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What is Proper Pullup Form?

I received this question about what is proper pullup form.

“Pull ups what is the proper technique for them, what cues should I use to get the most out of my lats? I am struggling with my max reps bodyweight.”

First off, let me say I’m not a big stickler on “proper” form, pullups or otherwise. That doesn’t mean that I consider strict pullups and kipping pullups the same. But proper form is as simple as raising your chin over the bar without “kipping action” for a strict pullup.

How specifically you try to activate your arms or lats better is up to you. I do like to look at what changes can be done to your technique to maximize how you perform so let‘s talk about that.

Here’s a couple things to play with.

Head and Eye Position

I’ve heard different people say different things on this. That looking down tends to assist in contraction (which the biceps and lats are doing in this exercise). I say head and eye position because where one goes usually the other follows.

Yet watch most people and they tilt their head backwards for pullups, as if to get it out of the way. It certainly does make it seem easier to touch your chest to the bar then.

Experiment with this. Look down, keep your head neutral, and then look up. Which is easiest for you?

And in all these tips realize that while it may be best right now that doesn’t always mean it will be so.

Bodyweight PullupThe Neutral Head Position in a Pullup

Where you Start the Pull

This was a very interesting idea I first got from Adam Glass in regards to doing rows. Where do you start the pull from. It can be the hand, the elbow, the shoulder, or even in the spine. Usually the elbow felt best for me, but not always.

Of course this was all tested using the biofeedback protocol.

The same exact thing can be done with pullups. Try pulling your hands down. Try bringing your elbows to your sides. Try bringing your shoulders up to the bar. Try bringing your head to the bar. Each one of these will give you a slightly different feel for the exercise.

Implicit in here is also another old tip but a good one. That is to attempt to pull the bar to you instead of pulling yourself up.

Once again, different feels, and you’ll find one is working best for you at any given time. By doing your pullups that way you’ll be able to do more bodyweight pullups.

And when you stack these techniques over time, with consistent training on the exercises, you’re numbers will keep going up and up.

If you want more information on  pullups then check out my Ultimate Guide to Pull-ups and Chin-ups.

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3 Responses to What is Proper Pullup Form?

  1. Scott September 12, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    One thing that helped me add 3-4 reps INSTANTLY was to reduce the time spent in the eccentric lowering part of the pullup. Literally dropping down, instead of slow controlled lowering. I wouldn’t use the technique for training (potentially tough on the joints), but it works great for max rep tests.

    I tried it after getting a similar tip for kettlebell presses – press, then actively pull the bell back down to your shoulder, reducing the eccentric lowering. I added a couple reps with that tip too.

    I’m assuming it’s just less time under tension, so more energy is available to put into the actual concentric press or pull.

    • Logan September 12, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

      @Scott: Yep that’s another great tip and illustrates the difference between how training with a movement and doing it as a feat or test can be different too.

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