When it comes to upper-body workouts, pull-ups take the cake.
Not only are they one of the most convenient exercises that require minimal equipment—literally a bar is all you need—they're also a fundamental compound movement that builds your back and biceps.
All that talk you hear about the importance of doing squats to target your quads, glutes and hamstrings? Think of pull-ups as the equivalent for your upper body. Pull-ups are also a great way to increase grip strength and balance out your physique, so that your push movements, like the bench and overhead press, don’t leave your back short-changed.
What Do Pull-Ups Work?
Before you approach the bar, you should know what muscles you’re targeting, where you should feel the burn and what you’re going to engage.
Unlike isolation movements, the compound exercise of a pull-up works a large number of muscles in your upper body. The classic pull-up is done with a pronated grip—with your palms facing away from you—and with your hands placed about shoulder-width apart. When done correctly, a pull-up engages your upper back, shoulders, lats and biceps.
Modify Your Way to the Perfect Pull-Up
If you grab the bar, pull and still find yourself dangling just a few inches from the gym floor, don’t fret. You might not have your first strict pull-up yet, but by adding these modifications to your routine, you’ll work your way to back-building greatness in no time.
1. Jumping Pull-Ups
Jumping pull-ups are a great way to start learning proper form. Why? You’re stronger lowering weight than lifting it. This means that while you might be struggling on the concentric—or contracting—portion of the movement, you’ve likely got more control of the eccentric—or lowering—phase. Jumping up and lowering yourself will help you get the motion down.
The controlled descent of jumping pull-ups can also help you build strength faster.
1. Stand under a bar and jump to the top position of a pull-up. Your chin should be over the bar. If needed, use a platform or box.
2. Hold at the top position for a count of two and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together.
3. Lower slowly, letting your feet touch the ground.
4. Staying light and fast on the balls of your feet, jump up again. Repeat for reps.