Pull Yourself Up

The Road To Your First Pull-Up Starts Here


A lost motion

The human body evolved the capacity to pull itself up against gravity eons ago. This motion allowed our species to thrive in the wild, unforgiving nature and emerge as a civilization.

Now, the new seated reality of the 21st century has disconnected this vital function. Men and women are physically weaker than ever amidst a growing chronic pain epidemic.

Welcome to The Online School of Exercise. My name is Alex Bernier, and I am a kinesiologist from Montreal Canada.

This virtual lesson explores the lost upper body motion known as the pull-up. The first part briefly covers the anatomy of the movement so that you can understand its mechanics. I will then take you through a 10 step tutorial to teach you how to execute the exercise.

Let's get started.


Chin and pull-ups are useful tools to build an athletic body and a dominant posture. The terms refer to the position of your hands, whether they face towards or away from you. Both take the body through the same vertical motion while holding on to a fixed bar. So let's use the word pull-up for simplicity's sake.

The exercise is the only movement that works every muscle from the wrist down the hips. Its primary target is the large superficial muscle of the back commonly referred to as the lats.

This muscle and motion animation shows the rest of the chain in action. You see the shoulder-blades with the upper back, arms, and forearms working together to overcome gravity.

Start by hanging at the bottom position with your arms in full extension and pull your chest to the bar, Imagine elbowing somebody behind you in the stomach. Lower the body all the way back down, and start again. You have to go through the full range of motion.

This 10-step tutorial is for anybody lacking important pull strength, and those who want to improve their performance by reviewing the basics.

Step #1: Grip Endurance

The first step is to increase your grip endurance. Many adults who consult with me have a hard time keeping their feet off the floor for more than 5 seconds. Your hands are the first point of contact between the bar and your body. This first link needs to be strong.

Start with two hands and work your way up to a minute. You should be able to hang with one arm as well. Aim for 10 seconds at first and increase gradually over time.

Step #2: Top Endurance

The second step is to increase your endurance at the top. Use a boost to lift yourself to the bar, then let your feet hang and hold on for as long as you can, keeping your chin above the bar.

Work your way up to 30 seconds.

Step #3: Prime Your Upper-Back

The third step is to prime upper back. Small muscles on and around your shoulder blades provide the critical stability needed to create traction in the joints as you lift. They initiate the pull-up.

Some people have lost the ability to control their shoulder-blades. This exercise will help your brain reconnect with your muscles.

Squeeze your shoulder blades back in a hanging position to lift your body without bending your arms. You should be able to do six reps and hold each contraction for 3-seconds.

Step #4: Strengthen Your Pull At All Angles

The fourth step is to strengthen your pull at all angles. Your shoulders allow you to move your arms in all directions. This range of motion creates the chance to target the same muscles involved in a vertical pull from an advantageous position.

A wide-variety of row exercises will help you builder denser foundations with more strength potential. Aim for more than ten reps per set.

Step #5: Own The Negative Rep

The fifth step is to own the lowering phase of the movement known as the negative. You want to gain control on the way down as your muscles lengthen.

Set yourself up with a boost and go back down as slow as possible. Your goal is 5 seconds.

Step #6: Strengthen Your External Rotators

Number 6, strengthen the external rotators of your shoulders. These deep muscles of your back pull your arms outward. They also balance the internal rotation happening during a pull-up.

Weak shoulder support is common amongst corporate workers. The imbalance inhibits the force production of your joints to protect you from an injury. Do a high-volume of external rotations to balance the structure. Vary the angle of your arm, and keep your sets above ten reps.

Step #7: Condition Your Lower Traps

The trapezius is the diamond-shaped, superficial muscle of your back. Its lower diagonal fibres support the shoulder-blades from below as your arms move. The forward nature of life weakens this vital pillar.

Target your lower trapezius with T3-Raises. This exercise will have a significant impact on your posture and upper body health.

Start by pulling your shoulder-blade toward your spine. Hold that contraction and lift your arm above your ear. Lower the weight in 4 seconds, then push your arm forward.

Aim for sets of 5 with a 3-5 second pause at the top of each rep.

Step #8: Strengthen your deep abs.

This deepest abdominal layer known as the transverse abdominis wraps around your spine for support and stability. This natural belt is the lynchpin of your body in motion. A stable pelvis will ground your lats and enable a better force output when you pull yourself up.

Hip raises target this deep abdominal layer. Lie down on your back and hold on to a loaded barbell above you. Place your legs straight up and lift your hips off the floor. Take a 3-second pause at the top of the movement and lower your hips. Do four sets of 12 reps.

Avoid using your lower back to lift. The contraction is small. You should feel a burn deep in your lower torso.

Step #9: Build Balanced Biceps

Your biceps are an integral link in the pull chain. The two-headed muscle closes your elbows as you lift yourself. Its long, outer head keeps the shoulder in place when your arm moves.

Incline seated biceps curls target these essential fibres because of the dumbbell's starting position. Do sets of 6-8 reps with different grip positions to hit other elbow flexors involved in your pull strength.

Step #10- Develop Your Pressing Strength

The tenth and final step is to develop your pressing strength.

Your push and pull motions use two opposing muscle groups. One works in synergy with the other to execute both movements. Strong pecs and shoulders will help the lats create enough internal rotation to overcome gravity.

Do dumbbell pressing exercises at different angles to develop the synergist muscles of the pull-up.

A Timeless Tool

Pulling yourself up against gravity is a tool you can use anywhere. Raise the foundations of one of the body's most complex motion by following these guidelines. You will build an athletic body and a dominant posture. Thank you all for watching.