Pull-Up Exercise Technique & Common Mistakes

The pull-up is not only a staple exercise when looking to develop the back, but it is also one of the most sought of upper body exercises when looking at overall pound for pound strength of an athlete.

Muscles Used

Concentric Phase (Pull-up phase)

Biceps: A flexion at the elbow joint
Back: An adduction at the scapula
Shoulders: An adduction at the shoulder joint


Eccentric Phase (Release phase)

Biceps: Extension at the elbow joint
Back: An abduction at the scapula
Shoulders: An abduction at the shoulder joint


Exercise Technique

Whilst the grip will vary for which pull-up method you decide to use, for the wide grip pull-up, begin with your hands gripped to the bar, shoulder width apart and facing forwards.

1) Grip the bar – your arms should be fully extended and locked out.

2) As you exhale your breath (breath out), pull your torso up towards the bar. You should be aiming for your chest to almost touch the bar or at least get to bar height.

In order to efficiently target your lats, aim to pull through your elbows and not your biceps at this phase of the movement.

Aim to keep your body as still as possible throughout the pull-up. Do this by engaging your core, lifting your legs up and allowing only the arms/lats to be working.

3) Once you have reached the maximal contraction and are at the top of the bar, pause and squeeze the working muscles (lats.)

4) Next, inhale your breath and pause before slowly releasing down back to where you started from.

5) When back in the staring position, your arms should be fully extended once more and the lats should be fully stretched also.

Common Mistakes

When it becomes too easy

Once you have become accustomed to pull-ups and are able to perform several consecutively, it is easy to become complacent and repeat the same motion every week. However, this is what is going to draw you away from the beloved progressive overload.

If you have found yourself in this situation, try one of the following methods next time you perform pull-ups in order to adequately progress forward; add some weight by using a weight belt between your legs, perform more sets/repetitions than last time, reduce the rest time in between sets, exaggerate the eccentric phase of the movement. All of these methods will make the exercise harder than before and as a result will lead toprogressive overload.

When it becomes too hard

Everyone struggles with pull-ups at first. Whether it be down to their weight, ability or technique; we have all been there.

However, sometimes it is best to take a step back and perfect the pull-up using one of the following regression methods; use a training partner to help pull you up on the concentric phase, use the machine weight to assist you or perform the lat pulldowns.

Yes, the lat pulldown completely mimics the pull-up motion and will develop all the same muscles, all that is taken away is the gravitational factor!

If you are struggling with pull-ups, try building your lat/bicep strength using pull downs and then eventually give the pull-ups another shot!

Neglected Full Range of Motion

Whilst a full range of motion is absolutely paramount in most exercises, the pull-up bares special significance. Neglecting a full range of motion (not going all the way down) will not only put added tension and stress on your arms but it will also neglect the stretch that your lat will receive when it is fully stretched out at the bottom.

In order to prevent yourself from doing this, pay special attention to your form and if you are genuinely not able to do it with a full range of motion, apply one of the regression methods previously mentioned.

Arm Positioning

With any movement that involves your arm, the positioning of the arm and moreover the elbow is key. Flaring your elbows out to the sides can eradicate all previous stimulus that was applied during a movement and shift it elsewhere.

Keeping the elbows un-flared and under the bar when you pull-up will all result in a better quality pull-up as well as enhanced back/lat contraction.

Shoulder Involvement

Rotating your shoulders on the upward movement and excessive involvement of your traps/shoulders in general is only going to detriment this exercise as a whole.

This will eventually lead to a less effective pull-up as well as potential rotator cuff damage/injury.

In order to prevent this, at the bottom phase of the movement retract your shoulders and pull them back, and instead lead through your chest.

Once you are able to do this, you will feel/see/develop a far better mind to muscle connection of the lats throughout the pull-up exercise.