One of the most effective upper-body, bodyweight exercises you can perform is the pull-up. The pull-up uses your lats, rhomboids, posterior delts and biceps, plus it relies on your core for stability. However, a pull-up is also an incredibly difficult exercise as you have to pull up your entire body weight against the downward force of gravity. If you are just beginning your pull-up journey or think you’ve taken your pull-ups to the max, try these suggestions to boost the effectiveness of this exercise.

How to Do Progressive Pull-Ups to Tone your Upper Body

  • progressive pull-upsArm hangs are a way to improve your grip strength, core stability, and flexibility to begin a pull-up routine. If you are unable to complete one pull-up, begin by hanging from the pull-up bar for as long as possible. Try to increase your time as your strength improves. Then, bend your arms to 90-degree angles and hang in that position to further prepare your muscles for pull-ups. When you release, straighten your arms as slowly as possible until you return to a straight-arm hang.
  • Assisted Pull-Ups use a tool to help you perform the exercise. If you are lucky enough to use an assisted pull-up machine, set the resistance to an amount that lets you complete between 10 and 12 pull-ups, then perform the second set with less assistance and aim for 8 to 10. To make your assistance, you can ask for help from a friend. Bend your knees and place the tops of your feet into their clasped hands. You can also rest your feet on a sturdy chair. Press into their hands, or the chair, when you need assistance, but try to perform the majority of the reps on your own. Another option for assistance is to use a heavy-duty resistance band. Secure one end of the super band to each handle on the pull-up bar. Grasp the bar with your palms facing away from you and place either your knees or the tops of your feet onto the band. The band will provide enough assistance for those final two repetitions when you need a boost.
  • Advanced pull-ups are not for the light of heart. You can add resistance to your body weight by wearing a belt that has a chain or cord upon which you slide a weight plate. The plate then dangles between your knees or feet as you perform the pull-ups. Another option is to bend your knees, raise your feet behind you and ask a partner to place a dumbbell between your ankles. You can cross your feet to provide security for the weight, or concentrate on keeping your legs together. Once you can perform three sets of 12 pull-ups with additional weight, try switching to a single-arm pull-up to challenge your upper body and your core.

Include pull-ups two or three times a week into your workout routine. Allow for two days of rest in between sessions so that your muscles completely recover and you return with strong muscles instead of exhausted ones. Between sets, aim to recover between 60 and 90 seconds, or up to 3 minutes if needed. Stretch between sets to maintain your flexibility and possibly reduce muscle soreness.

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