As far as the staple bodyweight exercises go, pullups certainly aren’t the easiest to master. One of the reasons they are so difficult is that, whether you weigh 150 or 200 pounds, you are lifting your entire bodyweight with each repetition. Following on from a YouTube video on how to achieve your first good-form pullup, fitness coach Jeremy Ethier has just shared his top tips for improving your pullup performance so you can boost that rep count.
He advises changing the way you’re currently training pullups, to focus on building strength. This means looking at the weaker, overlooked muscles that are recruited into this exercise beyond your bigger back muscles and biceps. If you’re currently unable to do more than say, 4 pullups in a row, Ethier recommends a couple of alternative exercises.
The first exercise he suggests is the inverted row. “By manipulating your body position, you can pull your bodyweight just as you would in a normal pullup, but your body won’t have to fight as hard against gravity,” he says. “Keep your core engaged, glutes squeezed, and legs straight, and pull with your elbows to bring your chest towards the bar. As you get stronger, lower the rowing angle to make the move more difficult until you get completely horizontal.”
Secondly, there is the assisted negative pullup. Use a bench or box to help yourself get up to the top end of the rep, hold yourself in position for a few seconds, and then lower yourself down as slowly as possible, pausing to spend time at the most difficult points in the movement. This will increase the time that muscles spend under tension, maximizing eccentric contraction and strengthening those overlooked muscles.
Once you can perform 5 or more consecutive reps unassisted, then Ethier advises trying additional progressions, including assisted pullups with a resistance band. He also recommends training under your max rep count. Do sets of 2 to 5 reps, ensuring you’re at least 2 reps away from your max effort. Rest for 30 to 90 seconds between sets, doing as many sets as it takes to get to a total of 20 reps.
“The key is you’re staying away from failure and accumulating those reps,” he says. “Even if you can’t do any pullups right now, use this workout and stay consistent… You’ll be blown away with just how quickly your pullups increase.”
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