October 5, 2021

Pull-Ups Mastering; Straight From the Pros

You’ll encounter some difficult exercises in most workouts. But you can still get through them. However, pull-ups can be difficult. No matter how hard you try, pulling up a pull-up is not something you will be able do. You can improve your strength and focus on your form to achieve that impossible pull-up. Two experts explain what muscles are involved in pull-ups and how to perform a proper one. They also provide tips on how to adapt the exercise to suit your needs.


  • Prentiss Rhodes, a NASM master instructor, is Prentiss Rhodes.
  • Bradford Rahmlow, a CPT and trainer at RumbleBoxing, is Bradford Rahmlow.

What Are Pull-Ups?

Pull-ups, which are upper body strength exercises, involve pulling your entire body upwards from a bar. Prentiss Rhodes is a NASM Master Trainer and says that pull-ups can be used to build muscle coordination and strength.

What Muscles Do Pull-Ups Use?

Although pull-ups require your arms, they also use multiple muscles simultaneously (which makes them difficult to perform). Rhodes explains that the main muscles required for pull-ups are:

  • The Latissimus Dorsi (Lats), is a large muscle that runs from the lower back up to the front of your shoulder. Its main function is to move your upper arm towards the side when you do a pull-up.
  • The teres Major: This muscle runs from the lower and lateral shoulder blades to the front of your shoulder. It has a similar function as the lat, but is smaller.
  • The Biceps: This is the main function of your biceps. It bends the elbow.
  • Trapezius (Traps). The trapezius (Traps), is a large, diamond-shaped muscle running from the neck to lower part of the spine. It aids in the movement of the shoulder blades when doing a pull-up.
  • The deltoids: These are the posterior/rear muscles of the shoulder that work together with the lat to extend or bring the upper arm behind the body.
  • The pectorals (pecs), depending on the grip for the pull up, hold the arms in the sides of your body. While the main movers of pull-up are doing their work.
  • Core Muscles: The core muscles are the obliques (deep) and the core muscles that stabilize the trunk when performing a pull-up.

What Are the Benefits of Pull-Ups?

Rhodes states that pull-ups are a great way to include pull-ups into your training program. It is a multi-joint/compound close chain exercise. This means that you can train multiple muscles, as opposed to single-joint isolation exercises.

Pull-ups can also improve your spine, core muscles engagement, proprioception, coordination, grip strength, confidence, and posture.

Rhodes says that they are a bodyweight exercise and have the advantage of getting more engagement from your stabilizing muscle groups than training on machines that might train the prime mover muscles.

Pull-Ups vs. Chin-Ups

What you do with your hands is the main difference between a pull up and a chin-up. The pull-up will have your palms facing away from your face, while the chin-up will have your palms facing towards you. Rhodes says that even though pull-ups are similar to chin-ups, the amount of muscle activation varies depending on where your hands are placed.

Both target the upper body as well as the core, Rahmlow says. However, chin-ups focus more on the chest and biceps, while pull-ups are more focused on the back muscles.

How Do You Do Basic Pull-Ups?


  • Use a step-up or riser to reach a pull-up bar.
  • Grab the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and your shoulders away from your ears (anti-shrug). Brace your abs.
  • Pull the body upwards until the collarbones touch the bar. The head, shoulders and hips should be aligned.
  • Keep your body in control and lower the elbows until they are straight. Continue to do so.

When you are training for a pull-up, there are some things you should remember. Keep your posture straight and tighten your core and glutes. Rhodes says that the pull-up can be used in the same way as the push-up. However, it is also a plank. Also, don’t train this movement until it fails.

Rahmlow says that grip strength is another important factor when working on your pull ups. Hang from a bar. After you have worked on your grip strength, hang for a while and then you can start to play with raising and depressing your shoulders.

Pull-Up Variations


Reverse Crunch Progressions

  • To anchor heavy weights or bands, use a straight bar. Be sure the weight is able to support your body weight.
  • Start by lying on your back. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on your back, with elbows straight and your shoulders away from the ears. Next, place your palms up on the bar.
  • Brace your abs by bending the hips and knees to ninety degrees.
  • Then lift your hips off of the ground and lower them under control.

Before you attempt your first pull-up, make sure that you have sufficient core strength and endurance. You should also keep your arms straight throughout the exercise.

Band Assisted Pull-Up

  • A band strong enough to support your body weight around the pull-up bar can be attached/loop.
  • Grab the pull-up bar, and place one foot inside the loop.
  • Perform the pull-up according to the instructions (Reverse Crunch Progressions).

Flexed Arm Hang

  • Grab the pull-up bar with your fingers and hold it until the bar touches the collarbones.
  • Keep the body still for 5-15 seconds. Then, lower your body to control.


Pull-Up (Focus on the Negative)

  • As with the flexed arm hang, get into the top position of the pull-up.
  • Keep your body under control for 3 to 5 seconds.
  • Repeat.

Pull-up (Partial negative, Partial positive, Full Negative):

  • As you flex your arms, get into the pull-up position.
  • Reduce your body to half-way, or until your elbow is at 90 degrees. Then, pull yourself up.
  • Now, lower the body to maintain a complete negative under control for 3 to 5 seconds.
  • Repeat.


The Pull-Up

  • You can see that the pull-up standard is an advanced move.

The Archer Chin-Up

  • The pull-up bar should be held at the shoulder with one arm and the other arm extended beyond the shoulder.
  • Keep your elbow at the side of your body and your collar bone touching the bar.

This progression will take you to a single arm pull-up. You should have spent enough time strengthening your muscles and endurance.

Is There Anyone Who Shouldn’t Do Pull-Ups?

Rahmlow says that pull-ups require a strong core. Rahmlow says that if your core is not strong enough to connect the upper and the lower bodies, it will be difficult to control your momentum once you hang.

The Takeaway

Pull-ups are an excellent arm, core and back exercise. Although it seems like a simple movement, they can be difficult to perform. A good thing is that anyone can pull-up if they have the strength. Rahmlow says that even if you fail at the first attempt, don’t give up. It is difficult to pull up unassisted without a band. If you’re having trouble, work on your plank. Get better at your hang. Your shoulder mobility should be improved. Get involved with the bands. It may take some time before you see results. You can achieve any goal inside or outside the gym if you have patience and perseverance.