In terms of purpose, functionality, and effectiveness, the pull-up is hands down one of the most important exercises you can possibly do. It’s right up there with the squat and the push-up. While it is a “pulling” exercise that requires strong muscles in the back, the pull-up also needs support from the shoulders, arms, and core.
“It’s usually not a weak back or lats that make pull-ups difficult,” Spartan Master Coach Trevor Franklin says. “It could be your grip, or — believe it or not — your core."
The following are three ways to start doing more pull-ups.
How to Do More Pull-Ups
Do Dead Hangs
“Oftentimes the lack of being able to hold the body up is the root cause of not being able to do a pull-up,” Trevor says.
Dead hangs will dramatically improve your grip strength and endurance, and all you need to do is just hang there for as long as you can. However, form is key.
“When doing dead hangs, do your best to pack the shoulder and maintain a proud chest, so that it translates to doing actual pull-ups,” Trevor explains.
How to Do Dead Hangs
- Grab a pull-up bar with an overhand grip.
- Slightly retract or pack your shoulder blades to engage your core and activate the back muscles.
- Your arms should be extending straight up from your shoulders.
Try 3 sets of dead hangs for as long as you can hold it with 30–60 seconds of rest in between sets. You can do this two to three days per week.
Do Assisted Pull-Ups With a Band
Another option to build up your pull-up strength is to use a resistance band as an assistance tool.
“These are a great way to still do the movement and get the body used to the range of motion without having to pull the entire weight of your body,” Trevor says. “You could either do sets of pull-ups with just the band, or add the band after you’ve failed doing regular pull-ups."
How to Do Assisted Pull-Ups With a Band
- Toss the band over a pull-up bar and pull one end through the other so it’s secure.
- Place your feet into the loop of the band and get into a pull-up position. (Don’t worry, the band won’t snap.)
Try 3 sets of assisted pull-ups with a band for as many reps as possible. Rest 30–60 seconds in between sets. You can do this two to three days per week.
Do Heavy Farmer Carries
While seemingly a bit unconventional for increasing pull-ups, Trevor swears by the farmer carry's effectiveness because it works grip strength, the shoulder girdle, and core stabilization.
“Those are all of the things that can benefit the pull-up movement,” he says. "Don’t be afraid to go very heavy if you have the weights available."
How to Do Heavy Farmer Carries
- Grab two heavy dumbbells or kettlebells.
- Stand tall and retract your shoulders down and back.
- Slowly walk forward, not allowing the weights to swing as you walk.
Try three to five walks for anywhere from 10–50 meters with 60-second breaks in between. You can do this two days per week.