Elbow Placement: The objective is to force your elbows down and back from a dead hang in order to pull yourself to the bar. To do this, make sure your elbows are about shoulder-width apart as if they are too close together you won’t be able to use the full range of motion.
Engaging Shoulders: Make sure you engage your shoulders at the top of the exercise. When going into a pull up, aim your chest towards the bar, hold at the top for a few seconds and squeeze your shoulder blades together. If that’s too challenging, don’t be afraid to use a band – you’re better off getting the exercise right and working your way up to doing it unassisted, rather than completing it with poor form.
Failing to Roll Your Shoulders Back: Make sure your shoulders are rolled back and away from your ears, so you target the correct muscle groups. When you grip the bar, take a second to roll your shoulders back and ensure your posture is perfect.
“A pull-up works the upper body, and is a multi-joint exercise that can increase the stability of the shoulder girdle, pulling strength of the upper body, midline strength and is great for building general strength,” says trainer and business owner, Chris Feather. “Muscles used in this exercise include the middle and lower traps, rhomboids, pecs, delts, biceps, lats, external obliques, as well as the smaller muscles in those general areas. It’s easy to see why it’s such a great exercise for overall strength and conditioning.”
For a beginner, start by jumping up into the pull-up position at the top of the movement, holding the position for a few seconds and then slowly lowering yourself down to build strength in your biceps, shoulders and back, suggests Feather. Add in some heavier rows on a low bar or bodyweight rows on the TRX to help speed things along (remember, the more parallel your body to the floor, the harder the row).
Another option is to use resistance bands to help support your weight at the bar, allowing your back muscles to engage and your body to get used to the movement. As your strength increases, lower the resistance of the band (from heavy to light) and, eventually, you will be able to remove it altogether.
“If you want to make this exercise harder, slow it down so you spend more time under tension or consider wearing a weight belt,” says Feather.