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How to Master the Pull-Up and Get Awesome Arms

Pull-ups are one of the best upper-body exercises as they hit the shoulders, arms and back. The problem is, they are darn difficult to do! Pull-ups are probably one of the toughest body-weight exercises to master, but if you follow these instructions, you'll have your chin to the bar in no time.

Modify It a Bit

First you need to build up the strength to do a proper pull-up. So do this, you should perform a modified version of the exercise.

Bunkbed Pull-Ups: Technically, these are called "Australian pull-ups" or "inverted rows," but I used to do these as a kid while on the bottom bunk, hence the name I gave them. I would grab the bars of the bed above me, and pull up to touch my nose to the top-bunk mattress.

To perform these, lie on your back on the floor and reach up to grab the bar above your head. Dig your heels into the floor, and pull your body off the floor and up to your hands. Hold for a second, and lower yourself back down.

Work up to at least two sets of 10 reps.

Assisted Pull-Ups: Grab the pull-up bar, but put a chair beneath your feet. Use as much arm strength as possible to pull yourself up, but use your legs to assist your arms with the pull-up. Try and use as little leg power as possible, but just enough to get up to the bar.

Work up to at least two sets of 10 reps.

By the time you make it through 10 assisted pull-ups, you should already be able to do one to three regular pull-ups. You can also do chin-ups, using the backhand grip (palms facing towards you rather than away) can make it easier. It will engage your biceps, making it easier for you to pull up.

Once you can do a few chin-ups, reverse your grip (palms facing away) to do proper pull-ups. It will take a few weeks or months to work up to proper pull-ups this way, but you can do it!

Building Up the Strength

In order to be able to do the pull-up properly, you're going to need to have pretty strong arms, shoulders and lats (latissimus dorsi). There are a few good exercises you can do to build these muscles:

Cable Pulldown: You'll need a cable machine for this exercise, but it's easy to do. Sit beneath the cable, grip it slightly wider than shoulder width, and pull down to your chest. It's like doing a pull-up, but you bring the bar to you rather than bringing yourself to the bar.

Barbell Rows: This exercise involves a barbell, but you can do it with two dumbbells too. Simply grip the barbell in a forehand grip, about shoulder width apart. Keeping your back straight, pull it up to your neck (be careful not to hit your neck!).

Cable Rows: The angle of this exercise is unique, making it one of the best to focus on your lats, the prime mover (muscle) engaged in the pull-up. Sit on the bench with the cable attached directly in front of you, about chest level. Pull the cable towards your chest without moving your back by using only your arms.

Do these three exercises at the gym to build up the strength of your lats, and keep working on the modified pull-ups. Within a month--no more!--you'll be doing at least a couple of regular pull-ups without the need for a chair!

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