Pull Ups

Pull Ups are no doubt a superior back exercise. Period. They were a quintessential part of Arnold Schwarzenegger at his prime, but you don’t have to be a pro bodybuilder to reap the benefits.

Sitting behind a desk all day, carrying bags from the shop, looking down at one’s phone, etc. tends to tighten and shorten the muscles of the anterior chain, pull the shoulders down and forwards, whilst weakening the back muscles and rounding the upper back. that’s where pull ups come into play – they can significantly strengthen the lats, rhomboids, rear deltoids, traps, biceps and help you sculpt an outstanding physique.

Can’t do pull yourself up on the bar yet? Here are ten progressions that’ll take you from an absolute beginner to one arm pull up beast!


Level 1: horizontal pulls

If you are a beginner, overweight or recovering from an injury, this one is for you!

Take hold of a pole or doorframe and place your feet on both sides of the pole (the more forwards you place your feet the harder it’s going to be). Extend your arms and lean back, then pull yourself in a controlled manner back to the pole, keeping your shoulders, hips and ankles in one line. Your elbows should be close to the ribs at this point.


Level 2: Horizontal Pulls/Australian Pull Ups

Even if you can already do full pull ups, you should incorporate Aussie pull ups into your workouts, they work all the muscles between your shoulder blades very well. You will need a bar that’s around hip height, or alternatively a suspension trainer. A table that won’t move can be used as well. Grab it so that your hands are shoulder width apart and go under the bar. Throughout the entire movement keep your shoulders, hips and ankles in one line. don’t use any kipping. We’re aiming for clean controlled reps. Pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar, your elbows are close to the ribs and shoulder blades squeezed together.


level 3: Jackknife pull ups

Most people are not aware of this progression, despite it being a very useful exercise to transition from Horizontal pulls/Aussie pull ups to full pull ups. Jackknifes work exactly the same muscle under the same angle as full pull ups, but they are easier to perform due one’s legs being still on the ground or on a bench.

Start off by grabbing a bar with an overhand grip, hands a bit more than shoulder-width apart. Place your legs on a bench. Now, the difference between Jackknifes and Aussie pull ups is that with the former your body has to maintain a L-shape, as opposed to the latter, where your shoulders, hips and ankles are in one line. From a hang with your arms extended pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar, your back should remain near vertical.

At the beginning you can use an underhand grip with hands close to each other, which is easier, but eventually you need to use an overhand grip.


Level 4: chin ups

Once you can do 10-15 Jackknife Pull Ups with good form, it’s time to work on lifting yourself up to the bar without any support. You’ll most likely have to start doing negatives first, then partial reps (upper half of the movement).

To perform a chin up with good form, grab a bar or gymnast rings with an underhand grip, hands roughly one fist apart and pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar. At the bottom position your arms should be ever so slightly bent in the elbows and shoulders depressed rather than elevated to maintain tension. Ideally you want your body to be in a hollow body position to get the most out of your chin ups, but that might not be possible depending on your circumstances (if the bar is too low for example).


level 5: pull ups

Most people find standard overhand grip PUs slightly more difficult to perform than the previous progression – chin ups. But if you trained hard and can do 5, 7 or more chin ups, you should have enough strength to do a couple of these. If that’s not the case, work on your chin ups (full range of motion), start doing negative and then partial pull ups (upper half of the movement).

To perform one with good form grab a high enough bar with an overhand grip, hands are shoulder width apart or a bit more. Pull yourself up in a controlled manner, without using any momentum, until your chin is above the bar. Then lower yourself to the starting position, where your arms are nearly locked out and shoulders depressed to keep some tension. Once again no momentum or dropping down. Preferably maintain a hollow body throughout the movement.

And always remember, Red Bull doesn’t give you wings. Pull ups do.


level 6: Close grip pull ups

Only very few gym-goers will go past standard pull ups and train harder variations and barely anyone will attempt mastering the mighty one arm pull up these days. Which is a great shame, because the following progressions can build some serious upper body strength and tendons like steel cables.

Chances are you might have seen Hannibal For King perform close grip pull ups in one of his videos, where he pulls himself so high that his hands touch his abdomen and with his legs in an L-sit position.

Grab a bar with and overhand grip, your hands not more than one fist apart from each other. Pull until your chin is above

the bar (or higher – this goes for all pull ups), then lower yourself down into the starting position with your arms extended. Keep a barely noticeable bend in your elbows and your shoulders depressed.


level 7: Archer pull ups

After you’ve mastered standard, close grip as well as wide grip pull ups, it’s time to step up your game and start practicing unilateral movements. First one on the list is the impressive Archer pull up.

Grab a bar with an overhand grip, hands are nearly two shoulder widths apart. Pull yourself up by bending only one arm until your chin is above the bar and knuckles of the bent arm. The other arm remains locked out in the elbow, pushing down at the bar from above. You will need to rotate your hand on this side, so that at the top position you hand, arm and shoulder are parallel and above the bar.


level 8: uneven pull ups

Sometimes referred to as One Armed Pull Ups (not to be confused with One Arm Pull Ups), will improve your grip strength more than any of the previous progressions, because you are going to hold on to the bar just with one hand.

Take hold of a bar or gymnast ring with one hand (underhand grip) and and grab your wrist with the other hand for support. pull yourself up until your chin is above the knuckles of the hand that’s holding on to the bar. Start extending both arms and go down to the starting position, where the arm that makes most of the work is almost entirely extended.

You can adjust the resistance by pulling with the supporting arm less, by using 4, 3, 2 fingers to hold on to your wrist, or instead of holding your wrist, hold on to your forearms or elbow. This will build a good basis for the one arm pull up.

In case despite being able to do 5 or more reps of the previous progressions you are not bale to do this exercise, as always practice negative and partial reps until you can do uneven pull ups with full range of motion.


level 9: supported one arm pull ups

With this exercise you are going to use a towel (or resistance band) hanging from the bar for support. At the beginning you can hold on to the towel throughout the entire movement, but eventually you should use it only as a boost at the beginning and let go of it – do the upper half of the motion without any support.

Grab a pull up bar with an underhand grip and a towel hanging from the bar with the other hand. Pull with both arms, but always focus on the arm holding the bar and try to use the supporting arm as little as possible. Once you are almost half way through let go of the towel, though if it’s too difficult for you, you can carry on holding on to it (as shown on the photos). Make sure your chin gets above the bar, then slowly lower yourself down.

Once you let go of the towel at the middle of the motion you will see how different it is to support yourself even slightly compared to actually hanging on a bar just with one arm.


level 10: one arm chin ups

one arm pull ups

This is it! The ultimate back and biceps exercise. Why is it so difficult? There’s quite a few reasons, apart from the obvious – lifting your entire bodyweight with one arm.

Your tendons and ligaments must be very strong. Remember, building up muscle strength does take long, a few weeks, but you can lose it quickly. With tendons it’s different – it takes months and years to strengthen them, but once you got it, you won’t lose it. Another reason is that you’ve lost one point of contact with the bar and now you have to compensate for it. That’s the reasons why doing standard pull ups with a lot of added weight won’t transfer into being able to do a one arm pull up. The same goes for any exercise you do with dumbbells or on resistance machines.

Technically, there is the one arm pull up and one arm chin up. They are roughly equally as hard.

To do a one arm chin up, grab a bar with one hand, the other is either behind your back or in front of the body. Without any cheating in the form of kipping or any movement of the legs, pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar and the knuckles of your hand. Once again slowly and controlled lower yourself down into the starting position, a dead hang. Repeat the motion if you’re an extra tough muthafucka!

To do the one arm pull up, start with an overhand grip and whilst pulling yourself up, rotate the body by 90 degrees towards the pulling arm. The shoulder that’s not working should touch the bar at the top position. Go down into the starting position the same way you got up, then either switch arms or do more reps.