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Easy vs. Hard Pull-ups
The pull-up is a compound exercise that uses your body weight to work several large muscles of the upper body. Incorporating pull-ups into your workout routine can help you to strengthen your upper body and effectively build endurance in the target muscles. Pull-ups can be difficult for beginning exercises but there are easier variations and similar exercises that can be used to build the strength necessary to execute the movement. Try easy pull-up variations to build your strength. For more advanced exercises, use more difficult options to ensure a challenging workout.
The target muscles of the pull-up are the large latissimus dorsi group of the upper back. Although these muscles carry the majority of the weight during the motion, smaller muscles of the arms and shoulders are also engaged to assist in the exercise and to provide stability. The muscles of the core, surrounding the lower back and stomach, also activate to help maintain balance.
You may find it difficult at first to lift your body weight to complete a pull-up. Many gyms have machines that provide weighted assistance to decrease the amount of weight you are responsible for lifting. If you do not have access to a gym or your gym does not have this type of machine, you can have a partner spot you. Have your spotter stand behind you, with his hands on your hips or waist. Have your spotter lift you as you pull yourself up. You can also self-assist using a bar positioned about level with your neck. Grip the bar wider than shoulder width and place your feet slightly in front of you. Lower yourself until your arms are straight and then lift your chin above the bar, using your legs for minimal assistance. Lat pull-down machines can also be used to gradually build the muscles used in a pull-up.
Use the easier variations until you can successfully complete a pull-up. Execute a standard pull-up by grabbing a bar with a overhand grip, so that your palms are facing away from you, about shoulder width apart. Bend your knees, if necessary, until your arms are straight. Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar, keeping your body straight without swinging. Lower yourself to the starting position and repeat the movement. Tuck your feet behind you through the exercise to ensure that your feet don't touch the floor.
More Difficult Pull-ups
When you are able to perform 12 pull-ups with your body weight, you should begin making the exercise more difficult. First, try doing pull-ups with your hands further apart. Then, progress to weighted pull-ups with a dip belt or, if one is not available, a weighted backpack. If you chose to use a backpack, make sure it is sturdy enough to carry the weight plates you will be placing in it. A bag with waist straps will hold the backpack closer to your body and allow you to carry the weight more comfortably.
Jonathan Thompson is a personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise and has extensive experience working with clients as well as teaching. Thompson holds specializations in longevity nutrition and muscle management for runners. He began writing in 2004.