the Pull-Up

There are few bodyweight compound movements that “winnow” out so many people who claim to have impressive upper body strength and expose a not-so-strong core as well.

Bench pressing a lot of weight is impressive indeed. Squatting a truckload is cool. Deadlifting a car is pretty neat as well. Doing 100 sit-ups and 50 push-ups are nothing to sleep on either.

What about pull-ups? (Where is everyone going?)


Pull-ups is said to be the kryptonite of many big lifters. The weight they have spent so long to build up is the weight that now fights against them when trying to heave their chin up over the bar. “Can we do lat pulldowns instead?” Pull-ups are their own beast.


Pull-ups are an art and testament to upper body strength.


(Before this article continues, the word “kip” will not be found anywhere moving forward)


The pull-up works a multitude of muscles and has nothing fancy about it. It is just the person, their body, and the bar. The visual and symbolism of a pull-up is maybe what makes it so beautiful. The bar represents our goals and ambitions, and the challenge is great to get to where we strive to be. Failure is a must in this movement, not so we get closer to giving up, but getting closer to achieving. The pull-up should always be done to failure so with each set that is performed we get stronger and stronger.


Failure leads to strength. Instead of trying to avoid it, embrace it and understand its benefits. Do what is hard so it becomes easy, then look for something else hard to do.

(Please note that is not just advice for a workout either)


Once again when looking at the muscles a pull-up hits, we look at the:

  • Upper-back (traps and lats)
  • Arms (biceps)
  • Abs (they assist in keeping the legs from swinging)

Pull-ups are all upper body. They are amazing with back development, especially in the lats. A person who can do 25 pull-ups is sure to have some well-developed biceps and also have good core strength to boot. Pull-ups are so intense also that if a person can only do 1, that is doing a lot for their body.


Many people will try to cheat at doing a conventional pull-up. This is done mostly by either not going all the way up to where the chin passes the bar, or they fail to lower their body all the way down to where the arms are straight. To get the most out of a pull-up (even if it is one), make sure you are doing them correctly. Bad habits are not easy ones to break in fitness (and as in life).


Start by grabbing the bar with an overhand grip (chin-ups are an underhand grip and a little easier to execute). There is a debate on grip width, but a good rule of thumb is “wider grip equals wider back” because of the focus on the lats. A narrower grip will work more inward on the back and causes a greater distance to travel which in return hits the biceps more. So, there are choices. Bend the legs so the feet are up under your backside. Some people prefer to cross their feet to keep their center of gravity more stable. Once again, this is based on preference. Engaging the core to prevent swinging, begin to pull the body upward until the chin passes the bar. Then lower the body all the way down until the arms are straight. Pull back up again.


Pull-ups are great as well for in between sets, even if you can only do a few. They are also good for warming the upper body up or even cooling it down.


Pull-ups need to be in everyone’s arsenal, even if only one can be done. Remember, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.


Lead the way.


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