What are Pull Ups?

A Pull Up is one of the most fundamental calisthenics exercises that builds up your strength and endurance in the upper body.It is commonly used as a form of physical test from schools all the way up to the military. Many athletes from all sports backgrounds use pull ups in their training, which makes this one of the best exercises for building upper body and developing a bigger and stronger back. Once you are proficient with this exercise, it has a positive carryover effect to awesome skills such as Muscle Ups, One Arm Pull Ups, Back Lever and Front Lever. This single exercise will open doors to your calisthenics journey!

This article will show you how to do your first pull up with perfect form, and for those of you who can already do pull ups, you will give tips on how to increase pull up numbers.

What muscles do Pull Ups work?

The primary muscles worked are latissimus dorsi, trapezius, posterior deltoids, biceps and teres major. The secondary muscles are pectoralis major, abdominals, obliques and forearms.

What level are Pull Ups?

The Pull Up is an intermediate level exercise as it requires you to pull your body weight vertically upwards, putting the workload mostly on your lats. It also requires an intermediate level core strength to be able to have stability within the body when executing this exercise.

How to do Pull Ups?

1.Hang On The Bar

Grab the bar approximately wider than shoulder-width apart with your palms facing forward. Grip the bar tight and position your thumbs under and around the bar. Your arms should be fully extended, and your feet should be together.


2.Engage Your Core

Squeeze your core and legs tight at all times, this will act as your stabilizer muscles which will give you more control over your body for the pull up.

3.Pull Up 

Whilst still in a hanging position, inhale followed by an exhale out of your mouth as you pull yourself up by bending the elbows and pulling your arms down. Pull up until your chin is above the bar. You will predominantly feel lats and biceps engagement. Keep your core engaged all throughout this movement.

During the motion, your shoulders must be depressed and the scapulars must be retracted.

There are 6 grip variations for you to try. Pronated grip will target your lats, whereas supinated grip will target your biceps. Narrow grip will target your biceps, shoulders width grip will target your middle back, and wide grip will target your lats.

4.Gradually Lower Down 

Inhale as you lower down to the starting position with your arms locked out. This ensures full range of motion which will activate more muscle groups and enhance the overall effectiveness of a pull up. Half efforts will give you half results, so make sure to maintain full range of movement!

What are the benefits of Pull Ups?

Muscular Hypertrophy 

Pull Ups can give size and strength to your upper body muscles. It allows you to target your  lats, biceps, traps and many more muscles. By practising this consistently along with other variations that targets different muscle groups, it inevitably will give you the muscular aesthetics that you’re seeking.

Increase Grip Strength

You will require you to hold your entire body weight whilst hanging with your hands and fingers. Training Pull Ups will have a positive impact on your everyday life. It can improve performance in other sporting areas in sports such as climbing, tennis, and golf, or even help you in your everyday activities such as opening a jar or carrying your groceries.

Minimal Equipment Needed 

No need to go to the gym and wait for the next lat pull down machine to be available. All you need is a pull up bar that can be practiced from your own home or at the local park where you can use them for free. This makes Calisthenics one of the most convenient form of workout as it can be done, anyplace, anywhere and anytime.  

Many Variations 

Doing the same thing over and over can be repetitive and boring, so much that you lose the motivation to workout. Fear not as Pull Ups has more than 25 variations for you to try. For example, switching between pronated to supinated grip, and from close grip, to shoulders-width grip, to wide grip. Whether you’re a beginner and an advanced athlete, Pull Ups will still be worthwhile and you should include it into your training regimen!

How many reps, sets, and how often should I do Pull Ups?

Beginners should do between 1-3 reps, for 4 sets, 3 times a week. Intermediate level should do between 4-10 reps, for 4 sets, 3 times a week. Advanced level should do 11 or more reps, for 4 sets, 3 times a week. 

It is highly recommended to increase 1-2 reps into your training to ensure progressive overload. After 4 weeks of training, you should see changes in your physique as you will develop more muscles, and improve your physical health.

How many Pull Ups should I be able to do?

Adult male should be able to do 5 reps. With regular training, you should be able to do 13 or more reps, as this will be considered as fit and strong.

Adult females should be able to do 1-3 reps. Typically men can do more pull ups because they have more muscle mass in their upper body. But regardless of any gender, you can do as many pull ups as you want if you train for them!

How to get better at Pull Ups?

There are two main exercises to help beginners get better at Pull Ups: the Australian Pull Up and the Negative Pull Ups. These two will act as a stepping stone for building up both strength and endurance in your upper body muscles.

Australian Pull Ups 

The Australian Pull Up is a great exercise that focuses on building upper body strength, especially your pulling strength. This exercise is great for beginners to intermediate level as it uses less body weight to perform the exercise hence why it is easier than the pull up, but it still uses the same movement path which strengthens the same muscle groups and requires the same technique. All you need is a low bar, where your body will be positioned underneath the bar at a slope. Make sure to grip the bar tightly and engage your core at all times. You should practice this between 5-10 reps, for 4 sets.

Negative Pull Ups 

One of the best ways to learn Calisthenics exercises or skills is to perform it in reverse. This will help aid your body to adapt to the unfamiliar movement or load. Negative Pull Ups requires you to grip the bar tight, whilst simultaneously jumping from the floor to assist you in the pull up. Try to get your chin above the bar as this is your starting position. Gradually lower yourself down by extending both arms until they’re locked out, counting 3 seconds as you do so. This is one rep, you should do this between 1-3 reps, for 4 sets.

Pull Ups Variations

Scapular Pull Ups 

This exercise will help to develop your scapular strength, improving your pull up form and keeping your shoulders healthy. Simply hang from the bar and retract your scapulars by pulling your shoulder blades together in a shrugging motion without bending your arms.


L-sit Pull Ups

This advanced level exercise improves your core strength and stability, as well as your body control and awareness. It is harder than traditional pull up as it alters your centre of gravity therefore making it more challenging to perform. To perform an L-sit Pull Up, you will hang from the bar and raise your legs up until they’re at a 90 degrees angle in relation to your torso. Keep your core engaged, feet together and toes pointed, pull your body up until your chin is above the bar, and gradually lower down. 

Muscle Ups

Muscle Up is an advanced level skill that many Calisthenics athletes seek to obtain. It involves explosive pulling and pushing motion to get on top of the bar. This is more technique, rather than strength to execute this skill, and it is relatively easy to learn!

The requirements for this awesome skill are: 8 chest to bar pull ups, 10 straight bar dips and 10 hanging leg raises. Once you have these locked down, you’ll be more than ready to rock this awesome skill!

About the Author

My name is Pat Chadwick, I am a calisthenics coach with over 4 years of experience in helping people from all backgrounds to achieve their calisthenics goals. My goal is to become the number one calisthenics coach in the world as it is my passion to help people change their lives through inspiring bodyweight movements. I believe everyone deserves the right to feel good about their health, body, and be delighted inside and out.