There is a reason the United States Marine Corps incorporates pull-ups in their physical fitness testing. They are the ultimate measure of upper body strength. I’m going to give you my best tips to increase your pull-up number as well as some reasons why your number is so low. Just like any other exercise, you have to break down the movement and understand how it all works to get the most out of the exercise.
When I was in the boot camp in the Marines, one of the strategies my drill instructor used for our pull-up development was to add weight. We would fill up our canteens with water and put one in each cargo pocket. It’s not a ton of weight, but it adds up. The muscles get used to a certain weight. Then, you drop about 20 pounds of “water weight” for your physical fitness test. You can feel the difference!
Before you proceed with pull-up progression, it’s important to make sure you are using all of your muscles properly. They all need to be contracting together. A lot of people are using primarily biceps or rear delts. The lats need to be the main muscle in use. This takes time to develop the mind-muscle connection with the lat. When you’re doing lat pull-downs, really establish the neurological connection with the muscle. Feel the fibres as you squeeze hard at the end range of motion. Keep in mind the scapula depressing and retracting. You can practice this by hanging from the bar with your arms straight and just contracting the scapulas back and down.
Before you proceed with pull-up progression, it’s important to make sure you are using all of your muscles properly. They all need to be contracting together.
Grip variations can be an excellent way to hit all angles of the back. Try working with a wide, narrow, neutral, and underhand grip. This will strengthen the lats, shoulders, and biceps which all work together in the pull-up motion.
You are always stronger when doing negatives. Try doing pull-ups starting at the top and slowly lower yourself down, resisting the pull of gravity. You can add weight to make it even more challenging. Again, this will recruit more muscle fibres and increase strength and endurance.
Try these tips and strategies and I’m positive your pull-up game will be the best it has ever been. Stay consistent and challenge yourself to beat your record high each week. Pull-ups are the greatest test of upper body strength. Let’s see how high you can go!