The pull-up is one of those exercises that demands respect, even though most people don’t particularly like it. It’s a simple concept – grasp an overhead bar and pull yourself upwards until your chin clears the bar.
The pull-up is an excellent measure of upper body strength and many of you may remember performing the pull-up or bent arm hang as part of your fitness testing in junior high.
The pull-up works muscles of the arms, shoulders, back, and core. It’s a great exercise for increasing muscle tone in the arms and back while improving grip strength and shoulder mobility.
The problem is, many people lack the strength to do a proper set of pull-ups, but that’s okay. Finding some practical ways to assist the upper body will allow you to complete a set of pull-ups while taking advantage of all this exercise has to offer.
I’ll start with one of the simplest pull-up variations and then progress from there.
The Squat Pull-up. In this version, you are gripping a bar set at chest height and using your legs to assist by squatting through the pull-up so your lower body is holding some of your weight. Take a slightly wider than shoulder width grip on the bar and step forward slightly with each foot but maintain an upright posture. Slowly bend your knees and squat down until your arms are fully extended. Push with your legs while you pull with your arms until your chin clears the bar. For a more challenging version, use only one leg to assist.
Rubber Band Assisted Pull-up. Hang a resistance loop band from the pull-up bar. Choose the correct band based on the amount of assistance you need. Take an overhand grip on the bar and slip your foot through the loop. Fully extend that leg and place your non-assisted foot on top of the other foot to hold everything together. Keep your body perpendicular to the floor and perform the pull-up as described.
Bodyweight Pull-up. If you possess the strength, the traditional pull-up is an ideal exercise to add to your routine. A common mistake many people make is not fully recruiting the muscles of the back. Be sure to fully extend your arms at the bottom and as you pull yourself up, drive your shoulders down and back. This uses more of your back rather than relying too much on your arms, which will fatigue quickly. If the basic pull-up is too easy, hold a dumbbell between your feet or wear a weighted vest.
So no matter what your fitness level, be sure to add pull-ups to your routine for a great way to tone and strengthen the upper body.