Records aren’t necessarily made to be broken, but they can inspire. Consider that the world record for the most pull-ups in one minute is 50 — 7,306 in a 24-hour period — according to Guinness World Records.
You can do far fewer pull-ups to build strength and shape up right in the privacy of your own home —and away from the watchful eye of a Guinness judge or that guy in the gym who can crank out 15 before even taking a breath.
“Pull-ups are a great way to get in shape,” says Olga Hays, an American Council on Exercise-certified wellness promotion specialist at Sharp HealthCare. “They do not require a lot of equipment, and target a large number of muscles in your back, shoulders and arms — all at the same time.”
In fact, if you plan on doing pull-ups at home, the only equipment needed is a pull-up bar, which can be purchased at any sporting goods store. At-home pull-up bars are designed to fit atop sturdy door frames. It’s important that you follow the assembly and placement instructions carefully and always test to make sure the pull-up bar is secure before beginning your exercise.
Hays says that while the pull-up is one of the best body-weight exercises out there, it is certainly not an easy exercise. “Learning how to do a proper pull-up requires time and effort,” she says, “but the results are worth it.” She recommends that prior to starting an unassisted pull-up routine, it’s best to prepare with the following five tips:
- Increase your grip strength.
Grip strength is essential for a proper pull-up. One of the ways to increase your grip strength and shoulder stability is by doing dead hangs on a pull-up bar. Simply hang from a pull-up bar for 10 to 20 seconds (or as long as your hands let you). Perform three sets, two to three times a week.
Inverted rows (or body weight rows) are another recommended exercise for improving grip power. Inverted rows, which can be done at home or in the gym, also work the same muscles as pull-ups, just at a different angle, so they are a perfect precursor to your pull-up routine. Work up to three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions, two to three times a week.
- Improve your back strength.
Add one to two back exercises to your usual workout routine and focus specifically on strengthening upper back muscles. Exercises such as dumbbell rows, cable rows, lat pull-downs and half-kneeling pull-downs will help you get your pull-up game to the next level.
- Improve your pulling strength.
Use a pull-down machine at the gym to strengthen your upper back muscles and gradually develop your pulling power. Lat pull-downs are great because they mimic the pull-up motion but allow you to select exactly how much weight you use and thus control the weight load placed on your back. Perform three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions two to three times a week.
- Incorporate negative pull-ups.
Negative pull-ups include performing only the lowering part of the pull-up. Use a stool or an elevated platform to pull yourself up onto the bar, so your chin is above the bar. Hold for a count of two, and then lower yourself as slow as possible until your arms are fully extended. Release, and repeat three to five times. Perform this exercise two to three times a week.
- Lean out.
It is obvious that the more you weigh, the more bodyweight you’ll be lifting in a pull-up. Dropping just a few pounds of body fat by focusing on diet and training can make an immense difference in your ability to begin a successful pull-up routine.
“Once you have mastered your first real pull-up, the best way to achieve more is to practice,” says Hays. “Incorporate pull-ups into your strength-training program regularly, and aim for three to five sets of one to three repetitions in the beginning, slowly increasing the number of pull-ups you can do on a session- by-session basis.”
By starting slowly and building up your strength, you’ll be able to successfully add pull-ups to your exercise routine and see the results this simple exercise can have on your entire upper body.