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Pull-ups are one of the most difficult exercises that can scare even the strongest gym goer. To lift the weight of the body over the crossbar, you need to develop significant strength, mobility and endurance. And for beginners, doing even one repetition can seem like an insurmountable task.
If you can barely get your feet off the floor, don’t worry. You can always work on improving your physical limitations. Geoff Tripp, a professional trainer and head of the fitness department, explains what can prevent you from performing the perfect pull-up and gives tips that will help you master the right pull-up once and for all.
If you rely too much on your biceps, it is better to use your back muscles.
Are your hands shaking like crazy? When trying to pull up, people tend to focus on their biceps, but those muscles alone can’t handle all the weight, says Tripp. “Instead, it is important to engage the shoulders and chest muscles, transfer the load to the back, taking some of the effort off the biceps.”
You usually need to engage your back muscles to perform a proper pull-up. “You will start to succeed if you use a special elastic belt to help you pull up,” says Tripp. The belt compensates for some of the force during the pull-up.
Exercise 1: Pull-up with elastic belt
Pull-up with elastic belt
Wrap the long elastic strap around the center of the crossbar on the horizontal bar.
Pull the end of the tape down and place one bent knee in the loop.
Grab the crossbar and slowly, in a controlled motion, pull your chin up to the bar.
Exercise 2: Horizontal pull-up
Use a barbell and a barbell rack. Place the bar bar in the rack at approximately waist height (you can use the Smith machine).
Lie down under the bar and grasp the crossbar with your hands a little wider than shoulder width apart.
Your arms should be fully extended to allow room for pulling up. During the exercise, try not to lift your feet off the floor.
Tighten your shoulder blades and pull your chest up to the counter.
Pause at the top, then slowly descend.
If you can’t lift your chin to the crossbar, you need to improve the mobility and flexibility of your shoulders.
Loosened and pinched shoulders make it difficult to raise your arms above your head, grab the barbell properly, and lift your body weight, says Tripp. Pinched shoulders can prevent your chin from reaching the barbell.
If your anterior dentate muscle is weak, you tend to strain other muscles in your back and shoulders. This can create an even greater muscle imbalance or lead to injury.
So, what can you do to deal with strained shoulders? Since most of the stiffness is due to problems with your posture, make sure that your posture is correct in the event that you, for example, work sitting down during the day. Sit up straight, tighten your abs, and don’t tilt your head forward. Also, get up from your chair and stretch every half hour or so. All this will help to align the body, increase mobility and reduce tissue tension, says Tripp.
If you can’t hold on to the bar for a long time, you need to work on the grip strength.
If you don’t have enough strength to hold on to the crossbar during a pull-up, you won’t be able to fully perform the exercise, says Tripp. Grip strength and the ability to hold the crossbar for a long time are key when it comes to pull-ups. In addition, a strong grip helps to engage other important muscle groups.
How to develop grip strength? Try at first just hanging on to the crossbar without pulling yourself up. Tripp recommends practicing pronation (palms facing to the side) and supination (palms facing in) grips without bending the arms at the elbows.
Try three repetitions of 10 seconds each. Once you have mastered this technique, you can move on to bending your arms at the elbows at a 90-degree angle. For this position, use the supination grip (palms to yourself), which is a little easier.
If you use the snatch to pull yourself up, you need to strengthen your abs.
“When you swing and jerk to do a pull – up, you spend a lot of energy,” says Tripp.
Instead of using the momentum to jerk, keep your body still and flex your abs. That’s why you need to focus on practicing exercises that simulate pull-ups and learn how to transfer some of the load to the abs. Tripp recommends starting with simple body bends while lying on the floor.
Exercise 3: Flexion on the floor
Flexing on the floor
Lie on your back with your arms stretched out over your head and your legs straight.
Keep your lower back pressed to the floor and pull your stomach in.
Tighten your abs, quadriceps, and buttocks, then lift your arms and shoulder blades off the floor. Don’t let your lower back arch.
Hold this position for 30 seconds.
After the exercise becomes habitual, you can start lifting your legs at the same time as your shoulders, which will allow you to include the muscles of the press in the work and prepare the body for pulling up.
Using the snatch to perform pull-ups isn’t always a bad thing. Aggressive stretching and contracting of the muscles to create a “spring effect” can be an effective, powerful movement if performed correctly, says Tripp.
However, in the beginning, you need to master the correct pull-up. Otherwise, the jerk will remain just a careless attempt to perform pull-ups without maintaining control.