Pull-ups are a funny exercise. For some, it seems that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get better at them.

If you’re able to do 10, you’re stuck at 10. If you can’t do one (yet), it seems almost impossible to achieve.

No matter what you do or how hard you try, pull-ups just seem to be one of those exercises that always comes out on top and ends up kicking your butt.

Why is that?

If you’re in the gym as frequently as I am, you might notice a trend when it comes to how pull-ups are performed.

Some of the common challenges or mistakes you might have noticed (or experienced) are…

A. Over-swinging: If your goal is to get better at pull-ups, you need to be able to pull yourself up with nothing but your own strength (with no momentum). Swinging (aka kipping) does not build strength and actually teaches improper pull-up technique.

Think of the deadlift. It’s called a deadlift because you are literally picking up dead weight. You get stronger by picking up the bar from a dead stop, with no bounce or momentum whatsoever.

This same principle applies to pull-ups. In order to get stronger at them, you need to train your body to be able to pull yourself up from a dead hang. More on how to do this shortly.

B. Over-pulling with your arms: Your arms are tiny in comparison to your back, which is comprised of the big muscles you want to use when performing pull-ups.

Your bigger muscles are stronger than your smaller muscles. So learn how to use them. Keep reading to understand how.

C. Over-pulling with your upper traps: You probably already know this. Maybe your massage therapist told you, maybe you heard another trainer say it, maybe you read it somewhere online. Most people have tight and overactive upper traps. They’re usually really strong and easier to engage in comparison to some of your other posterior (back) muscles.

Why is this important?

Your body is pretty smart. it picks and chooses which muscles it wants to use. When you’re doing exercises, it naturally wants to use the stronger muscles, until you start to train it otherwise.


Start developing better awareness and engagement in the muscles you want to use during compound movements like pull-ups. More on this soon.

So how do you go from zero to hero with your pull-ups?

It’s not easy, but it’s relatively simple. These cues will make your pull-ups instantly better. Try them.


Remember how important it is to start developing a strong connection with your back muscles that are so often neglected during pull-ups (in particular, your lats)?

Remember how your bigger muscles are stronger than your smaller muscles?

When performing pull-ups, imagine your hands are hooks and initiate the exercise by pulling with your elbows. This really helps you engage your lats instead of pulling with your arms.


Sounds silly, right? Let’s think about this for a second.

Which scenario do you think is easier?

Doing pull-ups while flailing your body around loosely as you go up and down; or pulling yourself up and down in one straight line?

If you guessed the second, you’d be right.

In strength training, a linear path is usually (if not, always) best. The straighter the path you’re travelling (whether it’s the barbell moving or your own body), the more efficiently you’re going to be able to travel from point A to point B.

So what does squeezing your butt have to do with this?

Engaging your glutes helps stabilize your spine and creates a stronger support system for the torso. It’s like a “backup” muscle for you to use during pull-ups. It’s a pretty damn good muscle to use, since it’s the biggest muscle in the human body.

The stronger the support system, the more control you have. The more control you have, the straighter the path. The straighter the path, the easier it is to get from point A to point B.



Rib flare is a common issue for most people, and its pronounced especially when doing overhead movements such as pull-ups and presses.

Why is it an issue? Lack of core engagement.

When your ribs flare out, your lower back hyperextends and you have little to no support from your glutes. By keeping your ribs down and maintaining a “neutral” or flat back, you’re creating tension in your core.

Your core is your centre of gravity. It’s where all your balance, coordination, and strength comes from. Focusing on keeping your ribs down and maintaining core engagement throughout your pull-ups is going to be a game changer for your overall ability to do this highly-demanding exercise. Trust.


Remember over-pulling with the upper traps? This is usually how it happens: Some will pull themselves up so high that their shoulders start to round forward over the bar, with their chins shooting up to the moon.

Pulling yourself up high isn’t an issue, as long as you have the shoulder mobility to do it. If you don’t have optimal shoulder mobility, try cutting your range of motion down slightly and pulling yourself up to about eye-level with the bar.

By pulling yourself to eye-level, you’re still getting all of the benefits of the exercise, and are maintaining constant tension in your lats (aka the primary supporters of the pull-up) and avoiding using your upper traps.


You get stronger by completing reps, not failing them.

Which training routine sounds better to you?

A. Go to the gym. Do 8 hard-fought pull-ups. Do another set and struggle to barely get 6. Do another set and burn yourself out at 3. Total reps = 17.

B. Go to the gym. Do 3 pull-ups. Rest. Do another 3. Rest. Repeat for a total of 6-8 sets. Total reps = 18-24.

In routine A, you’re going to failure and eventually reaching fatigue. When you hit fatigue, your form goes to shit. This is not optimal for strength gains.

In routine B, even though you are cutting down your reps, you’re accumulating more total volume. By the end of your workout, you would have successfully completed between 18 and 24 high-quality reps. This is how you build strength.

While this is just an example, the concept of volume should be strongly considered when approaching your pull-ups. But cutting your reps and performing more sets with adequate rest and high-quality form, eventually these reps are going to add up and your pull-ups will improve drastically as a result.

Key Points

  • Strength is not built from swinging
  • Bigger muscles are stronger than smaller muscles
  • Pull with your elbows to engage your lats
  • Squeeze your butt to create a stronger support system
  • Keep your ribs down to engage your core
  • Pull to eye level to avoid over-pulling with your upper traps
  • Focus on completing high-quality reps and avoid going to failure and fatigue

Thanks for reading and if you have any questions or comment’s about today’s article please send me a message down below!




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