Pull Ups are one of the most infamous bodyweight exercise, and other than push ups are probably the most widely used as well. But pull ups are hard, and most people would struggle to do even one good pull up with a decent range of motion.
On this page I am going to show you how to improve you pull up technique so you can master this relatively simple bodyweight exercise - but before we get into that, did you know there are 2 types of Pull Up?
2 Types Of Pull Up
Hollow Back is entirely focused on the Back (posterior chain)
Hollow Body activates the anterior chain (Core) as well.
So what there is two types of pull ups now?
Yes, there is. Now don’t worry, you haven’t been doing pull ups wrong.
I personally prefer hollow body for a few reasons which we will get into in a minute. But actually, it is probably going to be easier to do the hollow back variation to start off with.
Hollow Back Pull Up Technique
For the hollow back pull up you set up as normal, but with a slightly wider grip.
When you engage your shoulders, look up at the bar so your back archer slightly. This will help you to isolate your back muscles from your core at the front.
As you pull up to the bar, your chest will come between your elbows as you pull through to the top.
This is a similar horizontal pull movement to bodyweight rows, whereas hollow back pulls are more of a vertical pull.
Hollow Body Pull Up Technique
With the hollow body, you pull your elbows down and in front of you at first.
This brings your body around your elbows and up to the bar, rather than between your elbows like in the hollow back.
You then pull your elbows back behind you to get high up past the bar.
With hollow body pulls your core will pull your legs out in front of you to counter balance your torso allowing you to pull much higher around the bar rather than only up to it.
Which Pull Up Is Better?
It really depends on your training goals and current physical composition.
If you are just learning pulls, hollow back might be easier.
If you are trying to learn variations or progress to muscle ups, then hollow body will be a better choice because it enables you to get around the bar and not stuck underneath it.
Now that doesnt mean you can’t do hollow back variations, you absolutely can, so really it all comes down to you - I say do BOTH.
Kipping or swinging in any way shape or form is a big controversy among fitness enthusiasts.
One side of the coin there is strict no kip rules
The otherside people are encouraged to kip and swing to get more reps.
Im on the no kip side, and if you ask me its a pretty obvious choice.
We are not trying to do the most or the fastest reps. Neither of those things actually BENEFIT you.
Ill explain in a minute, but first lets have a look at what kipping is.
Kipping and Swinging
Kipping is using momentum to complete a movement or exercise. I believe it is a gymnastics term although I could be wrong, there are ‘kip’ skills in gymnastics for apparatus like rings high bar and p bars - thats all the cali stuff btw.
Kipping in training is exactly the same, using momentum.
Now in gymnastics, it is used for specific skills and reasons - it makes sense to kip some skills because you just cant ‘strength’ through it (haha).
But in Strength Training . . .
There is no excuse.
Now, that isn't true. When you are learning new skills and exercises, you will probably have to kip a little and for the sake of reps or no reps, just give it a little kip.
But do NOT stick with the kip, kipping is just used to help when you don’t have the strength to beast it. It is a progression for Strict Reps and only a progression.
Using momentum means you aren't using your muscles as much, so you wont get the same results as someone who is strict with their reps.
If you are kipping and swinging you aren’t training as hard as the guy not kipping and swinging. If you learn to kip and swing you learn to be more relaxed and less controlled.
That is a recipe for injury.
So be strict, own the movement and get better gains than anyone else because you do each rep better.
Grip is so important in the pull up. If your grip strength isn't up to scratch, you’ll slip off the bar.
If your grip is wrong (not wrong, but not ideal) then you will be making it harder for yourself, and not maximising your pull up potential.
What Should Your Grip Look Like?
First off, with regular pull ups, you only want your hands shoulder width apart. Naturally most people go wider, but you are making it hard for yourself, also it is a variation of pull up (wide grip pulls - imagine that).
When you are at the top of your rep, your shoulders should be on top of your hands not in between.
What Should Your Hands Be Doing?
Pull ups are done with an overhand or pronated grip which is where your palms face away from you.
You can do Chin Ups, which are another Pull Variation where you have your palms facing towards you, this is a supinated grip or underhand grip.
The reason we do an overhand grip is that it works the back more, and gives you more freedom with variations and other movements.
When you have an overhand grip, you can easily move your hand on top of the bar, for a muscle up, but it is much harder from a chin up.
What should you elbows be up to?
Kind of an odd question, I guess, but it is actually more important than you might think.
Your elbows should more or less stay still.
I’ve seen people do some wierd pull ups, but one of the most common problems for beginners is turning your elbows out to the side.
When you do this you aren’t engaging your back properly and you are forcing your arms and shoulders into an awkward and uncomfortable position.
Regardless of which pull up you are doing (hollow back / body), your elbows should stay directly under your hands as you pull up.
You are almost pulling down through your elbows.
In your hollow back pull up, your elbows will come down, all the way down until they are behind you, squeezing your back muscles ad really getting the most out of your Range of Motion.
In a hollow body pull up, your elbows will come down in front of you, but as you get above them, you will pull your elbows back behind you, to get your chest up to the bar.
Shoulder Activation And Positioning
What your shoulders get up to in your pull up reps is very important.
Your shoulders are the foundation of your upper body movement so it is imperative you look after them, train them right and prevent any silly injuries from technique.
Just like the elbow flair above, if you aren’t actively engaging your shoulders, you are asking for problems.
Set up for your pull up by hanging from the bar, completely relaxed - this is a dead hang or passive hang.
Before you start pulling up, you want to engage your shoulders and square them off (active hang). You are pulling your shoulders down and back. This fixes them in place and engages your back properly for the pull up.
Similar to how you start, you want to come all the way down until your arms are straight then lastly, relax your shoulders to return to a dead hang or passive hang.
This ensures you have the proper shoulder position and also makes sure you don’t jerk your shoulders when you come down by ‘dropping’ out of the pull. You can find out about that below.
Legs And Lower Body
I know what you’re thinking . . .
Why do my legs matter? I’m doing Pull Ups!
Well actually your legs matter quite a lot. When you first start doing pull ups, you will naturally bring your knees up during your reps (for hollow body pulls).
This is your core compensating for your lack of upper body strength particularly your back. You are trying to create a little bit of momentum and I’ll be honest, it does help.
But you’re better than that!
Instead keep your legs straight and your toes pointed. No Kip.
Your legs will still come out slightly in front of you, but this will be as a counterbalance for your upper body not a compensation for it.
As you get stronger it will happen less and less.
With the Hollow Back it is slightly different.
You can bend your knees behind you to help you arch your back, but it wont help generating momentum.
However as you develop, still try to straighten those legs and point those toes.
I almost forgot this one because of everything else we’ve covered! But this is probably THE Most Important part of your pull technique.
Do NOT drop out of your reps, always resist gravity. Also make sure you are isolating the shoulder activation either end of your rep, this really helps to instill the discipline.
If you drop out of your pull ups you are relaxing your muscles and jolting your joints when you can’t drop anymore, in a dead hang.
This Will Cause Injuries!
So just don’t do it.