Pull-Ups: 3 Big Mistakes
Pull-ups are a great upper-body exercise, working the lats, traps, rhomboids, delts, pecs, biceps, and even your abs.
There sure are a lot of ways to screw them up, though. I've made a lot of pull-up-related blunders myself over the years, and I still learn more about this exercise every day. Here are the three most common pull-up mistakes, along with some advice on fixing them.
Before you initiate your pull, make sure your shoulders are packed so you can fully engage the lats and other back muscles.
Packing your shoulders means that even though your arms are extended overhead, you're still actively pulling your shoulder blades down away from your ears, packing them into their sockets. You want there to be as much space as possible between the bottoms of your ears and the tops of your traps.
Failure to do this can cause you to strain your neck muscles and make it harder to properly engage your upper back.
If you think this may be an issue for you, practice just going between a dead hang (with your shoulders unpacked) and an active hang with the shoulders packed to get a feel for differentiating between the two.
You should notice that your body naturally leans back slightly when you do this. This is good. You don't want to hit your head on the bar, right? You could even video yourself from behind if you want to be sure you're doing it right.
Once you've got that shored up, take an extra second or two to pack your shoulders between gripping the bar and initiating your first rep every time you train.
Some people shortchange the full range of motion at the top of the pull-up by stopping before their chin clears the bar. But what's even more common is shortchanging the bottom of the range of motion.
While it's generally easy to tell if you aren't going all the way up, most people who fail to go all the way down don't know they're doing so until someone else points it out. Even then, there are plenty who have trouble acknowledging the issue.
Sometimes when people fail to go all the way down, it's because they're overly fixated on my previous point about maintaining packed shoulders. To be fair, the two cues can be somewhat counterintuitive.
It takes practice to keep your shoulders packed while fully extending your arms over head, but it can be done. Learning to do so will serve you well.
The fix? Practice doing every rep from a full dead hang. That means you unpack and repack the shoulders in between every rep.
You don't need to do this forever, but if you think there's a chance you might not be going all the way down, give it a try. Gradually, you'll find that packing becomes instinctive, and you won't need to unpack/repack each time.
Your total number of reps will go down temporarily when you do this, but ultimately, it'll allow you to unlock new levels of strength.
I like CrossFit, but they sure have done a lot to ruin pull-up form. Yeah, I'm referring to kipping.
If you need to swing your body and kick your legs to get your chin to the bar, you're not getting the most out of your pull-ups, and you're ultimately limiting your potential for strength and muscle gains. You may also be putting your joints at risk of injury.
Kipping can be useful when learning advanced skills like muscle-ups or plyometric pull-ups, but you need to build a good strength base first. You wouldn't try to teach someone to sprint if they could barely walk, but that's sort of what teaching a kipping pull-up to someone who can't do a strict pull-up is like.
Focus on getting to at least 10 strict pull-ups without any momentum before you worry about kipping. It'll help ensure that your joints and musculature are strong enough to handle the added stress that kipping pull-ups place on the body.
I know that doing a greater number of reps can feel like a better workout than a smaller number of reps, but fewer reps performed with better form is much better than lots of sloppy reps. Forget about the numbers and focus on the quality of your reps.