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If you’re new to calisthenics or exercise in general, you might have heard about pull ups and might be wondering, “What is a pull up?”
A pull up is an exercise in which you hang from a pull up bar with your hands facing away from you and lift your whole body up using your arm and back muscles until your chin clears and/or chest contacts the bar. Ideally, when doing pull ups, your legs will be clear of the floor or ground, but because of height limitations in homes, most tall people end up bending their knees when using portable pull up bars to provide clearance.
A pull up is a challenging and complex exercise because it engages numerous muscles simultaneously, making it one of the most-efficient exercises known to humankind.
A pull up is an extraordinary way to build upper-body muscles and improve your conditioning. It is also a fantastic way to improve your flexibility and range of motion, especially considering that human beings are designed to climb trees for fruit but that human beings alive today rarely put their hands above their heads except to reach for household items and when shopping.
Now that you’ve gotten the answer to the question “What is a pull up?”, let’s turn our attention to some other related questions about pull ups such as “What is the purpose of pull ups?”, “What are the benefits of pull ups?”, “What is a proper pull up?” and “How can I incorporate pull ups into my daily routine?”
What Is the Purpose of Pull Ups?
Let’s address the question “What is the purpose of pull ups?”, as many curious about pull ups and fledgling to even experienced exercise enthusiasts have certainly wondered about the purpose of this remarkable exercise.
The primary purpose of doing pull ups is to increase your upper-body strength—from the muscles in your back to your shoulders, arms, hands and core—as well as stamina level, as they certainly get your heart pumping.
Doing pull ups work your latissimus dorsi, which is the largest upper-back muscle, running from the middle of your back to under your shoulder blade and armpit. Doing pull ups also work your trapezius, stretching from your neck to shoulders, as well as the thoracic erector spinae, which are three muscles that are located along your thoracic spine. They also engage your infraspinatus, muscles that are nestled on your shoulder blades and help provide shoulder extension.
Doing pull ups also work a number of muscles throughout your shoulders, arms, hands and down into your core, where stabilizing muscles are called on to engage and hold your body in place..
Doing pull ups might also contribute to helping you improve your posture by engaging some critical muscles to keep you upright. (Separately, if you’re interested in pursuing the ultimate in pain relief and peak performance while improving your posture and joint alignment, I offer coaching via my Posture Exercises Method.)
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What Are the Benefits of Pull Ups?
Let’s take a look at what you get out of doing pull ups by addressing the next question: “What are the benefits of pull ups?”
Beyond benefitting you by increasing muscle strength and endurance, as previously outlined, the benefits of pull ups extend to include enabling you to regain or maintain function in your body. You see, doing pull ups promotes stability of the shoulder girdle along with multiple muscle contractions required to perform actions such as climbing, swimming, rowing, paddling, and other sports such as gymnastics, pole vaulting and wrestling, according to a paper published by the Strength and Conditioning Journal.
When you stop to think about it, the benefits of pull ups can extend to regular or occasional tasks such as holding bags of groceries and using a hammer to hang a picture.
As the saying goes, “Move it or lose it.”
Some organizations consider the benefits of pull ups to be so vital that proof of proficiency in doing this exercise is mandatory to gain inclusion. For many decades, for example, pull ups have served as a yardstick in testing military academies such as the U.S. Army and Marines.
If you engage in other exercise forms such as weightlifting, you’ll appreciate that doing pull ups regularly can help you improve in performing bench presses and overhead presses.
Unlike weightlifting exercises and many exercise forms, however, the pull up is an exercise that is so natural, intuitive, pure, effective and efficient that the benefits of pull ups are indisputable.
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What Is a Proper Pull Up?
We’ve explored the questions “What is a pull up?”, “What is the purpose of pull ups?” and “What are the benefits of pull ups?”
Let’s now answer the question “What is a proper pull up?”
If you’re new to pull ups or are looking to improve your form, you’ll stand to gain some clarity on this topic.
To execute a proper pull up, place your hands on a pull up bar with palms facing away from you and your grip several inches wider than shoulder width on each hand. Before placing your hands on the bar, you might wish to raise your arms and form a 90-degree angle with your elbows. This will help you dial in a natural grip width.
This grip is referred to as the standard pull up grip, or classic pull up grip. Hang all the way down, keeping your back as straight as possible,ideally with your legs completely extended or, if indoors and ceiling height is limited, with your knees bent. Whether your legs are fully extended or bent at your knees, it’s advised that you do not cross your ankles or knees, as this can introduce rotation into your pelvis and hip joints.
Next, pull yourself up until your chin clears the bar. Here, at the topmost part of the exercise motion, you can choose whether to pause briefly before lowering yourself all the way back down and repeating the exercise.
It’s important to highlight that some exercise enthusiasts maintain that arms should be fully extended to 180 degrees when you lower your body. Some others contend, however, that it’s not critical to fully extend your arms to 180 degrees but to extend them to about 150 degrees or even 135 degrees, the midway point between 180 degrees and 90 degrees, especially if doing pull ups in rapid succession and/or as part of a timed workout.
Some argue that pausing briefly at the highest and lowest points of the exercise is the one and only way to do pull ups, and others argue that we’d naturally use body momentum when climbing trees, just as our closest genetic relatives, chimpanzees, do.
Even calisthenics legend Herschel Walker—a retired pro football player, Olympic bobsledder and mixed martial artist whose body is as defined and chiseled as a statue—played around with full and partial extension of exercises such as push ups.
As you can see, there is certainly some debate on how to do a proper pull up, making it such that providing a simple answer to the question “What is a proper pull up?” somewhat of a challenge.
Moreover, you can do pull ups with different grips such as wide grip, narrow grip and even hammer grip, which represent a cross between pull ups and chin ups, with this neutral grip resembling your hand position when holding a hammer. Of course, the sister exercise to pull ups is the chin up, and these can be done with different grips such as standard (or classic) grip, wide grip and narrow grip.
How Can I Incorporate Pull Ups Into My Daily Routine?
Now that you’ve learned a few things about pull ups, you might be wondering, “How can I incorporate pull ups into my daily routine?”
Know that there are several ways that you can incorporate pull ups into your daily routine. If you already are engaged in a regular exercise program, you can choose to do pull ups at the beginning of your workout, at the end of your workout or perhaps strategically place them before or after related exercises such as push ups.
You might even choose to do pull ups separately from the rest of your workout as a way to give your body an energy boost before lunch or dinner, for example.
Some people enjoy working out at a local gym a few days a week and complement these workouts with short calisthenic exercises on other days.
It’s easy to see that options abound when determining how you can incorporate pull ups into your daily routine.
Personally, I enjoy doing timed calisthenics bursts early into my daily Posture Exercises Method routines. I first do special posture exercises to put my body into a neutral state and then proceed with the rest of my workout, featuring a 2-minute-and-30-second calisthenics burst followed by 40 minutes of incredibly effective Posture Exercises Method movements, poses and stretches.
What Is a Pull Up?: Summary
In this article, we’ve taken a good look at pull ups, answering the question “What is a pull up?” and several other questions.
As highlighted, a pull up is a fantastic exercise to enhance your upper-body strength and overall condition level. Doing pull ups can help you keep your body functional and able to do some common tasks such as carrying bags of groceries and household errands.
We’ve also explored that options exist when considering proper pull up form as well as how to incorporate pull ups into your daily routine.
I’ve also mentioned that the Posture Exercises Method can help you achieve chronic pain relief and peak performance in all you.
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