Getting the Most Out of Pull-ups

Dead Hang from pull-up

As stated in the book “The Calisthenic Quest,” “pull-ups may be one of the hardest exercises out there.” There are many varieties and modifications for this mighty vertical movement, but the question remains… “Am I getting the most out of my pull-ups?”


Now to be fair, many people struggle to do pull-ups. Even getting one good one is a mighty feat, never mind completing ten. With this movement so many muscles can be involved at one time, and not just in the back! Let’s start at the bar. No… not the pub, the pull-up bar. Just by gripping the bar the muscles in your forearm (flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor digitorum profondus and the flexor policus longus) go to work.

Back muscle

Before you start your pull, while in the dead hang roll your shoulders down and try to squeeze your shoulder blades (or scapulae) down. Also try to squeeze your abs. Keep the legs straight and try to avoid bending the knees. This will aid in abdominal activation.


As you pull yourself vertically you will start to engage your biceps and deltoids. As you continue to pull on the bar you should try to drive your elbows down towards your hips; this will engage your trapezius, your latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, and other muscles located in your back. As your chin travels over the bar slowly begin lowering yourself back down to full arm extension.
It’s very important to control your movement traveling both up and down to engage the muscles properly. Do your best to not keep your weight up or flail up and down on the bar as this can put unneeded stress on the joints and spine, potentially causing damage. Proper control in the movement will give you the best results for adding muscle growth and strength.

Written by Ray Shonk

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