5 Exercises to Improve Your Pull-ups

I recently caught up with Dave Mace and Nathan Leith from Maximum Potential Calisthenics in the Sydney Shire. 

One of the questions I had to ask was how they taught their amazing clients the basics of mastering a pull and here is what they put together for our amazing audience at The Next Rush:

The pull-up is a highly sought after move, requiring strong back muscles, biceps/brachialis and even abs and grip strength.  Whether your goal is to get your first pull-up or to add more pull-ups to your max set, these 5 exercises will help you get there.

1. Scapula Pull-ups

The scapula is the joint between your shoulder blades that control shoulder elevation, depression, retraction and protraction.

A common mistake people make whilst doing a pull-up is to shrug the shoulders (scapula elevation). Your scapula should, in fact, be depressed, this increases lat activation and decreases upper trap activation.

Scapula pull-ups are a great exercise to activate the lats and to increase the mind-body connection to set the scapula in the correct, depressed positionasd

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-07 at 5.22.49 PM (11)
START POSITION: Dead-hang from the bar with your shoulders elevated AND legs should be in front of you, knees straight.
WhatsApp Image 2020-02-07 at 5.22.49 PM (12)
EXECUTION: Keeping your elbows straight, pull yourself up using just your scapula muscles. Slowly return to the start position.

Programming

  • Perform 2 sets of 5 reps before all pull-up work.

Progression

  • Once these are getting too easy, progress them towards one arm scapula pull-ups. 
  • This can be done by using the other arm for assistance, try hanging a towel over the bar and hold the towel with the non-working arm.
  • To increase difficulty simply move the arm further down the towel.

2. Isometric Pull-ups

Isometric refers to a muscle contraction where there is no movement of the muscle.  In the case of pull-ups, we are performing holds throughout the pull-up.  Not only will this improve your stamina, but by holding the top position, we will also improve your pull-up height, which will help if you’re looking to reach a muscle-up.

Another great thing about isometric pull-ups: because there is no movement, we can focus on our scapula position, which will further improve our lat activation.

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-07 at 5.22.49 PM (5)
POSITION 1:   If you can, perform a pull-up, otherwise, climb or jump up to the top position of the bar.  Legs are in front of you, knees straight.  Remember to focus on depressing your scapula!

Hold this for 5 seconds.

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-07 at 5.22.49 PM (4)
POSITION 2:  Next, you’re going to lower yourself to the middle position.  Your elbows should be at 90 degrees.  Legs are in front of you, knees straight.  Remember to focus on depressing your scapula!

Hold this for 5 seconds.

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-10 at 1.07.47 PM
POSITION 3: We’re now going to lower to a position where there is a slight bend in your arms. Legs are in front of you, knees straight. Remember to focus on depressing your scapula!

Hold this for 5 secs.

Pull-up

  • If you can, pull-up back to the start position, otherwise climb or jump back up.

Programming

  • Perform this until you can’t hold one of the positions any longer.
  • If you can’t do a pull-up yet, then perform 5 sets of this with a minimum of 5 minutes rest between exercises (you can do other exercises that don’t work your lats and biceps).
  • This can be used at the end of a workout if you’re already decent at pull-ups to improve your pull-up form and stamina.
  • Make sure you have 1 days rest between this and any other pull-up exercises.

Progression

  • Once the total timer reaches 1 minute, progress the holds to 10 seconds each, reach 2 minutes then progress the holds to 20 secs.

3. Eccentric Pull-ups

Eccentric contraction, often referred to as a negative, is a muscle contraction where the muscle is lengthening, rather than shortening. In a pull-up, this is the part where you are lowering yourself from the top position.

Eccentrics have been proven to build more neurological adaptations than concentric exercise. In simple terms, this means eccentrics are better for building strength for pull-ups than emphasising the concentric phase.

Start Position

  • If you can, perform a pull-up 1s up, otherwise, climb or jump up to the top position.
  • Legs are in front of you, knees straight.

Execution

  • Slowly lower yourself to the bottom position (5s tempo ideally).
  • Focus on keeping your scapula depressed throughout.

Programming

  • If you can’t yet do a pull-up, then do this for 5 sets of 5 reps or until you can no longer control it.
  • Take a minimum of 5 minutes rest between sets, you can work other exercises that work different muscles.
  • If you are already capable of doing pull-ups, then this can be used as an alternative to your regular pull-ups.
  • In this case, rep them out and do 3-5 sets.

Progression

  • You can progress this by either slowing down the eccentric further or making the exercise more difficult.
  • To make the exercise more difficult you can try exercises such as L-Sit Pull-ups, Archer Pull-ups etc.
  • Otherwise, you can simply add weight to it using a belt or a weighted vest.

4. Inverted Rows

Inverted Rows, sometimes known as Australian Pull-ups, are a great exercise for strengthening the back muscles, including the often neglected rhomboids.

They can be performed either using Rings / TRX or a low pull-up bar.

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-07 at 5.22.49 PM
START POSITION:  Hold onto the bar or rings / TRX, shoulder-width apart. Your body should be under the bar in a straight line.
WhatsApp Image 2020-02-07 at 5.22.49 PM (8)
EXECUTION:  Pull your chest up to the bar. Ensure your body stays straight throughout. Focus on retracting your shoulder blades (squeeze your shoulder blades together).

Programming

  • Perform 3 sets of 10 with a minute rest to optimise for growing your back muscles.
  • These are a good exercise to do on the days you’re not doing pull-ups; just ensure you have a day or 2 a week where you don’t do either.

Progression

  • The further you take your feet under the bar, the harder it is.
  • Beyond that, you can progress towards one-arm rows, with exercises such as Archer Rows, Lever Rows etc.

5. Hanging Leg Raises

Pull-ups done with strict form require strong abs and decent grip strength. Hanging leg raises are a great way to strengthen both of these.

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-07 at 5.49.51 PM
START POSITION:  Hang from the bar, shoulders depressed. Legs are a little in front of you, knees straight.
WhatsApp Image 2020-02-07 at 5.22.49 PM (6)
EXECUTION:  Bring your knees up as high as you can.  Keep the movement controlled, 1-2 seconds up.  Slowly return your legs to the start position.

Programming

  • Perform 3 sets of 10 with a minute rest to optimise for growing your abs and grip muscles.

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-07 at 5.49.51 PM (1)

Progression

  • To make these harder, we want to do them with straight knees.
  • First do this just during the eccentric phase, by straightening the knees in the top position and slowly returning them to the start position.
  • Eventually, you will be able to do these straight throughout.
  • Lift the legs as high as you can to progress further, remember to keep it controlled, no swinging!

Bonus Exercise – Pike Push-ups

With all those pulling exercises, it’s important to balance it out with some pushing work.

Pike Push-ups are a great exercise to work your shoulders, chest and triceps.

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-07 at 5.22.49 PM (9)
START POSITION:  Start in a Downward Dog position with your butt up in the air, feet and hands on the floor.  Try to keep your knees straight, if your mobility doesn’t allow it then you can bend the knees a little.
WhatsApp Image 2020-02-07 at 5.22.49 PM (10)
EXECUTION:  Press down until your head touches the ground.  Push through your shoulders until you return to the start position.

Programming

  • Do 10 reps of 3 sets.
  • You can perform these in the rest periods between your pull-ups as they work opposing muscles.

Progression

  • To make these exercises harder, simply elevate your feet and move your hands closer to your feet.
  • Eventually, you’ll be ready to perform handstand push-ups.
  • For further reading, check out this detailed article on the Pike Push-up.

WhatsApp Image 2020-02-07 at 5.59.14 PM

Dave Mace is the Co-owner and Head Coach of Maximum Potential Calisthenics, an outdoor bodyweight training company based in the Sutherland Shire in Sydney.  He takes great pride in training his students (and himself) to unlock their potential and reach strength moves they once thought impossible.


Click below to read more reviews and news on (New articles daily)



NETFLIX NEWS & MYLIST RECOMMENDATIONS  |  DINING  |  RECIPES  |    FILM  |  TV  |    MUSIC  |  THEATRE  |  FASHION  |  HEALTH & FITNESS  |  TECHNOLOGY  |    FAMILY & KIDS ENTERTAINMENT  |  TRAVEL  |  MOTORING  |  RESEARCH  |  PEOPLE & BUSINESS IN THE COMMUNITY  |  SOCIAL SCENE & EVENTS
INTERVIEWS & PODCASTS

Written by Chris Walker Personal Training, Sunshine Coast

(Sunshine Coast / Brisbane) - Health & Fitness Editor, Personal Training, Social Fitness Groups, Health & Wellbeing Retreats | chriswalkerpt14@thenextrushmagazine.com | Instagram: @chriswalker_personaltrainer14

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: