Timeless movements: The Pull-up

Why it works: The pull up (or chin up) is a great multi-joint movement recruiting many muscles of the back and upper body, making it a good “bang for your buck” exercise.  It is a good indicator of upper body relative strength (strength in relation to body weight) and has been used for decades to develop upper body strength and hypertrophy for these reasons above.

Proper form: (See video) A strict pull up uses no kipping or swinging and starts from a dead hang position.  The movement needs to be initiated with the back by setting your shoulders (meaning retracting and depressing your scapulae) and pulling your chest to the bar.  This is where many people go wrong by flaring elbows and shrugging shoulders in attempt to just get their chin to the bar. Use a band to assist if you are not able to perform strict reps with your bodyweight.  Make sure you control the eccentric (down) part of the pull up to build some strength and dial in this movement pattern.

How often you should do it: It really depends on the goals of your program, but the pull up or chin up can be used 1-2x/week to develop upper body strength and hypertrophy. It has been a staple in many strength and conditioning programs for years.

Muscles that are in play: The primary muscles involved in a pull up are the latissimus dorsi, biceps, scapular stabilizers (Teres Major, Infraspinatus and Teres Minor), rhomboids, and forearm musculature.  Could argue that the core and whole body is involved if holding a strict, hollow body position as you perform the reps.

Something else you should know:  The pull up in conjunction with other pulling variations can be used to help keep the shoulder joint strong and healthy.  Depending on an individual’s shoulder health and training age this may be a challenging movement to perform and needs to be regressed/progressed accordingly.  Like any movement—do not build strength on top of dysfunction and seek help from a certified professional for assistance.

Sanford POWER has been developing athletes for 20 years – and the more things change, the more they stay the same. The deadlift is one of those “timeless” movements – as effective and essential in 1999 as it is today. Bismarck POWER lead Chris Rivinius, CSCS, USAW, TSAC-F broke down the pull-up.