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Fitness 101: How To Do A Pull-Up

Posted on: by Women's Health
Woman doing a pull-up

By Michelle October

Get an arm-up on the boys with this boss move.

Pull-ups aren’t exactly the most common move in the gym – especially for women. And that’s probably because, in general, women don’t have great upper-body strength – and the pull-up is no joke! If you look closely, even most of the guys are doing it wrong. But Dominique Mann, SA aerobics gymnastic champion and international gold medallist, says you’re totally missing out. “It’s an amazing exercise to tone your entire upper body and strengthen your core, which is so important for your posture and creating a flat tummy. Being able to pull up your own body weight is always the goal,” she says. Besides being prepared for some real-life cliff-hanging, mastering the pull-up means you’re engaging a ton of muscle groups. “You’re using your forearms, biceps, triceps, lats (the broad muscles right under your shoulder blades), front of shoulders and core,” says Darren Avondo, strength and fitness coach at Point Break Fitness in Cape Town. Can’t even lift one centimetre? It’s still worth doing, say the experts.

But beware – straining too hard could spell trouble for your muscles. To minimise injury, take it slowly, get your form right and use a spotter or a mirror. To start, scale your movements by using power bands for assistance: loop the band over the bar, stretch it down and step into it. Start with a strong band and go lighter as you get stronger.

Learn the lingo

Hollow-body position It consists of holding your body in a concave position (make a giant banana shape), with your legs pointing out in front of you slightly to promote stability. It’ll engage the abs more, encourage better form and help to prevent strain on the back. “This is an important shape, because it activates the core – your body’s centre of gravity. When any functional movement is performed, it’s important to firstly activate your core and move from your centre of gravity,”
says Avondo.

Your bonus: those killer abs you’ve been dreaming about.

Signs you’re doing it wrong

1/You’re jerking and swinging – “You’re putting strain on your back and rotator-cuff muscles – the ones important for keeping your shoulders stable during movements,” says Cameron Coomer, a physiotherapist at Celia Smith & Associates. Aim for a slow, controlled movement.

2/ You’re arching your back – “This places strain on the facet joints of the back (the ones that make you flexible). Doing high volumes of pull-ups with poor form could lead to back pain,” says Coomer. Use the hollow-body position to avoid this.

Avoid if…

You have lower-back and shoulder pain.

Looking for more basic moves to master? Here’s how you can ace the stability-ball pike, the bicep curltricep dip, the squat, the dead lift and the sit-up like a pro.

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