How To Guide: Mastering Pull-Ups


Though one of the harder exercises to learn, mastering the pull-up is one of the most common goals we hear as coaches; which we absolutely love!
Why? Research shows pull-ups are effective for improving overall body strength, physical fitness and mental health.

Pull-ups are an upper body strength exercise that involves first, hanging from a bar and second, pulling your whole-body weight up to the bar. Because this is a compound exercise working ALL the upper muscles at once – your lats (latissimus dorsi), biceps (arms), deltoids (shoulders), rhomboids (upper back), and core – pull-ups are often referred to as the “king of upper body exercises

You may not even realize this but, pull-ups are extremely functional. The movement patterns, coordination and muscular development carry over into everyday activities such as carrying, gripping and maintaining an upright posture. It is especially helpful if you ever find yourself hanging off the side of a cliff (stranger things have happened!). The strength you build by practicing and working through the different modifications of the pull-up translates into adding MORE to your life:

  • MORE health: studies show strength training exercises like pull-ups help lower visceral fat, reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol and improve blood sugar. Strength training is also linked to reducing the risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

  • MORE strength: The more muscle you have, the easier life becomes and, the easier it is to maintain that muscle mass as you age. Strength training exercises promotes total body strength, bone development and enhances cardiovascular health.

Despite common misconception, ANYONE CAN MASTER THE PULL-UP, INCLUDING YOU! 

You just need to know where/how to start, the correct form and put lots of time and effort into practicing the movement. It’s time to learn the proper way to perform the perfect pull up for YOU considering your fitness level to effectively build strength, enhance basic, daily movement patterns and live healthy, happy and strong. This blog is teaching you:

  • 6 Reasons to Master Pull-Ups

  • 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Step by Step Guide to Get Started


  1. Increases Grip + Forearm Strength: Pull-ups require your grip alone to hold your entire bodyweight for several seconds or minutes at a time, depending on how many reps are completed.  There is no better way to strengthen your grip or forearms than maintaining your own bodyweight. 

    Why is grip strength important outside the gym? You (constantly) reply on and use grip/forearm strength in everyday activities like opening jars, holding the steering wheel, carrying groceries, shoveling snow and wrangling your dog on the leash.  Grip strength also carries over into sports such as golf, tennis, bowling, and rock climbing. 

  2. Hits Multiple Muscle Groups:  The pull-up is a compound exercise because it engages many muscles groups at once: your back, shoulders, arms, core, and grip/forearms.  Because so many muscle groups are recruited to work simultaneously, it makes your body work as a whole unit thereby increasing overall coordination and symmetry.  Equally so, this single exercise is a one stop shop hitting multiple muscle groups at once which is extra beneficial if/when time is limited.

  3. Easily Performed In/Outside the Gym:  Can’t make it to the gym? No problem! Pull-ups can easily still be part of your at home workout. You just need a solid bar safely mounted. Doorway pull-ups bars or free-standing units can be purchased online. Another (free) options is The Metroparks offering several fitness trails with pull-up bars along the walking path.  And, when you can’t make it to the park, hit up the playground with your kids and rock out some pull-ups on the monkey bars!  Who says the playground is just for kids?? 

  4. Beginner Friendly:  New to pull-ups and the thought of lifting yourself up feels intimidating?  No worries! Pull-ups are super beginner friendly because there are several ways to learn, practice and master this exercise based on your fitness level.

    Aside from using a bar, you can perform pull-ups in other ways, too that are more beginning friendly. There are several modifications to learn proper form and build strength as you work your way to using the bar. First, master the movement and engaging the right back and shoulder muscles by starting with your feet on the ground and holding onto TRX straps to practice pulling yourself up. From there, you can do assisted pull-ups on the bar where your feet are supported by a resistance band that provides support and helps you pull your bodyweight up.  The more you practice, the more repetitions you do and the more you master these modifications, the faster you will work your way to learning and mastering a regular pull-up!

  5. Improves Posture:  Weak back muscles are the leading cause of poor posture and back pain.  Many of us spend too much time sitting at our desk, driving in our car or hunched over an electronic device. This is the perfect storm for super sh!tty posture and you will FEEL this as you age. Bad posture is the leading cause of head and neck issues and associated, chronic pain.

    Want to prevent those issues and have perfect posture? Start practicing your pull-ups!  Pull-ups focus on strengthening our back muscles. Having strong upper back and shoulder muscles not only looks good but keeps the rounding out of our spine by allowing you to sit up straighter for longer periods of time.  This functional strength also decreases your chances of injury during everyday activities that require lifting. 

  6. Burns Fats and Calories: Because the pull-up incorporates SO many muscle groups, it requires a LOT of energy to perform; thereby torching fat and building larger muscles in the process. Not only do you burn fat, you will also burn MORE calories both during and after your workout.


Even if you are super eager and excited to jump up on that pull up bar, you may want to start with a modified version of the pull up first to ensure you are engaging the right muscles and learning the correct movement pattern. Having a coach guide you through the pull up process is beneficial to assist you in learning proper form and preventing injury.  Here are some common mistakes to look for when beginning your pull-up journey:

  1. Not Moving Through Full Range of Motion:  It’s easy to get caught up in doing “half reps” when performing pull-ups: not coming to a complete dead hang at the end of each rep where your arms are fully extended or, not bringing your chin fully above the bar with each rep.  Moving through the entire full range of motion during each rep ensures all muscles are trained effectively allowing you to get the maximum benefit of the exercise.

  2. Shrugging Shoulders: Prior to beginning a pull-up, it’s important your shoulders are in the proper starting position: pulling your shoulders down and back before bending your elbows.  Ineffective shoulder engagement leads to an increased strain on your muscles and tendons.

  3. Swinging & Swaying:  Every pull-up rep should be performed in a slow, controlled manner. You want to focus on grip and strength to keep your body in a fixed, vertical alignment as you pull your bodyweight up and back down. A common mistake is using too much momentum by allowing your body to swing/sway as you pull up and release back down. Swinging from the bar can cause the back to arch and increase the chance for injury. 

  4. Overarching the Back: It is easy to hyperextend the spine when you lack the muscle strength to perform the movement or become fatigued during multiple reps of the pull up.  This can compress the back and cause pain.  To prevent this from happening, you must engage your core and keep your legs straight. 

  5. Not Being Ready: It is crucial to start off with a pull-up variation that suits your strength and fitness level before attempting to do an unassisted pull-up on the bar.  Doing so may cause injury and set you back further from your goals.  Performing a proper pull-up takes time and patience and should be done with the guidance of a fitness professional to ensure proper form and technique before getting up on the bar. 


Now that you know why pull-ups are functional both in and outside of the gym, here step-by-step process for getting started:

  1. Get a Coach: Hire a coach/trainer like the Results Fitness team to help you first determine which pull-up modification is right for you with regards to your fitness/strength level.  This may include use of the TRX straps or resistance band.

  2. Hand Position: Grab the bar or TRX straps with your palms facing away from hands shoulder-width apart.

  3. Body Position: Let your body hang from the TRX straps or bar with your arms fully extended (even if feet are on the floor) stacking your shoulders so they’re aligned over your hips.

  4. Activate Core: Engage your core by hugging your belly to your spine and pulling your low rips down towards your hips.

  5. Pull-Up: As you begin pulling up, envision pulling your shoulder blades down into your back pockets.

  6. Full Range of Motion: Complete one, full rep by pulling your chin up over the bar or to the TRX straps. At the top, squeeze your shoulder blades together.

  7. Release Down: Slowly lower down until your arms are fully extended and you are in a dead hang maintaining core engagement throughout the full move. 

  8. Repeat as many reps as possible maintaining good form.

If you have questions about how to do pull-ups or just want to understand more about this movement, click the button now to schedule your free Strategy Session with an RF Coach!


Keep living healthy, happy + strong!


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