Why Pull-Ups are a great exercise

If you have been to a gym before you may notice something interesting…You can do your lat pull-downs but you struggle to do pull ups. I know for me, I can do 80-90kg lat pull downs but can’t do a pull up without A LOT of assistance – more than just the difference between my weight and 90kg.

The reason is that lat pull downs are seated, you use your legs to help and your hips and torso are in a much better biomechanical position to assist the lats…and you don’t have your whole body weight pulling down on your hands.

Pic from Crossfit Torii BeachA pull up requires you to control every joint in your upper limb kinetic chain while the weight of your body is hanging down from the bar. You have to be able to control all of your ribs, lumbar spine, pelvis and hips. And that is before you even begin to pull yourself up! A lot more muscle control is needed therefore your whole body needs to be coordinated well to keep every joint centred, correctly sequence the muscle activity so efficient load transfer occurs THEN to be able to start pulling up.

But I Can’t Even Do One Pull-Up!!!

Have no fear! Resistance bands are very helpful while you are learning how to do your pullups without assistance. They come in a variety of strengths and can also be used to assist your weight lifting, stretching and self-treatment.

Pull ups come in may different forms with different names…”Strict”, “Butterfly”, “Close-Grip”, “Wide Grip”, “Jump”, etc etc. There are many different techniques to be learned – check out the video links below.

Are Pull Ups For Me?

In general, yes! You obviously need to be careful if you have a history shoulder injury but generally speaking I think they are a great exercise that everyone should try to master. I would advise that you seek help/assistance/supervision if you have never done them properly before.

I Don’t Seem To Be Getting Stronger – What’s Wrong?

This is when you need to seek advice! A good Physiotherapist should be able to identify which joints/muscles/nerves/coordination issues you have, address these and teach you how to do your exercises better. If they just want to massage the muscles, find someone else! Of course sometimes that is all that is needed but you should be able to see improvements after that.

Please remember that your Physiotherapist is your LEGAL performance enhancer!

If you would like to improve your performance or have a problem that you would like assessed, please feel free to leave a comment below or book in to see me on +61 2 9585 8844.


Helpful Links About Pull-Ups:

1. www.crossfitfx.com – Crossfit FX is where I currently train. Mick Shaw runs a professional outfit there and I have been impressed by his strictness to proper form and technique. He is also the Regional Manager (Australia and NZ) for Crossfit.

2. www.crossfit.com – The Crossfit “Main Site” – here you will find lots of articles and videos on the different Crossfit exercises they promote – please note that some videos are good, some are terrible. If you know me, you will know that I am pretty pedantic when it comes to doing things properly!

3. Check out this video by Kelly Starrett – an American Physio who writes the blog “Mobility WOD” – WOD is short for “Workout Of the Day”

4. Kipping allows you to do more pull ups but requires a lot of good technique, coordination and practice practice practice!

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About Antony Lo
Antony Lo is an APA Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist based in Sydney. His website is www.MyPhysios.com.au. He specializes in the management, treatment and prevention of pain and dysfunction, particularly of the pelvis and ribcage. His sub-specialties include Crossfit and Exercise Performance Optimization, Ante-Natal and Post-Natal Care and difficult cases that have failed treatment elsewhere.

2 Responses to Why Pull-Ups are a great exercise

  1. Andrew says:

    Reckon this guy has done a pullup or two (million) in his time?

    What are your thoughts on the difference between pullups, chinups and neutral grip (let alone the variations of these that can go on and on)?

    Are there situations where one is better than the other, or is it better to mix your training up to incorporate different types from time to time

    Like

    • Antony Lo says:

      I think that all variations are good and should be used. As a physio, I would prefer that people work on their weaknesses. I think pull ups (palms forward)are hardest for me. Behind head is not be done without expert supervision and even then most don’t understand the risks so I generally say don’t do it.

      Mix your training up. Strict and kipping progresing to butterfly an muscle ups on rings are my goals!

      Like

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