Pull-Ups – CrossFit Exercise Guide with Photos and Instructions


Muscles Targeted: Pull-ups are one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do for your upper body. They primarily target the large muscles of the back (latissimus dorsi) along with the smaller biceps muscles. Specifically, pull-ups engage the latissimus dorsi, upper and middle trapezius, rhomboids, infraspinatus, teres major, subscapularis, biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis, flexor carpi radialis, flexor carpi ulnaris, palmaris longus, flexor digitorum profundus, flexor digitorum superficialis, and flexor pollicis longus.

Exercise Instructions: Pull-ups should be executed with a pronated grip (palms facing away from you). Begin from the hanging position on a stable overhead bar. Pull your body up by using your back and biceps muscles to bring your body as far above the bar as you can, aiming at a minimum of chin level. Focus on using strict form while breathing and maintaining a straight vertical posture. Holding your legs together and slightly in-front of your torso with your toes pointed forward assists with balance and consistency in your overall form. Try not to swing back and forth while executing the pull-up exercise.

Things To Avoid:

1. Never Hold Your Breath – Maintaining a normal and steady breathing pattern is essential to sustaining focus during a workout because your muscles need oxygen to function efficiently.

2. Speed Versus Form – Proper form is the key to targeting the correct muscle groups when performing the pull-up. It should take about two seconds on the concentric part of the movement (going up) and about three seconds on the eccentric part of the movement (coming down). Always try to hold your body completely straight without letting it sway too far back and forth.

3. Don’t Get Lazy – Pull-ups are difficult for a lot of people but make sure you are doing it the right way when you attempt this exercise since you will need to perform it correctly in order to get stronger. Don’t get lazy and lose form by swinging and letting your momentum take over the exercise.

4. Lifting With Your Arms – The pull-up is primarily an exercise for the back. When you focus on the biceps to lift you up, you lose a lot of the tension that is supposed to be placed on the larger muscles of the latissimus dorsi.

5. Not Pulling Up High Enough – This exercise is called the pull-up so make sure you don’t cut it short and lose out on the full range of motion. Pull your body all the way up so your chin is just above the bar. This allows you to fully contract the big muscles in your back to the highest degree.

Reps and Sets: If you are not strong enough, start out with the assistance from a friend and have them spot you when you attempt the pull-up. They can either lift up on your heels or gently grab you around the waist and assist you. Beginners who can fully execute a pull-up can start with 1-2 sets of 4-5 reps (if possible), and increase the reps as your strength increases. Advanced individuals can do pull-ups until failure (as many reps as possible). This is a great exercise to use at the end of your back workout to fully exhaust your back muscles. However, you can also implement pull-ups at the start of your workout in order to fully warm-up the area before moving onto more mass building movements.

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