How to Improve Your Pull-Up Technique

Woman doing pull-ups on monkey bars


Perhaps you’ve seen the recent social media trend of the most challenging pull-up levels and have set out to master them all. Or, maybe you just want to improve on your current pull-up rep max. Whatever the case, focusing on your technique instead of sheer grit and determination can help you build strength and reps. Here’s how to improve your pull-up technique.  

What Is a Pull-Up?

A pull-up begins with holding onto a pull-up bar with an overhand grip and letting your body hang. Then, you pull yourself upward until your chin raises above the bar. The movement requires you to lift your entire body weight. During a basic pull-up, your palms are facing away from you while your suspended legs hang down toward the floor. 

There are more advanced forms of pull-ups, such as the two-finger pull-up or variations on hand positions—all of which work different muscles and require greater strength. However, it’s important not to confuse a pull-up with a chin-up. A chin-up is done while gripping the bar with your palms facing toward you.

A pull-up is generally considered more advanced and challenging than a chin-up. Just as there are more difficult pull-up techniques, you can also make your pull-up easier, too. In these cases, you can use tools like a resistance band if you want.

Benefits of Pull-Ups

Pull-ups are excellent for upper body strength. Not only do they benefit a variety of muscle groups, but they also work your arms, chest, shoulders, back, lats, and traps. Even the muscles along your spine and shoulder blades are engaged during a pull-up.

Pull-ups also may improve your grip strength because you are required to hold onto the bar, which is an important indicator of health and strength as you age. In fact, low grip strength can predict a risk of functional limitations and disability in older adults. Meanwhile, there is some evidence that a stronger grip may improve your quality of life.

Research also shows that resistance training like pull-ups can also have an impact on your bone health by promoting bone development. Doing pull-ups even enhances your overall cardiovascular health—especially if you do your pull-ups at a faster rate.

Step-By-Step Instructions for a Pull-Up

Flawless pull-ups don’t happen overnight. Learning to do a pull-up right is essential; and investing in your technique and building strength can help you improve your pull-up form and increase your max reps. These step-by-step instructions are from Omero Rangel, CPT, CSCS, a certified personal trainer with a degree in kinesiology exercise science.

  1. Grab a pull-up bar overhead, maintaining a slightly flexed wrist, with knuckles pointed straight up
  2. Establish a firm grip and "pack" shoulders (scapular depression) and keep your neck long
  3. Think of your hands as hooks and pull your elbows straight down to your sides, maintaining a braced core, similar to a hollow hold
  4. Use your lats and pull up to your complete functional range of motion
  5. Lower your body in a controlled manner, once again taking it through your full range of motion and stopping before complete shoulder extension (keep shoulders "packed")

Tips for Improving Your Pull-Up Technique

To maximize pull-up benefits, consider improving your technique. Better form and different approaches can help with the number of pull-ups you can complete but may also reduce your risk of injury. Here are some things to try.

Incorporate Pull-Ups Into Your Regular Routine

To get better at anything, you need to practice. Adding pull-ups two to four times a week during your strength training can aid your technique. But because the movement can really tax your upper body muscles, it’s best to space out the times when you are doing pull-ups and go slow. Aim for at least one recovery day in between. 

Add Other Strength Movements

Increasing strength and flexibility in your back, arm, and shoulder muscles can improve your pull-up form. To do this, add other strength movements to your routine. These may include rows, flys, bicep curls, lat pulldowns, or even pull-up variations. Building muscle in these areas will make your pull-ups more effective.

Use Progressions

Instead of aiming for as many reps as possible, focus on form. Once you can do two reps in a row beyond your desired rep goal, with excellent form, then you can progress. For example, if you can do two sets of six pull-ups without losing your form, you can increase your goal by either number of sets or reps.

Make Modifications

If doing pull-ups the traditional way is too challenging, you can try different modifications. For instance, try attaching a resistance band to the bottom of the pull-up apparatus. By standing on it, you don't have to exert as much force to lift your body.

Additionally, a small study in the Journal of Human Kinetics found that using pull-up modifications is still sufficient in increasing muscle strength and endurance. Modifications, like the one mentioned above, can help you work on your technique even if you can’t yet do a strict pull-up.

Track Your Progress

A pull-up tracker is a helpful way to keep track of your pull-up progressions. Apps on popular smartwatches or your phone can help you keep track of your pull-up counts. Alternatively, you can always resort to the paper and pencil method. Tracking your progress can help motivate you to continue while ensuring you’re not getting ahead of yourself or falling behind. 

Exercises to Improve Your Pull-Up Technique

Pull-ups require several muscles in your upper body. Increasing the strength and endurance of these muscles through other exercises could benefit your technique.

"The first step to learning a pull-up would be getting comfortable hanging from the bar, which can be an adjustment on the hands and arms if someone doesn't do this exercise in their daily," explains Tatyana Johnston, certified personal trainer.

Lat Retractions

To improve your pull-up technique, try turning on your lats, which is the main muscle in the pull-up, Johnston says. "You can do this by practicing shrugging your shoulders up and down while hanging from the bar. Remember to keep your abs engaged here to create a connection between lats and abs. This will make your pull-up more efficient and protects your shoulders."

Assisted Pull-ups

After you've mastered shoulder shrugs, you can start doing assisted pull-ups. These are done with the assistance of a trainer, on a machine, a band, or by incorporating jumping pull-ups, Johnston explains. To do this exercise you jump up to get your chin over the bar and then slowly lower yourself down.

Other exercises to help improve your pull-up technique are bent over rows (with a barbell or dumbbells), lat pull down machine, bicep curls, hollow holds, knee raises, and leg raises. You also can strengthen all the supporting muscles, like your biceps, traps, and abdominals, Johnston points out.

The Bottom Line

Pull-ups are a beneficial form of exercise that allow you to build your core, arm strength, and grip strength. But, to get the most out of pull-ups you need to ensure you are using proper form. If you are having trouble doing a proper pull-up, you can modify it by using resistance bands, having a trainer help you, or by performing jumping pull-ups.

Your biggest hurdle with be getting comfortable on the bar, Johnston says. "But if you continue to practice the pull-up alongside the supporting muscle groups will help you improve your pull-up."

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dickie JA, Faulkner JA, Barnes MJ, Lark SD. Electromyographic analysis of muscle activation during pull-up variations. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology. doi:10.1016/j.jelekin.2016.11.004

  2. Bohannon RW. Grip strength: An indispensable biomarker for older adults. Clin Interv Aging. doi:10.2147/CIA.S194543

  3. Westcott WL. Resistance training is medicine: effects of strength training on healthCurr Sports Med Rep. 2012;11(4):209-216. doi:10.1249/JSR.0b013e31825dabb8

  4. Snarr RL, Hallmark AV, Casey JC, Esco MR. Electromyographical comparison of a traditional, suspension device, and towel pull-up. Journal of Human Kinetics. doi:10.1515/hukin-2017-0068

By Nicole M. LaMarco
Nicole M. LaMarco has 19 years of experience freelance writing for various publications. She researches and reads the latest peer-reviewed scientific studies and interviews subject matter experts. Her goal is to present that data to readers in an interesting and easy-to-understand way so they can make informed decisions about their health.