How to Do Better Pull-ups

Improve your pull-ups and chin-ups with these quick – but not easy – tips and drills.

All Hail the Mighty Pull-Up

The pull-up and chin-up are amazing exercises for building the top of the V shape on guys and the top of the hourglass shape on ladies. And of course the pull-up is great for developing strength as well.

But there is more to a pull-up than just trying to yank yourself up and get your chin over the bar.

Chin Position on Pull-Ups

What most people do wrong is they put the focus of the drill on trying to get their chin above the bar.

Lifting the chin creates cervical (neck) extension which pinches nerves in your neck and that will make your arms weaker on your pull-up.

Pull-up reaching with chin
Cervical extension

Instead keep your neck aligned in a healthy manner as you should for all exercises and frankly as you should throughout your day.

  • Pull the crown of your head up towards the ceiling to create space between the neck vertebrae
  • Next pull your head back so you aren’t jutting your head forward like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo
  • Finally tuck your chin by placing your fist on top of your collar bones and then lowering your chin until it touches your fist
Correct Neck Position

Shoulder Position on Pull-Ups

Beginners and intermediates alike struggle to keep their shoulders down on pull-ups. Part of it is simply a lack of body awareness and part of it is having sufficient strength in your latissimus dorsi (lats) and lower trapezius (traps).

Well we need to fix this.

  • Raise your shoulders up to your ears… now say “bad”
  • Pull your shoulders down as far as you can like trying to put your armpits in the pockets on the butt of your jeans… now say “good”
  • You should feel some tension in your armpits… good that is your lats contracting
Keep your shoulders down during pull-ups

Bring Your Chest to the Bar

If your goal is to build muscle in your upper back then one of the key methods for getting your back muscles involved in your pull-up is to lead with a big chest on the way up.

Pretend you are Superman and spread your dress shirt open revealing your “S” or whatever he says it stands for.

  • Pull your shoulder-blades back as if trying to pinch a tennis ball between them
  • Expand your chest forward
  • Try to reach the bar with your chest… this should also help keep your chin down

Drills to Build an Amazing Pull-Up

It is one thing to talk about keeping your neck and shoulder position and leading with the chest… but when you are struggling just to do a freaking pull-up it is another thing to actually be able to maintain those technique pointers.

Thus we do drills.

Pull-Up Posture Sequence

Go through the following sequence as seen on the video:

  1. Lift the crown of your head towards the ceiling
  2. Pull your head back as far as it goes
  3. Tuck your chin so it is a fist’s distance from your collar bones
  4. Pull your shoulders down and back
  5. Make your chest big like Superman revealing the S

Pull-Up Posture Drills

To master those positions practice that sequence in the following positions:

  1. Standing in front of a mirror
  2. From a dead hang (elbows locked) off of a pull-up bar
  3. Jump up and hold yourself at the top of a pull up and do them there
  4. Finally from the midway point of a pull-up… good luck!

If you are newer to pull-ups some of those positions can be really challenging or near impossible at first.

You can make yourself lighter by trying one of the following methods:

  1. Let your feet rest on a chair
  2. Use a strong resistance band (ideally wrap it around your knee as over-stretching bands by placing them around your feet can cause them to snap!)
  3. Have a parnter hold your feet

Every single time you do pull-ups or chin-ups instead of just cranking out reps focus on one area to improve. Either your neck/chin, shoulders down/back, or leading with a big chest.


If your goal is strength and muscle then investing focus in your form will pay off big time.

Until next time go build your back.