The Right Way to do Pullups and Chinups

How to do pullups and chinups with the most efficient technique possible to maximize your performance and prevent injuries.

Note: this pull-up technique tutorial is one of the lessons in my free 5-day Pull-up Training Crash Course. If you haven’t signed up and you want to improve your pull-up strength and performance as soon as this week, then Click Here to learn more about the free course. I’ll hook you up with the rest of the lessons and my very best tips on mastering the pull-up and chin-up exercises.

The pullup and chinup exercises appear to be movements that anyone can perform with a little effort and minimal instruction, but the truth is that most people are performing them improperly and risking an injury. This is the definitive instructional tutorial for how to perform pullups properly. Whether you’re a complete beginner who has never been able to do a pullup before, or a seasoned fitness trainee looking to refine your technique and crank out a few more reps each set, this tutorial is for you. We’re going to cover both the basics and some advanced tips and strategies.

pullups

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/marine_corps/

There are many ways to do the pullup and chinup exercises, but very few of them are actually efficient and safe over the long-term. The major problem is that pullups are rarely taught properly, even by so-called fitness professionals and personal trainers. The other problem is that, at first glance, the movement appears fairly simple (and it is), but people tend to assume they can do it properly without instruction. Sure, almost anyone with a decent amount of upper body strength can lift themselves until their chin is over the bar. That’s not the issue here. The issue is whether you can do it with efficiency and over the long-term without injuring yourself.

It’s one thing to successfully complete the range of motion, but it’s quite another to actually refine the movement until you’re performing it optimally and can access your maximum potential.

The pullup is a very challenging exercise, but that doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible to most people and only reserved for the most fit trainees. Anyone can learn how to do pullups and work their way up to high-repetition sets with enough time and practice. But it’s one of those movements that you can’t fake – you’re either strong enough or you aren’t. This tutorial will teach you exactly how to access the most strength and power during the pullup exercise, which will help you to reap as much benefit out of the movement as possible. We do this by integrating the whole body into the movement, instead of just using pullups as an arms exercise.

I always chuckle when I hear that pullups and chinups are an arms exercise, or just meant for “back and bi’s.” It’s true that the muscles of the upper back, in particular the lat muscles, and the biceps are the prime movers involved in the force production during the pullup exercise, but the truth is that pullups are a full body exercise. When performed with this in mind, you will experience the difference between isolated strength and full-body strength (it’s a BIG difference).

By the end of this tutorial, you will have a thorough understanding of not only how to perform pullups properly, but also optimally.

Note: if you’re already used to doing pullups and chinups a certain way, but have never learned to do them in this way before, you may see an initial drop in performance when you first start the new technique. This is simply because of the learning curve and re-conditioning yourself to a new movement skill. Rest assured, that with practice of the most efficient technique, performances increases will continue and you will eventually bypass your current numbers and will progress beyond what you could have done using a less efficient technique. Although, you may see an initial improvement in your performance, too. It just depends on your specific situation.

How to do Pullups and Chinups the Right Way

How to do Pullups and Chinups – Technique Tips and Strategies

1) Hand Positioning – Hand positioning for pullups and chinups is body-type specific and depends largely on the width of your shoulders. In all grips, your thumbs should NOT be wrapped around the bar, but should grip on the same side as the rest of your fingers. Also, your wrists must remain neutral (not flexed) and forearms hanging straight down from the bar.

a) Pullup Exercise: In the pullups exercise, your palms will be facing away from you, and for most people, your grip should be slightly outside of shoulder-width apart. To figure out the optimal hand placement, raise both arms overhead and lock out your elbows. Then pull your shoulders downward, packing them on your ribcage away from your ears. The most vertical position that you can get your arms and maintain both elbow lock and shoulder pack, that’s where your hands should be placed. Note that if you have very mobile shoulders, you should not allow your arms to pass further than perpendicular to the ground. In essence, you should be hanging as straight down from the bar as you can achieve when not actually hanging. This ensures that you are not forced to strengthen a range of motion that you cannot achieve without the extra resistance that gravity provides while hanging from the bar.

b) Chinup Exercise: In the chinup exercise, your palms will be facing towards you. The optimal hand positioning is directly in line with your shoulder joints. Your hands, elbows, and shoulders should be in one line, and your forearms should be hanging straight down – perpendicular to the ground.

2) Elbow Positioning - The elbows must be fully locked in the bottom position and fully flexed in the top position of the pullup. During each repetition, it’s important to maintain an elbow position that is drawn in towards your center-line, instead of allowing them to flare out. Think about squeezing them into your ribs while pulling yourself up towards the bar. This is the most efficient pulling position, and will help prevent injuries to the elbow.

3) Shoulder Positioning – Shoulders must be packed down on the ribcage to connect the structure of the arms to the structure of the core muscles. This is most important while in the bottom position of the pullup and will help prevent shoulder injuries that would arise from placing excess strain on the soft tissues around the shoulder joint. It’s a good habit to pack your shoulders down before each set. You can do this by actively contracting the lat muscles of the upper back to pack the shoulders down in relation to your torso throughout the entire range of motion. If you cannot achieve shoulder pack while your arms are extended above your head, then you’ll need to practice some joint mobility and range of motion exercises until you can. It’s not safe to load a specific range of motion that you cannot achieve without additional loading. First, recover the ROM necessary, and only then strengthen it.

4) Spinal Alignment – The spine should be lengthened in equal opposite directions throughout the entire range of motion. Lift your head away from your shoulders, lengthening your neck upwards while simultaneously packing your shoulders down. Good shoulder pack will ensure you can achieve good spinal alignment of the neck. Do not hyper-extend the neck during the pullups, even if it’s tempting to get your chin over the bar. Maintain this long spine throughout the entire duration of the set.

5) Core and glute activation - Activate the core musculature with a gentle contraction while also contracting the glute muscles, which results in a slight tailbone tuck (similar to a dog tucking its tail between its legs). Your contraction should be accompanied with a strong exhale (see below).

6) Breathing Technique - In combination with the core and glute activation (and the resulting hip tuck), forcefully exhale the air out of your lungs while pulling yourself up to the bar (the concentric portion of the exercise). This should result in a very tight midsection from the accompanying contraction, making your body feel easier to lift. On the way back down, allow an inhale to be sucked back in as you relax your lungs and throat (actively inhaling is unnecessary and may result in light-headedness from temporarily over-oxygenating your blood).

Wrap-Up

Using optimal technique in your exercise program is not just the best way to train, it’s the only way to train if you want to succeed for the long-term. When you integrate all of the above components into the pullups exercise, you ensure that ongoing improvements can be made over the long term because you’re practicing optimal technique. If you’re using a less efficient technique or if you’re neglecting one or two of the components, then you put a limit on your performance right from the start. Train smart and watch your performance skyrocket!

Click Here to Learn More About the Most Effective Pull-up Training System Ever Created

The Pull-up Solution by John Sifferman - ebook cover

More Information:

Pull-up Training 101: The Basics on How to do More Pull-ups and Chin-ups

My FREE 5-Day Pull-up Training Crash Course

How to Achieve Your First Unassisted Pullup

How to Increase Your Pullup Numbers With Pyramid Training

9 Different Types of Pullups (Demo Video)

Kipping Pullups VS Deadhang Pullups

Doorway Pullup Bar Product Review (model used in the video above)


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92 comments to The Right Way to do Pullups and Chinups

  • Max Mosesman

    Holy crap, you are very knowledgeable. Where/how did you learn this proper technique? Max

  • Lisa Gardiner

    That was fantastic instruction, thank you very much. Now I just have to wait for the soreness to escape my shoulder and I’ll be off to the gym!

    Thanks again, that was excellent.

    Lisa

  • rob

    Hey man, this is a really good video!

    I was skeptical at first, especially about the grip but I’ve spent the last day not using my thumbs at all and I can really feel the difference already(less strain on my forearms and hands, more on my lats). The ‘news’ that there’s little difference between pronated and suppinated grips in terms of difficulty through me off a bit, but it makes sense too..

    I’ve only recently started doing them, purchased got a door gym like the one you’re using. Do you have any tips for increasing reps? (Can currently do 5 on a good day with correct form) and are resistance bands a good investment to use for assists?

    • John

      Thanks Rob. When I said that the pullup and chinup are virtually the same except for hand placement, what I meant was that the execution of the technique was the same. There are some subtle differences in muscle allocation between each one. For example, the chinups hit your biceps a little more. That’s why most people prefer one or the other, and have an easier time with one or the other. I prefer to train both grips in each session to get a more holistic training effect, and I recommend using other grips, too.

      For increasing reps, see the link about Pyramid Training above (in the “More Information” section). Now, that you can do 5 reps, this is probably the fastest way to build you numbers.

      And yes, the resistance bands are a great investment for building pullup numbers, but you could do just as well using negative repetitions, too.

  • John (aka Wish I Were Riding)

    I have a gut, but people don’t think I’m fat. I have powerful legs from mountain biking, but I’ve always had fairly poor upper body strength. 20 minutes videos are sometime more than I want to get into, but this was incredibly informative.

    As someone who may not be able to complete a single pullup, how do I get better? Is it just to try every day?

    I will probably by the bar you used. I usually add things to my amazon wish list, but I fear if I do that and buy later that you won’t get credit. Do you know if that’s right?

    • John

      Hi John,

      See the first link under “More Information” at the end of the article for working up to your first, unassisted pullup. And don’t worry about the timing of your purchase. I appreciate the thought whether it makes me a few bucks or not.

      • John (aka Wish I Were Riding)

        I got the bar you recommended. I’ve started doing a pull up every time I go into the room where it hangs. I have a long way to go before I can do very many at once comfortably. I can do about 3 at a time at the most right now. I guess I’m too heavy and too weak.

        One concern I have is that I’m starting to have some discomfort near near my elbows, kind of like tendinitis or something. Is this a symptom of maybe over doing it? I can’t do many pull ups, but I do at least one every time I check my computer.

        • John

          John,

          It could be tendinitis or something else (always good to get it checked with the doc to be sure). I recommend you take at least a few days off from the pullups before returning and see if that makes any difference (could just be overdoing it, or not getting enough recovery, etc.). If the pain returns, then you’ve got an issue that needs to be addressed.

          In the mean time, you can work on shoulder and elbow mobility exercises frequently throughout each day. Seal pose (from yoga) and its variants may also help, but it’s hard to say without a specific diagnosis.

          Once you get back to pullups, ensure that you are allowing your elbows to fully extend in the bottom position (elbows should lock out).

          Good luck!

  • Your video is valuable for me. Thanks!…

  • Shofiqul

    hey that is nice advice, but 1 thing i dont get is shoulder packaging.
    like do i pull the shoulders back then down. can you try to explain the shoulder thing to me a little better because this is the one problem that i am having with my pull up.

  • Tom

    Hi John.
    Excellent article and video. But I have to say I don’t agree with the shoulder packing.
    It feels so unnatural and my shoulders feel a whole lot more stable when shrugged up in the bottom position. I relax at the bottom and my shoulders pack as I go higher into the pull up. What is the theory behind boulder packing? As it just seems very restrictive to me.
    Also what are your thoughts on shoulder packing for overhead pressing work? Surely a depressed shoulder girdle in an overhead weight bearing position is going to take all the stress off the muscles
    And onto the joints?
    I love your website by the way.
    Cheers, Tom

    • John

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the kind words.

      Shoulder packing usually feels more restrictive because of limited shoulder mobility. In healthy shoulders with full range of motion, packing your shoulders while your arms are extended overhead should not feel restrictive at all. So, if I were you, I’d start to prioritize shoulder ROM work and see if that makes any difference over several weeks.

      Regarding overhead pressing, it’s even more important to pack your shoulders than when doing pullups. Like you said, the pullup will usually pack the shoulders down naturally as you start pulling yourself upwards. But this doesn’t always happen when pressing something overhead. It’s more common to shrug them upwards when pressing, even though this isn’t a stable or safe position for the shoulder joint. Some coaches even teach this as the right way to press.

      At first glance, you would think this would put more positive stress on the shoulder muscles, but it actually just puts damaging stress on the joints because of the poor alignment.

      In the end, shoulder packing is merely one strategy among many for strength training purposes, and there are exercises where it’s unnecessary and sometimes even contraindicated. In the pullup exercise, I think keeping the shoulders packed is the most optimal way to train. Although, it’s usually best to just do what feels right to you.

      See my video here for more details about shoulder packing:

      http://physicalliving.com/how-to-stabilize-your-shoulders-during-the-pullup-exercise/

  • doesn’t locking your arms cause damage to the joints and tendons in the elbow over time?

    • John

      Hi Dennis,

      You bring up a good point. There’s nothing inherently dangerous about locking the elbows, and all healthy arms will be able to fully lock under a manageable load without injury. However, locking your elbows CAN cause micro-trauma to the joint and connective tissues, but only if it’s done improperly – with a snap, instead of slowly under control.

      It’s true that we can usually get away from some rapid elbow extension for a little while, but overuse injuries will usually pop up eventually.

  • So I injured my rotator cuff and want to know if it is possible to pullups and chinups without causing further damage or injury to the shoulder. I am able to do assisted chinups with a machine and I have not tried pullups yet. I am just worried that if I do them the wrong way I could end up damaging the shoulder even more which may lead to surgery.

    So I guess my question is, what is worse or harder on the shoulder? Pullups or chinups? And which if either should I avoid if I want to keep my shoulder from getting injured.

    Right now I currently am avoiding all shoulder pressing movements and bench presses until the shoulder completely heals.

    ps. I injured my shoulder doing dips on a dip machine.

    • John

      Hi Mike,

      It’s impossible to give you a specific recommendation without knowing more about your injury. But the chinup puts your shoulder into a safer position than the pullup, in general. That said, your condition may contraindicate the chinup exercise anyways. So, proceed with caution, and do whatever it takes to heal up. Good luck!

  • Ben A

    Great video! I’m looking forward to trying out the new techniques when I’m at the gym next.

  • Stephen

    Awesome techniques — I shared the link to a few friends as well as my wife; looking forward to going to the gym in the morning and trying all the new techniques; I’ll probably be able to do more than before!

    Thanks again for sharing

  • Greg

    Hi John,

    I was wondering how much time was required to actually go up and then down. Is this a 2-0-2 exercise. 2 seconds to go up, no stoping at top or bottom, and 2 seconds to go down. Or can we just go as fast we can while of course keeping our technique in control… Could you please clear this out for me?

    Thank you for the video, it was really interesting.

    • John

      Greg,

      Good question, and my recommendation is to go as slowly as you need to maintain all the technique variables – and don’t try to adhere to a certain time limit each repetition (which is individual-specific, goal-specific, and fatigue-specific). Tempo can play a role in your results, and depending on your goals, may be worth exploring. If that’s the case, then the 2-0-2 method is what I’d start with. But in the grand scheme of things, I consider tempo one of the lesser important training variables and only reserved for high-level athletes who would benefit from laser-precise program design. Most of us don’t need that level of attention in our training programs.

  • Joseph Thorpe

    what is your opinion on using rings or rotating handles for pullupps/chinups? Some experts claim a straight bar puts unnatural stress on the elbows and shoulders, mainly in the bottom position.

    • John

      Joseph,

      I LOVE them – reason being that they are an open-chain training tool and allow greater range of motion at the shoulder joint. For someone with pre-existing shoulder issues, or someone who could develop them (which is everybody), the rings offer a great solution for lowering your risk of injury AND providing greater fitness benefits and more total exercise variations. If you have rings or can get/make some, then I highly recommend it. Straight bars are fine, too, but rings are a superior training tool.

  • Marcus

    Awesome.

    I’ve followed your site for quite and was drawn to the site by your great articles on barefoot running and movnat (i now run barefoot often and am using elements of the natural method in my training).

    The point of this message is to thank you for the above instruction. I’ve never used pullups in my training before but have set myself a goal of completing a muscle up – i want to be able to pull myself up onto over surfaces. The 2nd stage was to complete a proper pullup (described in you vid) and I’ve just done that – my first ever unassisted, from hanging pullup. Wicked!

    Your proper explanation and understanding of body mechanics, posture etc is crucial for health and fitness and I thank you for putting such good onto the web. Keep up the good work.

    Marcus

  • Chic

    John
    This is truly the best explanation on this exercise I have ever seen. I was given the same unit as a gift three years ago and was following the instruction booklet and did some damage to certain parts of my body . I wish I had seen your video first.
    Well I going to start slowly all over again.
    Thank you for this thorough lesson.
    Chic

  • Jorge

    John,

    great information. I am in a bet to do 3-sets of 20 each with 1-minute in between in 3-months. I am on my 6th week and honestly I am worrying about not reching that goal. Hope with your technique I am able to squeeze couple more reps. Currently I am maxing up at 16 but then my other set after 60 sec rest is 8 and levels around 6. My workout consists of max sets, pyramid training, max rep sets in different days during the week, like I said hope this way I can improve in my routine. Anything you can suggest? Great videos.

  • Matt

    Thanks John. Great video.

    Question: When I try to do pull-ups my body swings back and forth when I am at the bottom (elbows locked) position. I know this is not good, but the swinging is not voluntary. I am 5’7″ and about 132lbs if that helps.

    Keep up the good work and thanks again for the great video.

  • Ben

    I work as an aerialist and found this tutorial through an aerial site. Even with that background I think I was doing just about everything wrong that I could have been. I tried doing it the way you taught and I noticed an immediate difference. Thank you so much for a brilliant tutorial video.

  • Ghadi

    Thank you very much for these detailed articles , I read this article and also the one about increasing the maximum number of pull ups .However, I have a question about leg positioning while doing shin ups or pull-ups , i’ve heard that we should only cross the legs but in the video your knees are also buckled , i’ve also read that the legs should go straight down while going back down / inhaling . Thanks in advance :)
    Oh and one more thing is leg positioning the same for pull ups and sitt-ups ?

  • marc

    I am 63 years old and started doing these pull ups a year ago. Can do up tp 4 in one set. I must say this video and article is the BEST on the web. Excellent. Thank you, John!

  • Rakesh

    Hi John,
    I think due to wrong shoulder packing,i got a shoulder pain & elbow pain.
    Can you tell me for how many days i have to stop doing pullups.
    I mean when can i start redoing my pullups.
    In general,when a person gets injury,how many days it will take him to cure.

    Thnks
    rakesh

  • kiran

    That was a nice and clear instruction and i have cleared my important doubts about pullups. Now i think i dont have much confusion about pullups. Thank you very much.

  • Randy

    Hi John,

    I just watched your instructional videos on pull-ups and chin-ups and was wondering how to keep shoulders packed during the descending movement? I’m doing chin-ups, and doing negatives, starting from the top position on a bench and lowering down to a count of 5. I read negatives are good way to start for a beginner. I was wondering how many negatives are considered a “set?” I read in a muscle magazine that a beginner should start with 3 “sets,” but they didn’t say how many are a set. Also, how much rest between each negative should one give themselves, and rest between sets? And finally, I’m doing pushups and chin-ups in my exercise routine. Can I do both exercises on the same day, or should they be done on opposite days? And if same day, which one should come first?
    Sorry for all the questions :) Excellent advice!

  • Reinier

    Hey John,

    I just wanted to say thank you for a thorough and clear explanation!

    Greetings from Holland :)

  • John,
    What exercises do you like for practicing shoulder positioning with lighter load? Finding and maintaining the “pack”, especially while hanging, is a real challenge for me.

    • John

      Hi Tiffany,

      The deadhang exercise is a good one for maintaining shoulder pack. Hanging vertically from the bar is ideal, but if that ROM is too challenging, you can also hang horizontally (e.g. like in the Australian pullup position). If you’re having trouble with that overhead range, then you can do some overhead arm circles (ie mobility exercises) to open up the range. Some deeper work may also be necessary (e.g. yoga, etc.). Good luck!

  • Casey

    John;

    Great tutorial! I have always wondered about the “nuances” that you have addressed. I was taught by a trainer to look “up” with my head as I do a wide grip pull up. I see that you said that you do not recommend tilting your neck in anyway, but to keep a straight spine. I am not sure if the trainer was trying to tell me to tilt my head away from my spine or to look up and tilt my whole spine to enable me to look up at the ceiling, but it felt kind of odd when he told me to do this. He said that the squeezing of the lats while at the top position is what justifies the “looking up” at the top of the pull up. Thoughts?

    Casey

    • John

      Hi Casey,

      Looking up does not help with the biomechanics of the exercise. You’ll be stronger with a lengthened/neutral spine. That said, it’s not necessarily going to weaken you to look up at the bar – it’s all relative, and this is a trivial detail in the grand scheme of proper pullup technique. The main issue you want to avoid is straining your neck, especially near the top portion of the exercise (e.g. don’t reach your chin to get over the bar). If you do that, then you’re most of the way there.

  • JIMMY

    thumbless grip VS OTHER ????

    • John

      Jimmy,

      Don’t wrap the thumbs around the bar. Thumbs should be gripping the bar on the same side as the rest of your fingers.

      • Ray

        Hi John, what about the grip for chin-ups? Should I hang just from the fingers (as opposed to using a full-hand grip)? And where should the thumbs be placed?

        Thanks for creating this incredible video!

        • John

          Hi Ray, It’s the same protocol as for pull-ups: thumbs on the same side of the bar as fingers, and neutral wrist alignment. I recommend hanging from the fingers, but do what is most comfortable for you. Some people prefer a grip using more of the palm.

  • ali

    thnx..sir,
    u r damn knowledgeable..
    I am still confused about the position of the rod above our head..
    please clear mi doubt.

  • Jeff

    What is the optimal time frame to practice pullups? Every other day? It seems that to practice pullups daily will lead to overuse injury.

    • John

      Hi Jeff,

      The short answer is that it depends on a ton of things: your skill level with the exercise, your conditioning level, training experience, and recent training history, injury history, recovery abilities, program design, among other things. Daily pull-up practice CAN be done for short periods of time with minimal risk (1-3 weeks max for most people) by HEALTHY persons. However, this must be worked up to, and this practice must be low-moderate intensity. The grease the groove protocol is a great one for this purpose, and I generally recommend using it no more than 5-6 days per week for most people.

  • Ernesto

    Hi John,

    having read your article, a few questions came to my mind that I’d like to address to you. First, how come the packed shoulders make pullups easier? I feel that the initial shoulder shrug from a loose to a packed position is what creates momentum in the very beginning of the motion and, hence, facilitates the movement. Or, is it simply the case that my shoulders may be underdeveloped? Also, don’t you find that a finger grip may be more challenging for the forearms than a conventional one (with the thumb on top of the bar)?

    Thanks,
    E.

    • John

      Ernesto,

      I’ve found the finger grip to be less exerting than a full hand grip. Your mileage may vary, and if one or the other feels better for you, then stick with it. The neutral wrist is a must though!

      The packed shoulder is a stabilized shoulder, and stability and strength go hand in hand. It’s true that you can use momentum to initiate pull-up reps, but doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the exercise (ie strength)?

      I do know some people who unpack their shoulders in the bottom position of pull-ups, to get a full stretch in the deadhang position, and they seem to do just fine. I’d just caution you not fully control your descent and not allow yourself to fall or “bounce” into the bottom position since this would put a lot of stress on your shoulders and the surrounding connective tissues.

      Of course, everything runs on a risk:benefit spectrum. So, it could be argued that we’re nitpicking at minor details here :)

      In case you’re interested, I covered shoulder pack in more depth here:

      http://physicalliving.com/how-to-stabilize-your-shoulders-during-the-pullup-exercise/

      John

      P.S. Most people’s shoulders are weak, immobile, and thus, under-developed, which is one of the reasons why I go to such lengths to help people avoid injury as best I can.

  • Flameous

    Good video, addresses all the important aspects people need to focus on during pullups. However couple of points are quite questionable.
    First, the grip. You are right in that grip is often a weakness that essentially makes people have wrong form, but on the other hand it’s also a thing to develop. Without strong, palm over the bar grip there will never be chance to develop a (slow) muscle up on the bar.

    Other thing is with packing the shoulders. There is nothing wrong with relaxing to dead hang between repetitions, you just have to pack the shoulders before starting the pull. This way it gets even more strenuous and helps develop that important packing motion which needs to be insanely strong for one arm pullups.

    One more thing is that you could have mentioned pullups with both hollow and arched body, since it changes activation a bit. I get you are directing this for fitness enthusiasts who will probably happy with being able to do 20 or so pullups, but for those who aim higher, you missed out on couple of important points. :)

    • John

      Thanks, Flameous! You’re absolutely right that there are other techniques you can use for different training goals. This specific tutorial was for strict pull-up reps for fitness purposes.

  • Ziv

    Your Advice was just outstanding. I have never felt this way before about any exercise. I have been suffering from a nagging pain in my inner elbows for quite a while.. my pull-up routine seemed to have caused it, so i figured i’ll give it a rest for a week or two. but after trying the pronated grip and correct width of the arms and everything I didn’t feel any pain at all while doing the exercise… It’s like a miracle! Better take it easy on my elbows for a week or tw anyway and then start training properly! Thank you so much, Ziv from Israel. (BTW: I’ve read online that chin-ups are much harder on the elbows than the pull-up. what do you think?)

    • John

      I’m glad to hear it, Ziv! Good idea to take it easy for a week or two before getting back to pull-up training though. Better safe than sorry!

      I do know that for most people, the chin-up puts the shoulders in a more bio-mechanically advantageous position and is safer for the shoulders. This is also one of the reasons why many people are better at chin-ups than pull-ups. As for the elbows, I couldn’t say any definitively. I think it varies from person to person. A lot of people have pre-existing elbow issues that may get aggravated from one technique or the other. So, there could be some truth to it, or it could just be an internet rumor.

      • Larry Bruce

        I did find that chin-ups aggravate golfer’s elbow more than the pull-ups did.

        An excellent, truly fine write-up and video! I didn’t think I’d have the patience to watch 20 minutes about pull-ups, however your pace was just right.

        Currently can do 10-12 full ROM, though will try to incorporate your fine points and see where that takes me!

        Thanks much for sharing.

        Not feasible to do grease the groove,

  • Ian

    Thanks for the technique tips. I’ve found them to be really helpful. I’m having a little trouble though reconciling your instruction to pack the shoulder with Derrick Blanton’s article on shoulder packing. (http://bretcontreras.com/when-coaching-cues-attack-packing-the-shoulder/). What do you think?

    • John

      Hey Ian,

      Thanks for the kind words. I’ve received the shoulder packing question a handful of times, and I think it’s probably because some people have a lot of trouble actually accomplishing this in the dead-hang position of the pull-up. So, here’s how I feel about it.

      It’s not a black and white issue, and I don’t think we can suggest a blanket recommendation of ALWAYS packing the shoulders or NEVER packing the shoulders for ALL people in ALL exercises and movements. There are just too many variables to work with.

      That said, a packed shoulder is a stable shoulder, and generally speaking, that is both a safer and stronger position for strength training purposes – IF, and only if, you can maintain the packed shoulder position throughout the exercise’s full ROM without straining. And some people have such poor shoulder mobility, that they simply cannot do this with an exercise like the pull-up, which puts the shoulder into a deep range of motion under load.

      Regardless, there are risk associated with both packing the shoulders and not packing them, and so it’s ultimately up to the end-user to determine what would be best for them. And that’s when intuitive training comes in.

      For instance, I’ve usually recommended keeping the shoulders packed throughout the FULL range of motion of the pull-ups exercise – even in the dead-hang position. However, I know some people who have trained pull-ups for years by allow the shoulders to become unpacked in the deadhang position – lowering to a truly, full deadhang position with scaps elevated, shoulders raised toward ears. And they’ve been just fine.

      I just think the key here is to not “fall” or “bounce” into the bottom position, which would put quite a bit of force on not just the shoulder joint, but the surrounding connective tissue and musculature. The old exercise technique recommendation rings true here: slow and steady under control is usually best. And thus, kipping pull-ups have very little value in a STRENGTH training program due to the higher risk of injury.

      So, like I said, it’s not black and white, and there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.

      A few key points…

      -Prioritize mobility training until you can achieve full ROM at all your body’s major joint complexes – and maintain that ROM once you achieve it.
      -Do your due diligence on prehab and corrective exercise to make sure your body is healthy enough to perform your chosen exercises.
      -Don’t train through a ROM you cannot comfortably achieve with an open-chain, unweighted movement.
      -Don’t train through pain or to strain.

      Any more questions, just let me know – happy to help. And check out this post I did on shoulder packing in the pull-up exercise for more information:

      http://physicalliving.com/how-to-stabilize-your-shoulders-during-the-pullup-exercise/

      Best regards,

      John

  • Zee

    I just watched several videos online on how to properly do pull ups and stumbled upon your website. I have to say your video was by far the best and most educational. I have a couple question, I have always done pulls up in the grip form you claim is not accurate by using your whole hand not the finger and thump approach you showed in the video. I tried it your way and I did feel it more on my lats but did less reps, is that normal because you said in the video you would fatigue prematurely the incorrect way.

    My

    • John

      Yes, that does happen to some people, and it could be for any number of reasons. My guess is that before you made the grip change, you were actually using your forearm muscles to pull instead of just to stabilize yourself on the bar – giving yourself a little extra “juice”. And now that you’ve stopped doing so because of the neutral grip, you don’t have as much “juice” to do as many reps. But again, it could be anything. Suffice to say, a neutral wrist with thumb on same side as fingers will be a stronger grip long-term – just stick with it.

      My recommendation for the legs depends on your goals, and it obviously depends on the height of your chosen pull-up bar, too. The short version: both straight legs in a “plank” position and bent legs in a curled position are good techniques. The first tends to be more appropriate for strength work, and the latter is more appropriate for endurance and hypertrophy work (e.g. for increasing TUT). Ideally, the spine will be neutral w/ pelvis slightly tucked in both techniques as stated in the video. Personally, whenever I have a tall enough pull-up bar to work with, I prefer having the legs straight, knees locked, toes pointed.

      Any more questions, just let me know – happy to help. And thanks for the kind words!

  • Zee

    My other question was what is the optimal placement of your feet is it straight or crossed in the back?

    • John

      Hi Zee,

      Sorry I missed this last time around! Knees locked, toes pointed is the preferred method if you have the space for it, and is better for strength purposes. Bent-knees is ok, too, and is generally better for higher rep hypertrophy or endurance work.

  • Frank Poltrack

    This was the best sight for pull ups.Now I know why I have neck and head issues from poor form.To bad I did not read this sooner.

  • Frank Poltrack

    How may sets/reps per workout,and how many times a week should you do pull ups.And last whens the best time to add weight,for example once you can do 10 reps or so?

  • Jonathan

    What if I wanted to wrap my thumbs around the bar to increase grip strength, is this okay?

    • John

      Is it ok? Sure. But it does put your hand and wrist in a weaker position, and over time, this will make it more likely that you injure those areas. So, if you do wrap it around, I’d suggest only doing it periodically, instead of all the time. Your grip strength will improve the most if you train it with a neutral wrist.

  • Jonathan

    What is the reason for exhaling on the way up and inhaling on the way down? Is it okay to hold your breath? Rippetoe for example, says to hold your breath during a heavy lift for stability and to take breaths between reps. How about if you hold your breath on the way up and down and take a breath between reps?

    • John

      For three reasons, Jonathan…

      1) Exhaling through effort is often the most efficient form of breathing during strength movements, particularly when performing multiple repetitions of the given exercise, and especially for beginner to intermediate trainees.

      2) Done properly, you will be able to apply even more strength in the movement if your exhale is timed/combined with a strong core contraction, which should be happening during the ascent. This makes your body feel lighter (e.g., “tighter is lighter), and thus, makes the exercise feel easier, which then allows you to perform better and score more repetitions.

      3) Exhaling on the way up and inhaling on the way down happens to be working WITH your lungs during the pull-up exercise, instead of against them. For instance, when you are hanging in the bottom position, there is actually more room in your lungs to expand, and thus, it only makes sense to have a full inhale in your lungs in this position. And when you’re in the top position, your lungs are slightly compacted, and there is less room for air. So, it only makes sense that you exhale while this happens.

      Rippetoe’s technique isn’t all bad, per se, but I consider it a lower level breathing skill for the pull-up exercise, in particular. And I’d recommend against using it because it will spike your blood pressure and won’t assist in the power generation of the exercise. For other exercises, and particularly for max and near-max effort lifts such as squats and deadlifts, the Valsalva maneuver and other similar techniques may be more appropriate. Now, it should be noted that you can gain some spinal stability from a lung full of air (ie a stable pair of balloons), or you can gain some spinal stability from a contracted core (ie true stability).

      And ultimately, which technique you choose is your choice. They’re just different options with a unique set of pros and cons, and personally, I prefer NOT holding my breath while exercising because I think the risks exceed the benefits.

  • Jonathan

    Thank you for all the explanations!

  • Jonathan

    About the shoulder packing thing, the article from Brent Contreras’ site “When Coaching Cues attack” and this article,

    http://www.fitness666.com/2013/02/pull-up-shoulder-packing.html

    has me convinced that it’s better not to pack the shoulders. The article I linked has a pretty good arument against packing the shoulders and especially the video in the end of that article where it talks about normal anatomy and how the shoulders should rotate upwards when reaching overhead to prevent shoulder impingement.

    What do you think?

  • Will

    Amazing video. On monday something pulled or tightened in my left shoulder blade at the bottom of the hang after about 20 chin ups. I was having some neck related issues from a week before doing a partial handstand and some recurring issues on my left side. I will try the shoulder packing when I start them again. I think I was letting the shoulders hang too much but I have had issues with this area before.

    Any tips for how to start back into a routine after an injury? Right now I’m massaging it with a tennis ball and doing lower body stuff. Should someone rehabilitate the area first (isolated exercises with bands, etc) or jump back into pull ups, dips, etc. Thanks!

    • John

      I really can’t offer specific medical advice, Will – and that’s not just a disclaimer. I just don’t know your situation and can’t evaluate you in person with your full medical/injury history, etc. That said, when in doubt, always – ALWAYS – go slowly, even if that means performing very basic, low-resistance exercises to see if the injury has healed and how the area is doing recovery-wise. The last thing you want to do is make a bad problem even worse (trust me!). For most injuries, I might recommend some gentle exercises such as joint mobility training or yoga – with your doctor’s approval, of course. I wish I could help you further, but you’d be better served by your medical team and other local professionals.

  • Stephanie

    Hi – great video. Very informative. I’ve done pull-ups for a long time but never really thought about proper technique. However, I have one question regarding grip: Crossfit seems to like the thumb wrapped around the bar and more of the hand going on the top of the bar (false grip) versus your style which is fingers only and no thumb around bar. Why the difference? Thanks!

    • John

      Hi Stephanie,

      The grip technique I teach places the hands in a stronger position and thus, is a more biomechanically efficient technique. It’s difficult to explain without a video or photos, but it’s like having your hands and wrists use better posture during the pull-up. If everything is aligned properly, then you’ll be able to apply more strength and will be less likely to injure yourself. Of course, this is a minor difference in technique. Ultimately, I’d suggest trying out different grip styles and using whatever feels best for you.

      • Stephanie

        Thanks, I guess I’ll see which works best for me. What do you think is a realistic goal to have for max number of pull-ups (for a woman, age 32)? I have a charity decathlon I am training for and this is one of the events. Currently my max is around 10-11. Curious as to what I should be aiming for with some proper training (and now technique!). Also I read your article on the 3-month program to increase reps… If my event is in June, should I do each month twice or do the full cycle two times? Thanks!

        • John

          Whatever you believe you can achieve, that’s a good goal to set. :)

          But that said, I think 10+ pull-ups (assuming they’re deadhang pull-ups with proper technique – slow and controlled through a full ROM) is EXCELLENT for women. And in my upcoming pull-up training system, that ranks you as expert status. Well done!

          Also, I have told a few of my over-achiever type guys that 30 pull-ups is unofficially considered a gold-standard for deadhang pull-ups. I’d probably tell gals that 20 reps is a similar gold standard. But there’s nothing official, and certainly many women have gone well beyond 20 reps, too. So, again, set your own goals for whatever number you’d like.

          re: 3 month program

          I’d do the full 3-month program twice. Although, you technically can draw out month 1 to 6 or even 8 weeks. I haven’t experimented with extending month 2, but I suppose it could be done as long as you monitor your progress, results, and recovery to prevent over-training and under-recovery. I probably wouldn’t extend it beyond 6 weeks, though, regardless of how long you spend in the first month. However, month 3 should NOT be extended. Could that be any more complicated?

          Also, I have a pull-up training product coming out soon that has refined my many pull-up training resources into one customizable, step-by-step system. If you’re interested, you can get on the waiting list here (scroll down for email subscription form): http://physicalliving.com/pullup-and-chinup-training-hub/

          Let me know if you have any further questions – happy to help.

          John

          • Stephanie

            Thanks for the quick response. And can’t wait to see this new training product! One last question (for now) — when actually doing your max (in a competition, let’s say), what is the best way to “rest” at the bottom if you need to before trying to eke out a couple more reps? Keep the shoulder pack, even though that is more effort than just letting yourself hang?

            • John

              If it’s a contest, and assuming you don’t have any previous or pre-existing shoulder injuries/pains/problems, then heck – just hang :-)

              And depending on the rules, you might be allowed to let go of the bar with one arm to give it a quick rest and shakedown. If you do, then make it snappy!

  • Stephanie

    Sorry, one more question… do you happen to have any similar tutorials/articles on dips?

    • John

      Not yet, but I really should! I’ll put one together sometime. You can subscribe to my YT channel to get notified of when it’s ready, if you’d like: http://www.youtube.com/user/johnsifferman

      • Stephanie

        Hi John, I know the dip tutorial is in progress but in the meantime do you have any initial basic tips? I have read/heard a lot about how dips can be really bad for your shoulders so before I go crazy training for this decathlon, want to make sure I am at least doing them with some proper form.

        Also, it seems that people can do more dips than they can do pull-ups (true for me too). From your experience what is a typical “multiple” of one’s pull-up max (i.e., # of max dips is typically double the # of max pull-ups)?

        Thanks!

        • John

          Hi Stephanie,

          Doing dips WRONG can be bad for the shoulders. Doing them properly can be GREAT for the shoulders. :-)

          I put together this technique tutorial for you here:
          http://physicalliving.com/how-to-do-parallel-bar-tricep-dips-with-optimal-technique/

          re: multiple of one’s pull-up max

          I don’t think there’s any cut and dry answer. I’d say that most people should be able to do 1-2 dips for every pull-up or chin-up they can perform. A good initial goal would be to match your bodyweight pull-up and dip numbers. If it helps, at one point, I was doing sets of 25-30 pull-ups at a time, while also doing sets of 50 parallel-bar dips. And I’ve known several people who can perform in the 30-50ish range. So, it is possible to work up to fairly high rep sets with dips.

  • Stephanie

    Hi again John ,

    Another pull-up question for you – it seems that in order to bang out more reps you wouldn’t want to waste too much energy in the lowering phase of the pull-up. However if I lower too quickly then my body will tend to swing a little which makes the next pull-up more difficult. What is the best way to lower fast to conserve energy but keep your whole body from swinging?

    Thanks!

  • ambi

    hey john,it is impossible for me to maintain the pack of shoulders while coming down,i found when i m trying to pack my shoulder my body is coming down rapidly as compared when i m not ,
    will dead hang exercise hepl for that?

  • Curt

    Hi
    loved the video.

    I have bad shoulder mobility and can not pack my shoulders down with my arms above my head (I can do it with arms in front of my body till about 45° if you watch from the side. if i go higher i start to bend my elbows when i try doing it)
    I always were aware of my bad form but thanks to your video i know whats the issue!!!

    do you really think that just increasing shoulder mobility will enable to pack them down?

    thanks in advance

    • John

      If poor mobility is the limiting factor, then yes, I think mobility training would be right solution (and it’s usually the simplest, easiest, and the most universal solution). But will it help in your specific case? I can’t know for sure, Curt. Most people have limited ROM at their shoulder joint, and mobility training would be strongly recommended. But it may not address the root issue. It could be something different, but there’s no way for me to know what the best course of action is without seeing you in person. That’s one more reason why I recommend mobility training – practically everyone would benefit from it, and it often clears issues like this up. Good luck!

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