5 exercises to boost your pull ups

There are few exercises that show strength to bodyweight ratio like pull ups. They look simple, just hang on to a bar and pull yourself up till your chin clears the bar, but they aren’t as simple to actually do well…

“During the pull-up, go from straight arms to chin over the bar. Really, try it that way.
It’s called the right way.”
-Dan John

Beyond getting lighter whilst maintaining the same strength levels and improving your strength to weight ratio, there are a few exercises you can do to make getting your first 1 or 5 pull ups done.

Core strength

Pull ups need core strength and the ability to create full body stiffness, these 2 versions of the hollow body (or waterslide as my clients know it) are great for building that strength.

Option 1 – Straight holds for time. Feet just off the floor, arms extended above your head, cross your ankles and press your legs together and press your hands together at the same time. This helps with creating the full body tension you need.

Option 2 – Once you master the static holds, try incorporating a rocking motion. This will challenge your ability to maintain good full body stiffness and will help you maintain that stiffness when you find yourself dangling from a pull up bar.

Grooving the technique.

Pulling the bar to your chest is kinda the name of the game, doing that with the full body stiffness you just learnt with the hollow body is key.

Band assisted pullups and eccentric pull ups

My client Rachel showing both the banded and eccentric pull up variations. The progression for the eccentrics is to focus on her having a straighter body position.

Banded pull ups can be done either for low reps with a light band, or for higher reps with a stronger band. Eccentrics should be done for an isometric hold at the top followed by a controlled drop lasting 3-5 seconds.

TRX pull ups

No video for this at the moment, so you’ll have to do with my descriptive prowess…

Set the TRX up high enough so that while in a tall kneeling position, your arms are at full reach overhead. Maintaining tight abs and glutes to help stay upright, pull yourself up using your feet just enough to get you there, lower back to the floor under control. Resist the temptation to lean back too far and turn it into a TRX row.

Remember, good quality reps count, if you lose core stiffness, stop, rest and start again when fresh.

Once you can get good numbers of reps on these versions, you should be close to getting that first elusive pull up. Then its just practice, practice and more practice.

Doing pull ups once a week isn’t going to get you good at them any time soon, here are a couple of strategies to improve more quickly.

1. If you can do 2 or 3 good pull ups, try doing 1 or 2 good reps several times a day. Now this relies on you having a pull up bar handy, fine for me as I work in a gym, otherwise you would need to find a suitable place to put one in your house. Your boss probably wouldn’t let you set one up at work…

2. Quality counts. Crappy reps won’t help you build your pull up volume, so stick to the rule of 10. 10 good singles,   5×2, 3×3 or 4,3,2,1 will give you about 10 good total reps and help boost progress.

Stay strong,


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