The pull-up is the undisputed king of upper body movements. It works the muscles in your back and shoulders, along with your chest, biceps and forearms. Yanking on the lat machine at the gym won't activate as many muscles as getting your chin over the bar. The truth is, if you want that V-shaped torso, you've got to master the pull-up. Of course, they're not that easy to do, especially if you're just getting started. That's the thing about pull-ups: you feel like a badass after doing a few. But if you can't do any, then you feel like a chump. The good news is that that you can work your way up to perfect form. And build some serious strength in the process.
Start from a dead hang with an overhand grip. Your hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
Begin by pulling the shoulder blades down and pushing the chest up towards the bar. Keep your abs tight and knees bent while pulling up. Make sure your elbows don't flare out too wide.
Use a complete range of motion, pulling your face over the bar. Repeat at a steady tempo—2 seconds down and 1 second up is ideal. No swinging!
How to Get There
Three simple exercises to prep your body for pull-ups.
Trainer Melody Schoenfeld of Flawed Fitness suggests simply hanging on the bar to get used to holding your bodyweight and building grip strength. "A strong grip leads to a strong upper body."
Known as a "negative pull-up," this is when you jump into the top most position of the pull-up (chin above the bar). Hold for five seconds and then slowly lower yourself down into the dead hang position. Repeat as needed to develop strength.
Inverted rows are an easier way to engage the muscles used for a pull-up. Using an overhand, shoulder-width grip, grab a low bar or TRX suspension bands. Hang with your arms straight and heels touching the floor. Keep your body straight and pull your shoulder blades back, then pull with your arms to lift your chest to the bar.