Want to know a secret?
The pull up is one of the hardest body weight exercises! (Tweet this) Too bad nobody tells you that, they just give you a workout plan that calls for 3 sets of 12 pull ups.
Sure it looks easy when you watch someone that knows what they’re doing, and you can hammer out lat pull downs no problem, so why can’t you do more pull ups?!
Well, if you’re looking to increase your pull ups you need to first make sure you are getting the proper mind muscle connection with your lat muscles. This will ensure you are strengthening the muscles that do most of the work during a pull up. Check out my Fitness Tips for Beginners where I talk about mind muscle connection, this is the first step to mastering the pull up.
Increase Prime Muscle Strength
Now that you have the mind muscle connection figured out, its time to increase your pull ups, and this begins with strengthening the prime muscles that will assist you in completing a pull up.
Some of these are more obvious than others:
- Latissimus Dorsi (lats): Your lats should play the biggest role in pulling your body up to the bar, they are very large muscles in your back located on either side of the back and travel from the back of the shoulder all the way down to the hips and their main function is pulling.
- Core Muscles: I covered all of these muscles in my 9 Best Ab Exercises post that you should check out to see all the benefits of having a strong core and some of the best exercises to achieve that.
- Biceps Brachii (biceps): While the biceps cross both the shoulder and elbow joints, its main function is at the elbow where it flexes the forearm and supinates the forearm.
- Trapezius (traps): The traps resemble a trapezium; or diamond-shaped quadrilateral, that extends longitudinally from the occipital bone at the base of the skull to the lower thoracic vertebrae of the spine and laterally from the spine to the scapula; or shoulder blade. It moves the scapula and supports the arm.
- Grip Strength: Your grip strength uses four different flexors and 3 intrinsic muscles in your lower arms, improving your support grip; the ability to maintain and hold something, will increase your pull ups considerably since it will allow you to train the larger muscles to failure.
Below are 5 exercises that you should work in to your regular workout routine at least 2 times per week if you want to increase your pull ups.
Scapular Pull Ups
The very first movement when you go to perform a pull-up is your traps pull your scapula down and gets ready to stabilize your shoulder as you do your pull-up. If your traps are weak then they won’t allow you to get in to the ideal position to target and use the lats to complete your pull ups.
To do a scapular pull up you will need a pull up bar, which I assume you have access to if you are trying to increase your pull ups. Grab the bar at about shoulder width apart with your palms facing away from you, then hang so your arms and legs are straight and your core is tight. Next while keeping your arms straight and core tight pull your shoulders down as far as you can, hold for a count of 2 seconds and slowly allow your shoulders to go back up as your body drops back down.
Try to complete as many as you can before you reach technical failure; where you can no longer complete a rep with good form.
Banded Pull Ups
Don’t just jump straight in to a banded pull up, this is an exercise to help increase your pull ups, not replace it. Attach a band to the pull up bar and leave it hang, then after you have trained to technical failure on your regular pull ups hook a foot on the band so that it offers a bit of help when completing your pull up.
Some trainers don’t like this exercise because people have a tendency to pick a heavy resistance band and let it do more work than it should. But I know that if your main goal is to increase your pull up, you are going to pick a band that still makes it difficult to complete 4-5 reps before you reach failure.
One of the three ways to cause hypertrophy (an increase in muscle size) is muscle damage, and you achieve this by having a slow controlled eccentric portion of the pull up. You can do this by having something by your pull up bar that you can stand on or that allows you to jump up so your chest is at the bar. Then while keeping your core tight and engaging your lats you slowly lower yourself (eccentric) down until your arms are completely straight. Repeat as many times as you can before you are no longer able to control your eccentric portion.
Kneeling Lat Pull Down
When you do a lat pull down off of your knees it helps to engage your core muscles to more closely emulate doing a pull up. This helps to strengthen your core as well as creates a muscle memory that will stay with your body when you jump back up on the pull up bar.
Position your self kneeling under the pulley of a cable machine with a long lat bar attached, or with a resistance band attached above your head. Now just like doing a pull up you engage your core, pull your scapula down and then engage the lats to pull the bar down to your chest, pause while squeezing your lats and then slowly return to the starting position.
Inverted Lat Rows
This is another exercise that works to increase the strength of the 5 main muscle areas you utilize to complete a pull up, but without all the difficulty of the pull up. The great thing about this exercise is that it will help increase your pull up, but it can be scaled back for beginners even if they aren’t able to do a pull up.
You will need a bar in a squat rack, or body weight trainer or even a sturdy table that will support your weight and you can lay under. Now lay on the floor under the bar and grab it with an overhand grip, keep your body rigid and your heels planted on the ground, activate your lats as you pull your body up until your chest is touching the bar. Hold at the top while squeezing your shoulder blades together before slowly lowering yourself back down until your arms are straight.
To make this exercise easier you can raise the bar and take a step backward so your body is more vertical.
Now you have all the tools to increase your pull ups and become one of the people at the gym banging out sets of 12, or better yet, strap some weight around your waist to do weighted pull ups.
What do you like to do to increase your pull ups?