5 Exercises That Enhance Pull-Ups (that aren’t pull-ups)
The pull-up is arguably the quintessential body weight test of upper body strength. It is no surprise that a max pull-up test has been a marquis in the military and special forces for maxing their PT standards. Yet pull-ups are not easy and many people cannot do them.
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When I was younger we had these physical fitness tests a few times a year in gym class.
One of the tests was the pull-up. I always had the best mark in my class and usually the school, but that is because many of my peers could not do a pull-up so the bar (pun intended) was set pretty low.
The modification of that test was a bent arm hang; to this day I am a fan of this move, still many peers couldn’t do that. The majority of my classmates did some variation of a timed dangle.
Fast forward years later and my career as a coach and trainer and not much has changed. When I ask adults to do a pull-up, most end up dangling for max time which is only a few seconds at best.
Without going into a long diatribe on why we have all but lost the ability to perform a vertical upper body pulling movement, here is a list of exercises that will help you do more pull-ups, regardless of your current strength level.
5 exercises that will enhance your pull-ups
Exercise #1: Active Hang
Grab a pull-up bar and wrap your thumbs around the bar (you have thumbs; use them!) then pull your shoulder blades down, activating them and causing your body to rise a little.
This is a great way to prep the wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints as well as the tissues involved.
Also a proper pull-up should start with the shoulder blades depressing which is what you are doing during active hanging. Try doing it for 3-4 sets of 30 seconds to a minute. Then you can increase from there.
Exercise #2: Australian or Supine Rows
Horizontal pulling movements do not directly increase vertical pulling movements. However, if you are a true novice to pull-ups and cannot do one this is a great place to start.
One reason I like these is because you can change the difficulty of the exercise simply by changing the angle of your body relative to the bar or suspension trainer being used. Supine rows do help teach the body to pull which is key for eventually doing a pull-up.
Exercise #3: Negative Chin-ups
This is my number one exercise for learning the pull-up. Start with your hands facing you and your chin above the bar and lower yourself as slowly and with as much control as possible, this works the eccentric load of the pattern.
Essentially you are working in reverse; your goal is to lower yourself as slowly as possible from the top position. This puts your lats and biceps under max tension, which will accelerate your progress towards your end goal of more pull-ups.
I do these regularly; even if you aren’t trying to increase your max pull-ups, they are great for getting a great upper body pump.
Exercise #4: Scapular Retraction Push-Up
Again, strong scapulae and good motor control of the shoulder blades is paramount to mastering the pull-up. These are no joke either and can be done with a resistance band once the basic movement is learned.
There are a lot of variations of these movements, so do some research and play around with what feels best for you.
Exercise #5: Farmer’s Walk
Stronger grip, stronger spine, stronger back, stronger core, what else do you need? This one exercise hits the whole supporting cast for what it takes to master the pull-up.
Whether you have been doing pull-ups for years or flap around on a bar like bed linens on a clothes line adding the five exercises to your program will help you improve your upper body pulling strength.
Ready to Increase Your Reps?
Are you interested in becoming a pull up powerhouse? Then get started with the Pull Up Power eBook and use this workout plan to start increasing your reps. Download the ebook for free.
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Mark Smith is the owner of Asylum Fitness in beautiful Wilmington, North Carolina. He is a Movement and Strength Coach that uses unconventional tools and methods to make his students a little better with each practice. His main focus is movement, he believes, “We were born to move. Reclaim your birthright.” He encourages his students and all those he meets to just play, similarly to when you were a kid, believing that play is the foundation of movement and movement is life. “By learning to move better and improving our mobility, everything falls into place.” he says. Mark is an Outdoor Fitness Enthusiast, is well versed in corrective exercises, and currently holds a level 1 FMS (Functional Movement Screen), and is a MovNat level 2 certified trainer and is always seeking to learn from the best. He also has a background in track and field, martial arts, ballroom dance, and currently is practicing parkour.