In this article, we’re going to answer the following pull-up questions. How far apart should your grip be? What should the scapula be doing during pull-ups? Is it best to arch the lower back or keep a hollow body position? This three-step guide is going to teach you how to troubleshoot your pull-up problems. By the end of this article, you’re going to have clarity regarding what technique is best for you to do pull-up correctly.
A question for you: Do you train pull-ups with a goal of increasing strength or size? Comment now, because your response directly impacts what technique to use.
How far apart should your grip be to pull up correctly?
Selecting the right grip width based on your goals is paramount for successful pull-ups. There are two major techniques you should be deciding to do your pull up correctly: shoulder width or wide grip.
Standard width pull-up
The standard width pull-up variation is going to challenge the sagittal plane of motion aka forward to back direction. You can see that a shoulder-width arrangement encourages the elbows to maintain a more tucked orientation.
Consequently this type of pulling setup is biasing shoulder extension to a greater extent.
At the top of each pull up you can see how the elbows are able to drive back quite significantly. Based on the hand placement it’s also going to be more conducive to perform chest to bar reps.
Wide grip pull-up variation
Moving on, let’s contrast with the other option a wider grip pulling technique. The wide grip pull-up variation emphasizes challenge within the frontal plane of motion aka side to side. The wider we go with our grip our shoulder position becomes more abducted.
As a result of this setup, our elbows will start to flare out in order to maintain congruence with our shoulder anatomy. Going wider is going to inherently limit the range of motion strength when pulling up. Our bony anatomy constraints force us to settle for chin height reps.
What grip to use to pull up correctly?
Deciding what grip to use is simple when you know what your goal is from your pull-up training. It’s safe to assume those of you are reading or are pursuing bodyweight and calisthenics strength goals.
A shoulder-width grip makes the most sense for our needs. Here’s why. Think about the specificity of setup and global elbow mechanics, advanced calisthenics generally requires shoulder-width elbows in technique.
It makes sense to train using a technique that supports our goals at large.
For those pursuing predominantly aesthetic physique-based goals, there can be value for also incorporating wider grip pulls. Bodybuilders have long promoted the use of different techniques to maximize muscle growth.
If the goal is increasing back size and you feel the lats working to a greater extent going wide definitely choose that. Also, there is a definite argument to be made for the benefits of wide grip from a general variation standpoint.
Employing a range of grip widths is standard bodybuilding practice. Doing so is proposed to exhaust the back muscles from alternate directions, comprehensively targeting otherwise dormant fibers.
The simple fact that you’re doing pull-ups with a growth mindset should be celebrated. Just keep in mind that over time your goals and your preferences are going to change. So be willing to adapt accordingly.
What should the scapula be doing during pull-ups?
It’s time to gain confidence regarding what scapular technique is best during pull-ups.
Once again there are two techniques to decide between fear pull-ups: scapular disengaged or engaged.
As the name suggests scapular engage form requires us to remain active during our set. The idea is to maintain scapular depression, shoulders actively lowered away from our ears.
This method ensures our back and rotator cuff muscles provide active stability. With this technique, our body is constantly in tension and rigidity becomes a priority.
Let’s contrast this with the other popular technique the disengaged hang.
The only difference here is once we lower into a straight arm position we further relax into a passive hang. Clearly, we can see the obvious increase in the range of motion afforded by this option.
At the bottom of each rep our body is resting off tension during the transition between reps.
Once again deciding between the two depends on your priority and goals.
Scapular engaged is a good choice under the following circumstances:
- You have hypermobility or experience weakness or pain with passive hangs. A Scapular engaged pull-up technique promotes stability and minimizes passive joint loading because our muscles are remaining active at all times. Pain inhibition won’t be a problem with remaining engaged.
- Your priority is improving scapular engaged exercises. The muscle-up is a perfect example of this objective. We want our pull-up training to reflect the pulling goals, we otherwise have in our calisthenics programming. If we don’t train engaged and expect to perform engaged this disparity in development relative to wants will be reflected with subpar output.
Next, we’re going to consider when it’s valuable to choose a scapular disengaged technique.
- When increasing muscle mass is the main objective disengage for sure. Hypertrophy science is quite conclusive regarding the range of motion. The more the merrier, if it doesn’t impact mechanical tension output. By relaxing into a passive hang between pull-ups, we’re truly getting a full range of motion.
All the prime mover muscles are getting stretched to a larger extent when undergoing further shoulder flexion.
- Another reason being if your goals are general in nature with respect to building strength aka not overly specific. The beauty of disengaging is you get to expose the scapula to greater articulation.
This added complexity provides the body with further movement options and further educates under wider circumstances. As you can see either option has its benefits.
At the end of the day as long as if you’re using control tempo, strict technique and you’re not kipping, either option is definitely a winner.
Is it best to arch the lower back or keep a hollow body position?
Lastly let’s discuss the age-old question. What should the core be doing with pull-ups?
To pull up correctly there are two techniques you should consider, the arch body or the hollow body.
Keeping the lumbar spine extended and the chest up is how we want the posture for the arch body. We’re employing global extension which emphasizes the posterior chain or back of the body.
An interesting point is this technique decreases the distance we need to pull because the chest is raised higher relative to the bar. It’s easier to achieve a full range of motion.
When employing an arch I find it useful to squeeze the glutes to increase full-body tension and stability.
Another common technique in calisthenics is the hollow body pulling style. We’re using global flexion which biases the anterior chain or frontal integrity of the body.
The benefits of rigidity come at a cost. We have to pull further from the start to reach the bar. During the hollow method keep the legs tight and forward of the hips. This is going to keep the anterior core braced and on tension.
You guessed it. Choosing between the arch or the hollow depends on a few factors.
The arch body is preferred under the following circumstances:
- If maximum output regarding reps or weight lifted is important arch. As mentioned earlier we get the most global back and posterior chain muscle recruitment with this method. Further, the technique is mechanically advantageous, meaning, performance is prioritized.
- If you don’t care about specific strength gains and just want to build muscle go ahead and arch. Progressive overload can be applied to a larger and faster extent with the arch pull.
This is because our body will employ the most mechanically advantageous recruitment strategies to get the job done.
Hollow bodies should be chosen in the following scenarios to pull up correctly:
- For those of you training muscle-ups, it makes sense to train hollow body pulls. As we always teach fitness faqs, strength gain occurs in the patterns trained, if you’re pursuing pulling goals that integrate a hollow body component pull-out practice should reflect this environment.
- If you find pain when you’re arching and hollow body causes no issues, hollow.
There you have it everyone that’s your three-step guide correct pull up correctly. Based on this article did you learn something new? Are you gonna change the way you train calisthenics now or into the future? Let’s have a discussion in the comments section.