Pull Up Exercise Form Guide with Video & Pictures

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By Alex
Last updated on
Exercise NamePull Up
Primary MusclesBack (Lats)
Secondary MusclesBicepsForearmsTricepsShoulders
Required EquipmentBodyweight, Pull Up Bar
Optional EquipmentChalk, Wrist Straps, Pull Up Belt + Added Weight
Rep Range5-20
VariationsChin Up, Wide Grip Pull Up, Assisted Pull Up, Weighted Pull Up, Kipping Pull Up
AlternativesLat Pulldown

Pull Up Instructions

Note: Pictures coming soon!

1. Starting Position

  • Grasp bar with an overhand, wider than shoulder width grip.
  • Hang from bar with elbows locked and feet crossed.
  • Retract shoulder blades and stick chest out.
  • Keep eyes focused just above the bar for the entire movement.
  • Maintain strong thoracic spine extension (upper back arch) and a neutral lower spine.

2. Concentric Repetition

  • Adduct shoulders and flex elbows to pull body up until chin passes top of bar.

3. Midpoint

  • Pause to squeeze your lats and upper back muscles at the top of the motion.

4. Eccentric Repetition

  • Lower body until elbows are fully extended (but keep scapulae retracted)

5. Repeat

  • Repeat for the target number of repetitions.
  • Pull ups are most effective anywhere within the 5-20 rep range.

Common Pull Up Errors to Avoid

Using a narrow gripA narrow grip may work fine for some individuals, but it should not be your primary grip width. Using a grip width that is too narrow can put undue stress and the shoulder joints while taking the focus of the back muscles.
Leading with shouldersI must repeat the importance of retracting your shoulder blades and sticking out your chest. It is crucial for both muscle size and strength results, but also for your long-term shoulder and posture health. So, make sure your chest is moving upwards, ahead of your shoulders.
Incomplete range of motionVery few people comply, or even know about, the correct range of motion. Using full range of motion means you do these 2 things: first, you start in a “dead hang,” with your arms straight and elbows locked; second, you pull your entire head, including your chin, over the bar.
Using hips and legsUnless you’re doing the “kipping” variaton of pull ups, do not use your hips to generate momentum. They should remain in line with your torso.

Pull Up Tips

  1. Do a pull up variation that matches your strength level. If you’re strong, do weighted dips with a dip/pull up belt. If regular pull ups are too challenging, do band-assisted pull ups or machine-assisted pull ups.
  2. Pull with your back muscles, not with your arm muscles. If you’re new to pull ups, you may need to practice activating the back muscles for a while before you get it down.
  3. Imagine pulling your elbows down to the Floor. This was the most helpful tip for me, when I was learning to do pull ups. I just couldn’t “feel” my back working until I put this advice to use.
  4. Cross your legs and squeeze your glutes. This gives you a big power boost and simultaneously provides lower back protection.
  5. Slowly lower yourself down on the negative rep because letting your bodyweight just drop completely can be detrimental to your elbows and shoulders.
  6. Avoid calluses by wrapping your fingers around the bar, starting where the palm meets your fingers. You don’t want to grip using your palms because the skin will fold over, which can cause pain, ripped skin and eventually calluses.
  7. Your chest should lead your shoulders as this puts your body in the correct position to utilize the back muscles to their full capacity. Leading with the shoulder would place a large strain on the rotator cuff.

Is This Exercise Right for You?

Assuming sufficient strength, the pull up can be great for all experience levels.

Even if you lack the strength to do pull ups, there are variations you can do to build your base strength (see link below).

It’s the right exercise to add to your routine if you want to develop a strong upper back and lats and a more muscular and wider back.

Consider avoiding the pull up exercise if you:

  • Have pre-existing shoulder, scapular or neck issues.
  • Are a beginner with a very low level of general fitness (skip the assisted pull-up variations, too; do lat pulldowns instead)
Alex from King of the Gym
Hey! My name is Alex and I'm the founder and author of King of the Gym. I've been lifting weights seriously since 2005 in high school when I started a home gym in my parents' basement. I started writing about fitness in 2009. Then, in 2014, I got into writing home gym equipment reviews and I haven't looked back. My current home gym is in my own house and it's constantly growing and evolving. My goal is to help you build the home gym of your dreams! Read more about me here.

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