The Benefits of Doing Pull Ups
Pull ups are at the very foundation of the “body weight exercise” pyramid. They are a tried and tested indicator of your true strength and endurance. When you take away the unnecessary gym equipment, the multiple machines seemingly doing the same thing – with too many bells and whistles – you’re left with the most proven form of resistance, your body.
Personally, pull ups are what I dread the most. The pull up bar is a great indicator of any change in body composition, whether it’s body fat or strength. Gain a little of the former, or lose a just an increment of the latter, and you’ll probably struggle reaching the same range as before.
Body weight exercises – pull ups in particular – are the swiss army knife of fitness. Along with push ups, these two movements combine to create a complete workout for your upper body. Multiple sets a day will keep you fit and every muscle firing.
There’s no right or wrong time to do it. However, most prefer to get them done right when they get to the gym. It serves as a nice warm up, gets your heart racing, and knocks out your most challenging exercise right away.
But pull ups are just as useful outside the gym. In fact, I’d argue that as one of their main benefits. Can’t make it to the gym? Traveling? A quick set will keep you fit and disciplined.
Pull ups have another great benefit, their simplicity, and ease of use make injury a low possibility. Additionally, body weight exercises like pull ups and push ups are much easier and less straining on your body than heavier movements like squats and deadlifts.
Difference Between a Pull Up and a Chin Up
There’s no shortage of variety when it comes to pull ups and all their different forms. Overhand, underhand, hammer grip, wide grip, weighted, and climber’s, are just a handful of the numerous alternatives at your disposal.
Even though a pull up is a pull up, switching things up is a great way to shock your muscles out of stagnation and stimulate some growth. One way to fast track yourself to hypertrophy is through different grips.
The most “traditional” variety is the overhand wide grip (wider than shoulder width) pull up. What’s traditional about it? It’s folklore, but various military institutions around the world, including the United States Marines, and – until 2014 – the Singaporean National Service, have used it as a test of strength, and ultimate endurance. The wide overhand grip targets the biceps brachii and the latissimus dorsi, respectively known as biceps and lats.
A popular alternative, the chin up, is a slight twist to its aforementioned cousin. Considered by some to be easier, a chin up is done with a more narrow and underhand grip. The chin up, with its narrower and underhand grip, places a slightly greater strain on the biceps. However, you really can’t go wrong with either, with some combination of the two taking the best course.
It’s worth noting; historically the “chin up” referred to a pull up where – at the very top of the “pull” – the chin up would end up above the bar. However, a recent trend labels anything with an underhand and narrow grip as a chin up.
Reap the Rewards
You’ve read enough, you know what muscles pull ups train, the different variations, and why they’re the true measure of strength. All that’s left is actually doing them. Unsurprisingly, most people struggle with this part and it’s not uncommon for even consistent gym goers to struggle past a couple.
The nature of the pull up makes it exceedingly hard to do without relying on your muscles directly. You can swing and kip, but that still won’t provide as much help as assistance from a machine or a cable. That’s what sets the two forms apart, but what ultimately makes the former an exercise more conducive to long term gains.
To Do More Pull Ups, do More Pull Ups
If you want to do more pull ups, you have to do more pull ups. The advice sounds ridiculous, even circular so let me be more specific. It’s simple if you aren’t doing as many pull ups as you’d like, make it a habit to do them every day. If you can only do one, or even better, none, then make pull ups a part of your daily regimen.
You don’t have to be at the gym. Nothing about those four particular walls makes it pull up time. As long as you have access to something you can grab onto and lift yourself up, you have a platform for improvement.
So how can you start doing more? Incrementally. One by one, you will hit higher reps. In the beginning, the proverbial bar is low. Form is always important, especially for injury prevention. But if you can’t hit one, then kip, swing, and use whatever motion at your disposal to at least get that one. After the first break through, the rest will follow in the same fashion.
Remember, an assisted pull up machine is fine, especially in the beginning. In fact, it’s much better for long term pull up prowess than the pull down alternative.
There’s one particular method that will improve you pull up power and rip up your back. It’s called the “ladder.” Here’s the basic idea.
The ladder is done best with two to three people. The first person starts by doing one pull up. They’re followed by the second and third person, who also do one pull up each. After the first ‘one pull up’ round, the second round consists of two pull ups per person, going in sequential order.
The rounds progress until the 10th round, which consists of 10 pull ups. After the 10th round, the rounds decrease, next one being nine pull ups per person. Combined, you’ll hit 100 pull ups in one ladder exercise.
If you’re doubting the efficacy of this method, I don’t blame you. After all, it’s just multiple rounds of pull ups with each progressing round adding on one pull up to the stack. However, the method is surprisingly effective.
A certain sense of comradery, combined with the game-like rounds, makes otherwise challenging pull ups seem more effortless, without sacrificing any of the gains.
Obviously, not everyone can do 100 pull ups, no matter how much comradery is in the air. But you can still benefit by adjusting to your ability. So instead of working up to 10 rounds, aim for five.
The convenience, efficacy, and – most importantly – results, make pull ups unparalleled to any other tool in your fitness arsenal. As working out in general, your ability will improve with more effort and continuous training. Every day hit as many as you can.
Whether through the “ladder” or by yourself, a consistent pull up regimen will increase your upper body strength, shred your back and biceps, and get your heart racing for the workout ahead. As a stand alone exercise, pull ups were, are, and will be one of the best ways to increase strength and endurance.