While not all girls are interested in becoming pros in the weights sections of gyms, grunting as they deadlift 300kg and smash out bench press PBs, lots of females do ask me how to do a pull-up. I’m not sure why this particular movement seems so appealing and feels like such an achievement when you can do it, but it is a great exercise for strengthening your upper body that you can do almost anywhere. For me, mastering them has taken a SERIOUSLY long time. Granted, I haven’t been continuously trying to do so on a regular basis the whole time (if you read my previous post you will understand why) but it has still taken me longer than a year. I would go through phases of trying to do them and then giving up, thinking I would never be strong enough. Even after I did my competition, I felt I was nowhere near being able to achieve just one rep. At this point I was determined to gain some strength, especially in my upper body, so I researched some of the best ways to improve. Now I’m definitely no expert at doing them – and I can still only do about 5 or 6 reps – but having tried and tested several techniques here are my top tips that I feel were most effective:
1. Use the assisted pull-up
But not too light!!! This was my biggest error in the past. I used the machine to take way too much of the weight off me and was doing 12-15 reps. Instead, lower the weight to as low as you can go to be able to do around 3-5 reps. Repeat this for 4-5 sets.
2. Resistance bands and a low bar
Not got an assisted pull-up? No problem! Simply tie a resistance band around the bar so that there is a loop hanging down for you to put your knee or foot into, and it acts like the assisted pull-up machine. Warning – this can be a bit of a faff – especially if your short and can’t reach the bar like me! Another piece of equipment I would use is a low bar or a smith machine, set to about waist height. I would then hang off the bar with my feet flat on the floor, kind of in a sitting position. Then do the motion of a pull-up, but it won’t be the full weight of your body.
This one is one of the best ones for me. Using any of the previously mentioned equipment, get yourself into the top part of the pull-up position, with your chest close to the bar. Then VERY SLOWLY lower yourself down, as slow as you can possibly do it. Do this for 4-5 reps for 4-5 sets.
4. Use versa grips or lifting straps
These are great for taking the strain off your hands and wrists. They almost make you feel attached to the bar, and therefore it really engages your back and shoulders to help you do the motion. I got my knock-off ‘versa grips’ from ebay, they were super cheap and have helped me improve my lifts substantially.
5. Increase your volume on lat pull down machine every week
This one I have struggled with – I really hate this exercise. But I have found really pushing myself to lift heavier on this exercise has helped my back to grow. Focus on really squeezing your lats at the bottom of the movement, like your trying to break the bar in two.
6. Eat to grow!
To be honest I think this why I have suddenly been able to master this movement in the last few months. My whole lifting past, I have been in a calorific deficit. My goal has always been to lose fat. This was the main reason I was never able to grow serious strength, and since my competition I have been eating a surplus of calories to help me improve my muscle size for next competition season. If you really want to master this exercise, make sure your eating enough calories – especially protein – to support muscle growth.
So there are my top tips for being able to do a pull up in no time. Even if you don’t feel like heading straight for the weights room just yet, this exercise is a great place to start muscle building!