When it comes to bodyweight exercises, the pull ups are pretty much a staple. If you’re like most people, gravity seems like it’s twice as strong as you attempt one. The more you hang there, the more you struggle to bring your chin to the bar. In consequence, you contort yourself, throw on a couple faces that looks like you’re doing long division in your head, and often times end up getting out of position.

Full Range of Motion

I’m going to start it off with the elephant in the room. Full range of motion is the best way to do this exercise. I think I can speak for every trainer when I say “half repping” exercises is no bueno. Granted there are certain training regimens and exercises that limited range of motion can be useful, pull ups are not one of them.

Starting from a “dead hang” position and finishing with your chin flush with the bar is ideal. If you’re having trouble completing a full rep, get help.

Hands Closer Together

People often tend to place their hands excessively wide when they start. While I applaud the enthusiasm, bring your hands closer together. Aim for shoulder width or slightly wider instead. Aside from less stress on your shoulders, you actually put more emphasis on your lats with your hands closer together.

Bend and Squeeze the Bar

While your grip in general is important, actively squeezing the bar in a certain way can vastly improve efficiency. Similar to the bench press, or how that guy in Happy Gilmore bent Shooter McGavin’s putter, if you “bend the bar in half,” you actively engage your lats prior to the movement. At the same time, squeeze your hands together. Doing so helps engage your pecs, another large muscle group that aids in the movement.

Recruiting larger muscle groups helps take excessive strain off of the smaller muscles that compliment the movement. Specifically, the muscles of the arms.

Touch your elbows Behind your Back

This came after I’ve seen dozens of people get too far away from the bar. You know what Im talking about. Their body shifts backwards, upper back rounds, chin is touching your chest, and the movement turns into a bodyweight reverse curl. The worst part is, this is how I’ve done them for years.

Trying to touch your elbows behind your back is a great way to remember to keep your chest up, back arched, and to maintain tightness throughout the movement.

Movement Assistance

If gravity sucks too much and you cant get a full rep in, you should be ashamed. Nah, actually youre in the majority of people who look at pull ups like the exercise equivalent of Joffrey Baratheon.

Depending on your gym set up, there maybe an assisted pull up machine that gives you a weight stack / counter weight. The less weight on the stack, the more body weight youll be moving.

If you’re gym doesn’t have one of these machines, you can get a similar assist from looping a band around the bar. Put it in the middle, slipknot style, and put your feet or knees in it (depending how stiff the band is).

Final Thoughts

Just like anything else, these movements take practice. The good news, by applying the tips above, you’ll spend less time practicing poor movement patterns and more time improving on the better.