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Bar pull-ups: tips and perks

Increase your back strength with bar pull-ups. Here's how to get it right.

A strong back is integral to a strong, high functioning, lean body, and pull-ups are like a laser pointer for your flip side. They’re also bloody tough.

“Pull-ups are one of the toughest bodyweight exercises you can do and they do take a long time to master,” says  PT and founder of business KE Fitness Kris Etheridge.

Yet beginners who withstand the burn will witness rapid gains. “You’re going to have to be patient, but you should be improving in strength each week when you first start out.” Etheridge advises strengthening your biceps and upper back using the assisted pull-up/chin-up machine, lat pull-down machine and seated row machine. “If you don’t have access to these machines, a great way to work on your chin-ups or pull-ups is to loop a large power band (a thick circular rubber band) over a chin-up bar and put one of your feet in it,” Etheridge says. “This will help lift some of your body weight. As you get better, you can change to lighter bands until you’re achieving this all on your own.” When performing pull-ups, remember to use your lats (the broadest muscle on your back) and not just your arms.

Perks: “Pull-ups target the upper back, particularly the lats, and also work the biceps and abdominals,” Etheridge says. Not only will pull-ups become easier the more you practise due to the increased muscle you’re producing in conjunction with a loss of body fat, but these will also help for advancing in other exercises. “Having a strong upper back will allow you to progress to more challenging exercises like Olympic lifting,” Etheridge says. 

Injury insurance:  If you’re overweight, be careful not to overdo this exercise at the start, as pull-ups are very demanding. Generally speaking, the bigger you are, the more difficult you will find pull-ups as you have more weight to lift. There’s a reason most rock climbers are lean after all! If you have shoulder, upper back or neck injuries, ask a professional if pull-ups are an appropriate exercise for your needs. 

Pull-up challenge

Instructions: Emphasising the correct technique, INCLUDE PULL-UPS IN YOUR WORKOUT TWO TO THREE TIMES PER WEEK.

Week one–two - Using the heavy power band, perform two sets of 15 reps. 

Week three–four - Change to the moderate strength resistance band, and perform three sets of eight reps. 

Week five - Reduce the resistance to the light band and perform four sets of three reps. 

Week sixPerform three sets of three reps of negative pull-ups. Here you’re avoiding the pulling up phase and just doing the lowering movement without a band to help. It should take you three to five seconds to lower, and the slower, the better!  

Once you can perform the above comfortably, you’re ready to try the real thing!

Looking for more upper body workouts? Try this toning upper body workout. 

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