Pull-ups, performed with an overhand grip, are an upper body body-weight exercise that challenges your biceps at the front of your upper arm and your latisimus dorsi muscles of your back. Pull-ups also put significant stress on the muscles between and below your shoulder blades: your rhomboids and mid-trapezius muscles. Performing pull-ups also requires a strong grip as you will have to support your body weight with your hands. Pull-ups are a demanding exercise and there are a number of assistance exercises you can perform to improve your pull-up ability.
Lat Pull Downs
Lat pull downs use the same muscles as the pull-up so if you lack the strength to perform pull-ups; this exercise is a suitable alternative. To perform the lat pull down, adjust the leg restraint so that it rest across your thighs. Sit down and lean back slightly and using a shoulder-width overhand grip, pull the bar down to the top of your chest. Keep your elbows directly below your hands and try to keep your chest lifted. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
Sometimes called inclined pull ups, Australians, or reverse press ups, body rows are an excellent alternative for regular pull ups, a great exercise in their own right and also a useful preparatory exercise when trying to develop your pull up ability. To perform a body row, set the bar on a Smith machine or squat rack to around hip-height. Lie beneath the bar and grasp it with an overhand, shoulder-width grip. Extend your legs and lift your hips so that your weight is supported by your hands and heels only. Bend your arms and pull your chest up to the bar. Slowly return to the starting position and repeat. When you get more proficient with this exercise, try raising your feet to increase the load on your arms. The more horizontal your body, the more demanding the exercise.
Band Assisted Pull-ups
You can use a strong exercise band to help you perform pull-ups. Secure the band (or bands) to your pull-up bar and place your feet the band loop. The band will provide assistance, especially at the bottom of the pull-up movement. You can use strong bands initially and progress to weaker bands as your pull-up ability improves.
Negative pull-ups take advantage of the fact that you are stronger when your muscles are lengthening than they are when they are shortening. To perform negative pull-ups, use your legs to help your climb up to the top position of the pull up and then, using only your arms, slowly lower yourself under control to until your arms are fully extended. Repeat until you are no longer able to control your descent. You will find that negative pull-ups will quickly increase your strength with will transfer to your ability to perform regular pull-ups
Your muscles can generate more force when they are static than they can when they are moving. This is called isometric strength. To perform isometric pull-ups, hand form the bar but hold yourself so that you are mid-way up and your arms are bent at 90 degrees. Hold this position for as long as you can before resting and repeating. You can target specific joint angles using isometric pull ups by holding your position at different points. If you feel you are weaker near the bottom of the pull up, perform isometric hold in the lower range of movement or if you find the getting your chin up to the bar is the hardest part of the exercise, perform isometrics in the upper range of movement.
Once you can perform one or two pull ups, you can start to group repetitions together into sets. One way to do this is to perform your repetitions using rest-pause technique. Rest-pause means that you perform one or two reps, rest for up to 15 seconds, perform another one or two reps and continue until you reach your target e.g. eight reps. As you get stronger you will have to rest less and will soon be able to perform larger groups of reps until eventually you manage your full eight reps.