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The Pull-up is an upper-body compound exercise, involving many muscles. It requires a sturdy bar, above your shoulders but low enough for you to reach it and it must be able to support your body weight.
- Grasp the bar above your head firmly. Palms towards you is a chin-up (increasing the load on the biceps), while palms away is a traditional pull-up (increasing the load on the latissimus dorsi and other muscles of the back). Employing a variety of hand positions from session to session or set to set is beneficial; even a "neutral" grip—the palms facing each other—can be used. A neutral grip could be used, for example, if exercising between two parallel bars on a jungle gym.
- Curl your legs up so that they are not touching the ground if necessary.
- Use your arms to pull your whole body up. Try and intentionally focus on the muscles being used during exertion for greater gains. For example, when doing a traditional pull-up, as described above, focus on drawing the shoulder blades toward each other and down, trying to increase the "feel" of the muscles working. When focusing on the movements this way, it becomes clear by sensation how differently the hand placement (i.e., towards or away from face) affects the musculature exercised during the movement.
- Pause when your chin is above the bar.
- Go back down slowly.
- Repeat as many times as necessary based on your exercise needs. Some trainers advise that gains can be increased (or plateaus passed) if one continues on with this exercise after "failure." Failure, as such, occurs when you can no longer pull yourself up to the bar. To continue, you use the strength in your legs to actually jump up to the bar into a position as if you had already pulled yourself up, and slowly, in a controlled fashion, let yourself down again. This makes the exercise an eccentric isotonic rather than the standard concentric isotonic, and allows one to exercise the involved muscles to a greater extent (and in a slightly different and physiologically valuable manner, see Eccentric contractions).
- Practice. This is a difficult exercise and will take a long time to master. It is not a simple exercise and it requires a fair amount of strength.
- Begin doing it slowly. Only engage in "ballistic" (i.e., fast moving, with explosive force) exercise if you are already practiced in the movement and know the effects and dangers of ballistic exercise. Nonetheless, swinging while performing the exercise is a waste—try and perform it in as controlled a manner as possible, regardless of the speed. When exercise-training for applied sports, such as Parkour, which involve ballistic movements as part of their repertoire, it is important to train one's muscles with ballistic methods. See Qualities and principles of ballistic training.
- One handed pull-up: Use one hand instead of two, to pull yourself up.