12 Days of Pull Ups

Ba Humbug!

pull up exercises

Oh dear, I sound very Grinch like I know….I’m doing my best to get into the Christmas spirit.

Confession: Recent changes in my family situation make the holidays more challenging for me. The plain truth is that I’d like to be surrounded by my kids at Christmas but they have to split their time. I don’t like to put pressure on them as they don’t like the situation much either so we make the best of it.

When I see others enjoying family time with children, I look for all the ways to be thankful. Focusing on the positive is better than thinking about the one thing I’m missing. I have a great life and I wouldn’t change anything, but this is the time of year that is the hardest.

Oddly for me, the holidays are a great time to focus on training. There’s nothing that feels as good as a sweaty workout. With that in mind, I thought I’d share with you the many ways to enjoy pull ups. Rather than the 12 Days of Christmas, how about:

The 12 Days of Pull Ups

#1 The Basic Pull-up: Using a pronated grip (palms facing away), start with the arms extended and pull yourself up so your chin is above the bar. Think of bringing the chest UNDER the bar versus the chin OVER the bar. Keeping this in mind helps you to think about squeezing the shoulder blades together rather than rolling the shoulders forward. The pull up is harder than the chin up since the bicep isn’t as active as the rear delts and middle back.

pull up exercises

#2 The Basic Chin-up: Using a supinated grip (palms facing in), start with the arms extended and pull yourself up so your chin is above the bar. Your lats and biceps will be on fire with the chin up.

pull up exercises

#3 Eccentric pull ups: These are also called ‘negatives’. You’ll do these anytime you do any sort of assisted pull up. The idea is to lower your body slowly from the bar. This is the strength-building segment of the pull up move. Keep control of your body at all times during the lengthening phase, try to make the rep last 5-8 seconds.

#4 Jump Pull-ups: Start the pull up off with a jump; this makes it easier and generates more momentum. Use an eccentric contraction to return to the ground and jump at the beginning of each rep.

#5 Kipping Pull-ups: This is part of the ‘controlled cheating’ method I employ. This involves using some momentum to do a pull-up. Flex at the hips, drive the knees forward to use momentum from the lower body to propel you upwards. (Notice in the picture how the knees are elevated as my chest comes under the bar versus a straight hang.)

pull up exercises

#6 Band Assisted Pull-ups: A band provides help when you need it most, at the bottom of the movement. Loop a band around the pull-up bar and place the other end around your  knee. The band will help you pull up to the bar, thus making the lift easier. Bands provide more help at the bottom than at the top. You can change the resistance of the band as your pull up power increases.

pull up exercises

#7 Partner Assisted Pull-ups: This is a great alternative to band or jump assisted pull ups. Cross your legs and have your partner hold your feet pressed up against his upper thighs. Your partner will not lift you, rather, you’ll ‘step’ on his thighs as necessary to get your chest under the bar. You can regulate how much help you need so that the more tired you are, the more you’ll need to step on him 😉

pull up exercises


#8 Narrow parallel grip pull ups: Hook a narrow parallel handle over a pull up bar. This allows you to have a narrow-palms facing each other grip.

#9 Suspension Pull Ups: This is a great alternative when you have no pull up bar, or when you’re too fatigued to do full pull ups. Steepen the angle of pull to increase difficulty, stand up more vertically to modify.

pull up exercises

#10 Inverted Pull Up or Row: Sometimes there’s just no gas in the tank and this is a great alternative. Use a barbell in a squat rack. Get into an inverted plank like position with legs and arms extended while holding the bar. Bring the chest towards the bar, lower slowly to a full hang position.

pull up exercises

#11 Pull Up Leg Raise: Alternate doing a pull up and a leg raise. Remember that the leg raise involves rocking at the hip to bring the knees towards the chest versus just lifting the thighs parallel to the floor. The idea of the leg raise is to engage the belly not just the hip flexors (involved with lifting the legs).

pull up exercises

As an option, you can do an oblique lift after each pull up too. So rather than lifting the knees towards the chest, rock the hips sideways so that you bring right knee to right arm pit.

pull up exercises

#12 Weighted Pull Up: A weighted vest is most comfortable for a weighted pull up, but you can also do this with a weight belt with a plate (any size) chained to it. Do as many reps as possible, then do assisted pull ups and work the negative.

pull up exercises

You may notice that I’ve not included the assisted pull up machine. I find this to be the LEAST effective for learning and improving the pull up. It’s the least athletic and least resembles an actual pull up. The body is in an unnatural position, too vertical and the platform offers even assistance throughout the movement, which, again is not natural.

Here’s one of my ‘go to’ back workouts.

You’ll notice that I often will create a circuit. I don’t like to rest long between sets, so I’ll use a timer. I like to get some HIIT into my workout at the same time as my strength training. It allows me to save time by working different energy systems at once: aerobic and anaerobic. Here you go:

45 seconds of each with 15 seconds to transition:

  • Jump rope
  • Cable rows
  • DB pull overs
  • Burpee pull ups

Repeat five times.

Try to pick a weight that you can stick with. Although I do timed sets, to maintain training density, I’ll count reps and even go into my rest period a second or two to eek out another rep if I’m behind.

I hope you enjoy this workout and trying the variety of pull up suggestions I’ve offered. Make sure to make time for your workouts. I hope that you’re holiday preparations are going well and that the holidays turns out to be all that you hope for.

I’m keeping an open mind this holiday season. I’m know thinking positively is a good start and will bring good things my way.

PS. If you need help with your pull ups, head over HERE.