Pull-ups are one of the most fundamental bodyweight exercises. If you have a bar or a set of rings, you’re pretty much good to go.
As simple as it sounds, though, there are a lot of details that go into perfecting your pull-up technique.
Because pull-ups are a lot more complex than they seem, we get a lot of questions about how to do them, and particularly about the way we recommend doing them. Here’s a snippet of what Andy had to say about some of the questions we get on pull-ups:
From our position there is no one ultimate method of doing pull-ups.
In this episode, Andy and Ryan answer some of the questions we’ve received again and again about pull-ups.
Be sure to catch the next episode by subscribing to the GMB Show:
- (01:02) The last couple of shows, we’ve answered questions on the L-Sit and tumbling – check those out!
At what number of pull-ups can I say I am a badass?
- (02:10) If you can do a bunch of perfect pull-ups, just move on to the next progression. There’s no need to just crank out more pull-ups.
- (03:51) If you can do zero pull-ups, the number you need to hit is 1.
- (05:04) The “next progression” depends on your goal.
There’s no pre-defined ladder of pull-up progressions. It all comes down to what you are actually looking to accomplish.
- (07:00) Here’s our video on body position for the pull-ups.
- (08:44) From our position there is no one ultimate method of doing pull-ups.
- (09:57) Everything is goal-specific.
- (10:22) You need to know what your goals are really for.
- (11:00) If you’re having trouble figuring out your goal, get in touch with us and we’ll help you out.
Hanging is a great way to get used to even holding on to the bar.
- (13:41) Why do we recommend the rings turned out position?
- (14:33) Rings turned out position, top position on the rings, and hollow body position are all connected.
- (16:39) If you’re not into our “talking” videos, we’ve got plenty of “active” videos on YouTube.
Be sure to catch the next episode by subscribing to the GMB Show:
Andy: All right. Welcome to the GMB Show. Little flying airplane edition. So the next 20 minutes plus or minus we’re going to be talking about how to get strong, how to be able to do the things you want to do with your body better, alone or with a friend. Specifically we’re going to be talking about pulling, pull-ups and that kind of thing. OK?
Ryan: Sounds great, special edition this time around. Obviously Andy and I are in the same room. Andy is here in Japan.
Andy: We’re not the same person.
Ryan: We’re not. A lot of you think that but we aren’t. It’s actually two people.
Andy: Yeah. Someday we can get Nic Cage on the show and prove that you’re not him.
Ryan: We will try to do that one of these days. Hopefully we could get him on there. Let’s get in with it. Let’s do it man. Let’s do it.
Andy: So lately in the past few shows, we’ve been answering questions about the L-sit, why it’s important, how to do it better. We did some questions and answers on tumbling techniques and things like that.
So this time we’re going to be answering some questions that people have asked us mostly about pull-ups, how to do them better, why we do them the way we do and that kind of thing.
Andy: So first one, we actually hear this one a lot, which kind of surprises me. But it’s a very, very common question. How many pull-ups should I be able to do? At what number can I say that I am a bad ass?
Andy: At what number of pull-ups do I not have to feel like I’m compensating for penis size?
Ryan: That never …
Andy: You will never get to that point.
Ryan: It’s endless.
Andy: There’s no amount of pull-ups that can make up for your penis size like self-perception.
Ryan: Girth is different but it’s another topic.
Ryan: Here’s the dealio as far as numbers. Once you get to the point where you can crank out pull-ups, let’s say 10 perfect pull-ups, it’s time to move on to the next progression. That’s what we believe. Being able to just crank out tons and tons of pull-ups, no. For what we’re trained to do here in GMB, that’s …
Andy: If you’re interested in calisthenics competitions and – or if you’re in the firefighter Olympics or whatever that’s called, which it’s pretty impressive stuff.
Ryan: That’s amazing, yeah.
Andy: If that’s your sport, then yes, you’re practicing pull-ups as a sport and that’s a whole different thing.
Ryan: So you got to do as many as you can, right?
Ryan: So that’s very important to be able to get the numbers and continue to get more. So that’s of course going to focus on efficient pull-ups and being able to work on your stamina, be able to do more.
We’re after a different kind of thing. We’re always constantly trying to focus on the next progression and being able to do harder skills. So it’s not about being able to do tons and tons and tons of pull-ups. It’s about creating the strength necessary that allows you to get to the next progression.
For some people, it might be 10 pull-ups. For others, you might have to work towards a higher number of pull-ups in order to get the strength for the next progression. I don’t want to say just 10 because if I say 10, then somebody out there is going to say, “All right, I did 10 and I moved on to the next progression but I’m not able to do the next progression.”
You’re not strong enough yet and that’s all that really matters. Your form that you’re working on, the way that you’re doing it, making sure that you’re doing it in a manner that’s going to be constructive to help you to get to the next progression.
Andy: Yeah. So if you want a more specific answer again, if you can do zero pull-ups, the number you need to hit is one. If you can do one pull-up, the number you need to hit is two. If you can hit five pull-ups with good form, that’s starting to be pretty respectable. If you can get to 10, unless you have a really good reason to start working on more endurance with them, it’s probably time to start looking at other things you can do besides pull-ups.
Andy: Because you’ve gotten to the point where you have respectable useful pull-up strength.
Ryan: I like to say – yeah, one thing I like to say. Focus only on one rep. Do it perfectly then do one more perfectly and then try one more perfectly. Keep working on it that way and eventually you will get to 10, which should be good.
Andy: So Ryan you mentioned a couple of times the next progression.
Ryan: The next progression.
Andy: What is the next progression?
Ryan: Yeah, and that also is – Bree was going to help answer the question there, my dog Bree. You can go sit down little girl. It’s what’s your goal. So if you’re working on rings, and let’s say maybe you want to get the muscle up. Well then your next goal is to be able to perform that pull-up higher, not just to get your chin up to here but to get your hands to your chest so that you’re going higher on the pull-up.
Let’s say though maybe you just want to work on some different variations of the pull-up. Maybe then you can start working on archer pull-ups. You pull up, extend the arm to the side, go down one more time, opposite side.
That’s a progression that you can use. Really it depends on your goals and the next skill that you want to work on. It’s endless. There’s so much stuff that you could do out there.
Andy: Exactly. So you have to know why you’re doing pull-ups. It’s not because somebody said pull-ups are important and the next progression is after you do pull-ups, then you can do muscle-ups. I mean maybe if that’s the program that you’re working, that’s fine. But it’s not like there’s some pre-defined ladder of skills. There’s nothing that says you must do rows, then pull-ups, then something else.
Andy: It really doesn’t matter. So why are you doing pull-ups? The answer is probably one of two things. One is because you have a specific goal that you’re using pull-ups as a strength exercise to develop for. The other is you’re following a program that tells you to do pull-ups.
Andy: In that case, the program probably includes your goals. In our programs that we have pull-ups, the ring series, then the goal is to get stronger for more complex and demanding skills that are also in the program.
Ryan: That’s right, so yeah.
Andy: Yeah, OK, great. So how many pull-ups? Five.
Ryan: Five. Sounds good.
Andy: And a half.
Ryan: And a half, yeah. One for good measure. You’re good to go.
Andy: OK. So the next question we had on pull-ups is we have a video covering body position for pull-ups. It’s a great video. You should watch it and share it with all your friends and the reason that we made that is because a lot of people think that pull-ups are just a back exercise and we wanted to show that you can use the whole body.
If you do it right, you develop full body strength as well. But Ryan prefers a specific body position when he’s doing pull-ups and so some people ask, “What is the benefit of that besides it’s harder and makes you stronger?”
Ryan: Yeah, the position – just to quickly cover the position we’re talking about. It’s just where we have our feet either in front of us or below us depending on the height of the ring.
Also we’re not arching our back. So it’s more of a hollow body type position. When you’re pulling, you’re keeping the elbows in tight to the side of your body, making sure that you’re using what I call the pulling prep which is where you initiate by pulling the shoulders down before you start to bend your arm.
That is just one example that we’re doing. The reason that I like that is because it’s helping us to get strong for the other things that come next in the program. We talked about this before. We’re doing this because it’s helping us for the later progressions. It’s not that this is the perfect pull-up in the world and this is the only one you should be doing.
Andy: I’m sure there are videos on YouTube called “the ultimate best number one pull-up technique ever in the entire world”. Well, maybe not that exact title.
Ryan: Got the keywords covered there.
Andy: Yeah, it probably ranks number one in the Google. But the thing is, I hope that anyone watching this understands that from our point of view, there is no one ultimate way.
Andy: There’s only within your own goals and way of doing things, the best for our needs. In our context, we are GMB. So our context is GMB.
Andy: And so yeah there are other ways to do pull-ups. I mean there’s even – I don’t know. There’s this whole thing called CrossFit and people do kipping pull-ups and we think that that’s not a very useful exercise. Some people think that we’re assholes because of that. That’s totally OK with us.
Ryan: That’s fine. But another example beyond the kipping pull-up would be to perform a pull-up that is actually working and helping you for the front lever which is kind of different than the hollow body type pull-up that I like to use and that would be where instead of pulling down this way, you’re actually pulling this way, pulling your chest up as much as possible.
It’s just one progression that you can help use to strengthen the back and it’s an example of that. So again can’t stress this enough what we’re talking about in regards to goals. Everything is goal-specific and even if you say, “Well, I just want to do pull-ups,” well, that’s a goal.
Andy: My goal is to get as strong as possible.
Ryan: Great. OK?
Andy: But then how do you define strength? Strong at what?
Ryan: Yeah. What for? What –
Andy: And I’m not trying to make a weird semantic argument that has no value. But the thing is you need to know what that strength is for, right? So if for you, as strong as possible means being able to work towards the front lever, then you’re going to want to develop that particular type where you’re pulling in the direction that way.
If your goal is that you’re doing pull-ups for rehabilitation of a weird spinal curve or upper back issue, then you might want to focus on a little different positioning that probably a physical therapist or somebody has taught you.
Andy: There are a lot of reasons to do pull-ups and a lot of ways to be as strong as possible. So it’s not an empty argument when we say it depends on your goal.
Ryan: And if you are having trouble figuring out what your goal is, send us an email, seriously.
Andy: We are here to help.
Ryan: That’s what we’re here for.
Ryan: We want to help you out. So …
Andy: Now one thing that we hadn’t planned on talking about but I’ve actually seen people discussing it a little bit lately is about using hangs.
Ryan: Oh, yeah.
Andy: To prepare for pull-ups and develop grip stamina, that kind of – what do you think about hanging exercises?
Ryan: Absolutely love them.
Andy: We were actually talking about it a little bit yesterday.
Ryan: Yesterday, yeah. I use them myself all the time, single-arm hangs, and I’m not talking the fancy stuff where you might see people do what’s called a meat hook, a very advanced version of a single-arm hold. I’m talking just to be able to hold yourself. Hang from the bar like a kid when they were using the monkey bars when you were young.
My kids do that. They’re constantly working on stuff like that. Hanging is a good thing. It’s going to prep the joints. Really focus on some good strength to be able to help you get ready to start pull-ups. That’s why we actually having the pulling prep.
A lot of people look at the pulling prep that we have and they’re just looking at the actual movement but really, it’s helping you to be able to hold on to the bar longer and get that strength necessary to help you even just start doing it. So hanging is wonderful. We got to do a tutorial on that.
Andy: Yeah, yeah.
Ryan: We will, yeah.
Andy: While we’re talking about things we hadn’t planned on talking about and we have talked about this before on the show a while ago, but how to start being able to do pull-ups for example if you can’t.
Hangs are something that you can work on though. If you can’t do one pull-up, just hang on the bar and begin working on what Ryan calls a prep move. Just try to not just hold on but express a little bit of strength in holding on.
As you do that, you will eventually be able to start pulling up a little bit, a little more and a little more. You just keep working at it. It takes a long time. It took me a very long time to get where I could do pull-ups.
Ryan: This is great. We will – let’s do a tutorial on that. So yeah, good topic for upcoming stuff.
Andy: Yeah, definitely.
Andy: Last question not specifically about pull-ups but related, rings. We talk about in a lot of positions on the rings, rings turned out position. Why does it matter? Why is that important? Is it so damn important that you have to get all hot and bothered about it?
Ryan: Yeah, I was just going to say that. Really nah, I mean if you can’t really nail that rings turned out position, the world is not going to end. It’s going to be OK.
In gymnastics, you have to show that. It’s compulsory. You have to demonstrate that you can do that. Yes, it is going to be good for strength, help you, scapular strength.
The position though is really what’s important and so interestingly enough, go figure, the way that I have people work on the pull-ups is the same position. It’s going to help you for top position, which is the same position that’s going to help you for handstand, which is the same position we use for hollow body plank, hollow body hold. It’s almost like it almost all fits together.
Andy: If your goal is ultimately to work on the iron cross and get the Maltese or something, if you really think that you want to devote the next three to eight years of your life to developing the strength and the skills, then yes, rings turned out is really important.
Ryan: And you’re going to have to get it.
Andy: You’re going to have to do it. You’re going to have to learn how to lock out your elbows and put your shoulders in that position. That’s definitely something vital. So we’re not saying that it’s not useful or that it’s not a valuable preparation for advanced training.
Ryan: Yeah, you’re going to have – you need that. You do need that if you want to advance beyond …
Andy: I’m personally never going to be training for the iron cross.
Ryan: That’s fine.
Andy: Maybe you aren’t, maybe you are. I don’t know.
Andy: If you want to get that, then yes, rings turned out is important because of those reasons that Ryan mentioned. If you’re not, well, it’s still good form. But it’s not the most important part of good form.
Ryan: Right. It’s going to help for some things obviously but the key point here though is if you’re still struggling with the top position, don’t even start working on your rings turned out just yet. Really focus on getting that form down first, getting solid on the rings, making sure that you keep your hands close to your side. Then you can start thinking about what you want to do after that and then maybe you start working on the rings turned out.
Andy: Yeah. So your first time you’re on the rings, we’re not going to yell at you about rings turned out. We’re probably just going to tell you to keep your shoulders away from your ears.
Andy: Now once you got that down, OK, then you can start thinking about other things. But yeah, so if we don’t yell at you about rings turned out all the time, it doesn’t mean that we don’t know what we’re talking about.
Andy: It just means that we decided something else is more important.
Ryan: Word to that. Word to that!
Andy: All right? So those are some questions that people have asked us.
Ryan: Yeah, that’s good. Actually good ideas for some other stuff that we can share with all ya’ll out there. So …
Andy: And I know that there are a few of you that hate it when we do videos where we talk and so, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for this. I apologize. If you just want information though, we have a whole website full of it.
Ryan: YouTube and …
Andy: But yeah, if you do have questions, please send them and we will try to answer them. The answers are actually a lot less sarcastic than the beginning and end of the show. So if you don’t like our attitude, just like skip the first two minutes and the last two minutes.
Ryan: Yeah, that’s about right. Yeah.
Andy: It would probably be fine.
Ryan: You get the info. All right. Thanks for ringing or thanks for listening. Send us some questions and see you next time. Bye-bye.
[End of transcript]
Be sure to catch the next episode by subscribing to the GMB Show: