The Pull Up
The primary muscles working in the pull-up are the lats, biceps, and rear deltoids. These guys get help from numerous synergists including the forearm flexors, elbow flexors, rhomboids, teres major, external rotators, and trapezius; even the core and legs, to a lesser degree.
Doesn’t matter how strong your back is, if you don’t have good shoulder and elbow mobility, not only will you be fighting your own bodyweight, but you’ll also be contending with the opposing pull of some pretty meaty muscles. I always start my upper body training sessions with some shoulder and chest opening drills – foam rolling the lats and thoracic spine and trigger pointing the pec minor can be helpful.S
A huge component to any pull up challenge is total bodyweight. For most of you, we want to avoid losing muscle mass, so dropping bodyfat will be a sure fire way to get some numbers on the board.
Usually one of two things happen in this movement – the lower back is arched to counterbalance the pull and shift the weight forwards or the hips are flexed and the knees are swung up for momentum. Neither should happen. Brace yourself through your abs and glutes – I like supplemental exercises like Reverse Hyper Holds, Hollow Rock Holds, and planking variations to target complete core stability.
Full range of motion doesn’t automatically mean good form. The pull-up is a mid/upper back exercise. If you’re not feeling it there, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t engage the elbows first when doing pull-ups. That turns it into a biceps exercise. Engage the shoulders first by depressing them. This will make the pull-up a back-dominant movement, as it should be.
If you want to be good at something, do it, and do it often. Lifting weights and lifting your own bodyweight are two different things – the latter being more motor control than brute strength. If you’re in the gym, every time you walk past a pull up bar, do one. If you’re at home, fit a pull up bar over a doorway and every time you walk through the door, do one.