Jun 21, 2018
Proper Pull-Up

As a coach, there are probably some exercises that you consider to be staples of your program. And one such popular exercise is the pull-up. While favored among many athletes and coaches, according to a blog for Girls Gone Strong by Strength Coach Meghan Callaway the pull-up can be quite challenging. To help athletes gain the most from this movement, she describes some of the most common mistakes as well as remedies to fix them.

First, Callaway explains that people who are starting out with pull-ups tend to use their arms to initiate the movement. Instead, they should begin the movement by drawing the shoulder blades to the spine and toward the opposite hip. One solution for this is to have athletes engage in scapula pull-ups. During this type of pull-up, the athlete should focus on initiating the movement with the shoulder blades.

“When you do this, your body should elevate a bit, as if you were performing a reverse shrug,” writes Callaway. “In the top position, pause for a brief count, and then lower back down to the bottom position with complete control. During the lowering portion of the movement, your shoulder blades should be doing the reverse of what they did on the way up. If you are performing this movement correctly, your elbows should not bend at all, and you should feel the muscles around your shoulder blades.”

The next common mistake is focusing solely on the upper body. According to Callaway, a proper pull-up involves not only the upper body, but also the anterior core, glutes, and even the lower body. To help those athletes who might be struggling with this, she suggests emphasizing proper body positioning. This means beginning each rep by making sure that your body is in a straight line with your chin tucked and the neck in a neutral position. One regression that can help with this is the concentric hang. Check out this video from Girls Gone Strong to see an example of this movement.

Beyond keeping the body straight, athletes also need to refrain from swinging. This requires keeping tension in the anterior core and glutes. If your athletes seem to be limp with their bodies swinging from the bar, have them build lumbo-pelvic stability by performing dead bugs. During this exercise, athletes should keep their head, torso, and hips stacked and keep their ribcage down. And each rep should be done while bracing the anterior core muscles as hard as possible.

“A good way to make sure you’re keeping this tension is by looking down at your shirt while you’re performing the movement: if the front of your shirt remains wrinkled, your ribcage is likely in the right position,” writes Callaway. “If, however, you disengage your anterior core muscles, your ribcage will be prone to flaring, and your shirt will suddenly become smooth. This is also a good cue if you’re coaching someone else through the movement.”

The last mistake that Callaway discusses is relying solely on band assistance when performing pull-ups. When relying on a band, many people begin to adopt sloppy form, which means they aren’t maintaining the necessary body positioning and won’t generate the proper tension around their hips, spine, and legs. And after becoming used to the band-assisted pull-up, many athletes might find regular pull-ups too difficult. But Callaway doesn’t suggest completely throwing out this assisted version of the movement. Instead, she recommends incorporating band assistance after the basic pull-up regressions and form have been mastered.

“To be very clear, when you are performing band-assisted pull-ups, your form should mimic that of regular pull-ups,” writes Callaway. “Your technique, your body positioning, the movement of your shoulder blades, and the tension in the lumbo-pelvic region and lower body should be identical. Once you are able to achieve all of the above, band-assisted pull-ups can be a very valuable tool. Aim to use as little resistance as possible, but enough so you are able to maintain proper form for 100 percent of your reps.”

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