Many women lack upper body strength. Unfortunately, this can lead to injuries and lack of ability, as many common movements such as lifting a box or a child require strong upper body muscles.
It’s wise for all women to strengthen these muscles by working on the two best exercises for them: push-ups and pull-ups. Just because pull-ups and chin-ups are hard, it doesn’t mean women can’t do them! In fact, you *should* be able to lift your own body with your arms. In nature, this sort of movement is very basic and in fact a matter of survival.
Pull-ups are one of the most beneficial overall muscle and strength developers. Pull-ups and chin-ups are also one of the hallmarks of an advanced strength athlete.
The pull-up builds grip strength because your fingers, hands and forearms are all used. Pull-ups also develop your biceps, triceps and shoulders, giving you powerful strength and superior muscularity. Muscles throughout the entire back are bombarded with enough stress to make them grow stronger, especially the latissimus dorsi and trapezius. Additionally, your abdominal muscles are given a good workout due to the stabilization needed through the entire core.
Proper Form is Key
It’s important to understand that more is not “better” when it comes to pull-ups. Instead, focus on technique and mindset. Proper form is key when performing these types of bodyweight exercises—it’s about the quality of your movement, as opposed to quantity.
The pull-up is an exercise geared towards building the muscle mass of your latissimus dorsi, i.e. the broad back muscle that runs from the back of your shoulder to your lower back. This is the primary muscle responsible for that V-shaped look. Many people want to reduce the size of their waist, and the pull-up can help you achieve that as well.
By slowing down your movement, you effectively reduce your repetition range, meaning the slower you perform the exercise, the fewer repetitions you will manage before your muscles fail. This is actually one of the keys to its effectiveness. The rep speed is therefore very important.
The majority of the time, the appropriate speed is a slow count of: 3, 2, 1—pause—3, 2, 1—pause.
Slower reps also help prevent injuries because as soon as you feel the first twinge of pain, you can stop before you hurt yourself. It also helps you link up your mind-muscle connection. Ideally, you’ll want to reach muscle failure somewhere between nine to 11 repetitions. If you can do upwards of 15 slow reps, you may want to consider adding a 10 pound weight belt to get you down into the ideal nine to 11 rep range again.
For a demonstration of the proper form, please watch the video.
Here’s a quick summary of key points to remember:
- Place your hands on the pull-up bar, palms facing forward, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your legs slightly bent, and your knees together.
- Focus on your latissimus dorsi, your back muscle, and feel the contraction as you’re pulling yourself upward. It’s not necessary to get your chin over the bar.
- As you pull up, open up your posture by pushing your stomach forward and keeping your sternum high. (Visualizing pulling your elbows down through the floor can help you feel your back muscles more.) Pull up to the slow count of three, pause while squeezing your back muscles, then come down to the slow count of three.
- Between reps, let yourself hang while looking down and relaxing, to allow the latissimus dorsi to pull away from your scapula.
- Make sure all your movements are slow and controlled.
Varying Positions and the Benefits of Muscle Confusion
By varying your grip positions you can accomplish muscle confusion, which will help you build more muscle and increase fat loss.
The first position was explained above (a regular palm forward-facing grip). To vary your position, you can either change your hand grip, or the location of your grip—moving your hands closer together on the bar, or further apart.
One phenomenal alternative grip is to place your hands close together, palms facing forward. This shifts the tension from the outer part of your back toward your inner rhomboids. As you pull up, allow your elbows to flip outward.
Another alternative grip is to place your hands on the bar with palms facing toward you. This grip can be difficult for some however, depending on the range of motion of your forearm.
Yet another strategy to induce muscle confusion is to use midrange motion; instead of pulling yourself all the way up, stop about half-way. Hold there for a couple of seconds, and feel the warmth between your shoulder blades as you squeeze the muscles.
Advice for Beginners
Now if you’re just getting started, you may need to work your way up to doing a full, properly performed pull-up.
To start, place your pull-up bar three to four feet off the ground. While sitting in a chair, grab the bar as instructed above, then straighten your back and hips, while keeping your knees slightly bent with feet on the floor. Then pull yourself up so that your chest touches the bar. Once you’re strong enough, progress to the free-hanging pull-up as demonstrated in the video.