If there's one workout move that sends me into a nervous frenzy, it's a pull-up. My fear of the upper-body movement might go back to high school days of physical fitness tests or walking into a dorm room in college and spotting a pull-up bar in a door frame. Whatever the reason may be, I've always felt like every pull-up I attempted was riddled with errors.
To help me — and I suspect most others with my fear — remedy these mistakes and master a pull-up, I spoke to a total gym pro, certified personal trainer and district fitness manager at Crunch Fitness Mauro S. Maietta for the three most common mistakes he spots at the gym. After getting his quick fixes, I'm lacing up my trainers like the UA HOVR™ Rise 2 Training Shoes ($100), installing my own pull-up bar in my door frame (take that college, dorm room!), and facing my fears.
Mistake #1: Half reps or failure to train through full range of motion
Why it's a problem: "Pull-ups engage a host of upper body muscles and your trunk," explained Maietta. "Failure to train through a full rep range or dead hang position limits the effectiveness of the exercise. Plus, half reps put added incorrect stress on the biceps and often lead to neck strain and overuse."
Quick fix: Break your sets into smaller groups, suggested Maietta. Instead of eight or more reps without full range of motion, train one to two reps at a time with 10-15 seconds of rest. "Turn one set of eight half reps into four sets of two full reps," he said.
Mistake #2: Holding the bar too wide
Why it's a problem: "Gripping the bar too wide often leads to pain and overuse injuries in the shoulders and elbows," he said. What's more, this actually can promote problem one of half reps, as you are unable to fully extend at the shoulder and elbow when gripping the bar too wide.
Quick fix: Maietta said it's best to grip the bar just outside shoulder width and bend your elbows and bring your hands up to chest level. He added that you can find your unique hand position when performing a pull-up.
Mistake #3: Trying pull-ups before you should
Why it's a problem: "Forcing pull-ups into your fitness program before you are ready can lead to a host of injuries including muscle strains in the neck, shoulder, rotator cuff, back, arms, and the list goes on and on," Maietta said. Not only can injuries, well, harm you, but having bad form or trying too advanced of movements too soon can dramatically turn you off to the workout in the future. (This editor may or may not be raising her hand in guilt right now!)
Quick fix: But don't think that just because you can't do a pull-up yet doesn't mean you can't work up to it. "Build up your strength using the lat pull-down machine, and train your pull-ups from the top down to build up your capacity," suggested Maietta. Start at the top of the pull-up range of motion by jumping up to the top of the bar, and slowly lower yourself to the bottom of the range of motion, he added. "This trains the eccentric part of the pull-up and prepares your strength capacity for future pull-downs," he said. "Concurrently, train your lat pull-down through lower rep ranges and heavier weights with greater than 90-second rest periods."