How To Do Pull-ups With Proper Form

Chinups Form

Chin-ups: hang on the bar with straight arms and your palms facing you. Pull yourself up until the chin passes the bar. Form on Pull-ups is the same except palms facing away from you.

To do Pull-ups with proper form, hang on the pull-up bar with straight arms and your palms facing away. Pull yourself up until your chin pass the bar. Lower yourself all the way down until your arms are straight, then repeat.

Chin-ups are like Pull-ups except you grip the bar with your palms facing you. Chin-ups are easier than Pul-ups because they work your biceps more. Pull-ups with palm facing away are harder because they take your biceps out of the movement. Less muscles work means less strength.

On StrongLifts 5×5 you can do Pullups as an optional assistance exercise at the end of workout B.

Why Do Pull-ups & Chin-ups?

You can add three sets of pullups at the end of the workout B of StrongLifts 5×5 to get this…

  • Build Muscle. Pull-ups & Chin-ups force you to lift your own bodyweight. This stresses your body, building the muscles of your arms & back.
  • Grappling Strength. Pull-ups & Chin-ups help any sport which involves gripping, grappling & pulling, like MMA or Rock Climbing.
  • Carryover. Get stronger at Pull-ups & Chin-ups and you’ll get stronger on the opposite movements: the Overhead Press & Bench Press.
  • Shoulder Health. Balancing press exercises like the Bench Press with pull exercises like Barbell Rows & Pull-ups prevents muscle imbalances.

All you need is a Power Rack with a Pull-up bar. Or a Doorway Pull-up bar. Any surface where you can hang from at arm’s length will do for Pull-ups & Chin-ups.

Pull-up and Chin-up Technique

Start each rep from a dead hang with straight elbows. Clear the bar with your chin on every rep.

  • Squeeze The Bar. And put the bar close to your fingers, not in the palm of your hand. It minimize callus formation.
  • Breathe at The Bottom. It’s easier to breathe at the bottom. Take a big breath before pulling yourself up.
  • Chest Up. Don’t let your shoulders go forward: it’s unhealthy for your shoulders. Lead with your chest up & keep your shoulders back.
  • Look Up. Never look down during Pull-ups & Chin-ups. Look at the bar. Look where you’re pulling yourself up to.
  • Elbows to The Floor. Drive with your elbows to the floor. This involves your stronger back muscles more.
  • Bend Your Legs. And cross your feet. Letting your legs hang means less strength in my experience. Squeeze your glutes on the way up.

Common Errors

Most common error on Pull-ups & Chin-ups is cheating the range of motion by not going low or high enough on each rep.

  • Not Straightening the Arms. Start from a dead hang with straight elbows, like on the picture above. No partial Pull-ups/Chin-ups.
  • Shoulders Going Forward. It’s bad posture & bad technique. Lead with your chest up while driving your elbows to the floor.
  • Using The Hips. Keep your legs inline with your torso, unless you’re doing Kipping Pull-ups.
  • Chin Over Bar. Nose or forehead against the bar is a partial Pull-up/Chin-up. Chin over bar unless you’re not strong enough yet.

Weighted Pull-ups & Chin-ups

Train Pull-ups and Chin-ups like you’re training the Squat, Bench Press and Deadlift. Add weight to keep the exercise challenging. Once you can do 10 Pull-ups or Chin-ups with good form, add weight.

The simplest way to add weight is using a dipping belt like I have (see picture below). Put the belt part around your waist. The chain part goes inside the hole of your plate. The weight will suspend for your waist when you hang on the bar.

Alternatives are putting a dumbbell between your legs. This will provide you with a good ab workout at the same time. But you’ll have a hard time holding more than 10kg between your legs to do weighted Pull-ups. The dumbbell will drop from your legs.

Plate in a rucksack could work too but it’s a pain to setup, and you need a really strong rucksack that won’t tear when using heavier weights. Just get the dipping belt.


Frequently Asked Questions

What if You Can’t Do 1 Pull-up or Chin-up?

Whatever method you choose: pull yourself up as if nothing/nobody was helping you. Pull-ups & Chin-ups feel very different without assistance. And always try to beat your previous record.

  • Do Chin-ups. Chin-ups are easier than Pull-ups. If you can’t do 1 Pull-up, try Chin-ups. Alternate Chin-ups with Pull-ups when you get stronger.
  • Do Negatives. Jump up any way you can to get your chin over the bar. Then slowly lower yourself down. Be warned, you’ll get sore arms!
  • Use a Resistance Band. Attach a resistance band to your pull-up bar and loop it around your knee, like in this video.
  • Ask For Help. Ask someone to grab your side with his hands. Let him help you on the way up by squatting down & pressing up.

Assisted Machine Chinups are not recommended because it’s a machine. The machine balances your body-weight for you instead of you having to balance it yourself when you hang on the bar. It’s also easy to rely on the machine to pull yourself up instead of doing it yourself. If you want to get better at Pullups, do Pullups. If you can’t do one rep, do negatives, use a resistance band or ask for someone to help you. But don’t use machines.

You can also try this strength training routine to increase your strength on Pull-ups (or Chin-ups).

I’m too Heavy For Pull-ups & Chin-ups

Your body-weight is not the problem. Strength is. If you want to get stronger at Pull-ups & Chin-ups, do them more. Here’s Jesse Marunde doing 21 Pull-ups at 310lbs body-weight.

Can I do the Assisted Pull-up Machine or Lat Pulldowns if I lack strength for Chinups and Pullups?

Stay away from both. If you want to get stronger at Pull-ups & Chin-ups, do Pull-ups & Chin-ups. The strength you build on machines doesn’t convert to Pull-ups & Chin-ups.

  • No Balance. You don’t have to balance yourself on machines. You’ll lose strength when switching to Pull-ups & Chin-ups: they’re harder.
  • Mental Factor. You’re using less strength on the Assisted Pull-up Machine because you know the machine is helping you on the way up.

Once again: if you want to get stronger at Pull-ups & Chin-ups, do Pull-ups & Chin-ups. You’re losing time with machines. If you can’t do 1 rep, try the above methods. You’ll be able to do 1 Pull-up/Chin-up within a month.

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