The Pull-Up or Chin-Up is one of those movements that has been around for a long time. All the way back to gym class in school and there would be testing to see how many pull-ups someone could do.
There probably wasn’t anyone making sure they were being done with perfect technique, or at least good technique. If your gym teacher was watching, they were probably just counting the reps until you were done.
But, if you walk into a gym and see someone performing pull-ups, chin-ups, or any other vertical pulling variation, technique is probably being butchered.
If you are having trouble performing a pull-up or chin-up, check out my guest post on TD Athlete’s Edge here on how to improve them.
There are many areas where technique can break down including:
Lumbar Spine Extension
Using the Arms vs Upper Back
Tractioning of the Upper Body
Excessive Shoulder Extension
Now, if you perform this miscues once or twice, not a big deal! The problem arises when they are performed rep after rep, set after set, over time in your training sessions. By decreasing this miscues in your training sessions, it will help you remain in the iron game longer and stay healthier.
How Do I Fix Them?
Well, there are tips on how to strengthen your weaker points in my guest post on TD Athlete’s Edge from above.
If there are no major strength issues, then different cues can help to improve or maintain technique.
Miscue #1: Lumbar Spine Extension
If you find yourself arching your low back and/or your low back hurts after performing pull-ups, etc., then improving your core position can help.
Before you even think of pulling, set-up your core and trunk position and think:
“Bringing Your Ribs Down Towards Your Belt.”
By bringing the ribs down towards your belt, this can help to engage the anterior core musculature and in turn places the spine in a more neutral position. By doing this, it can help to decrease issues at the shoulders and low back as well as transmit force better throughout the kinetic chain.
Miscue #2: Forward Head
Another common area where issues can arise is when the head starts to translate forward as the person performing the pull-up attempts to bring their chin over the bar.
This can sometimes be corrected with instructing the person to keep a “packed neck” or “make a double chin.”
Many times, this miscue will also happen if someone is performing a 3-rep max on pull-ups/chin-ups and they are working their hardest to complete those reps.
Now, it is understood that sometimes technique will falter during max testing. But if the head/chin is continuing to translate forward even with the “packed neck” cue, then try using
“Pull Your Chest to the Bar.”
By pulling the chest to the bar, this can help to eliminate the tendency for the person to want to push their head forward. When attempting to bring their chest to the bar, the chest is the reference point for a completed rep, not the chin and can help to improve neck position.
Miscue #3: Using the Arms Vs. the Upper Back
Another part of the pull-up that can be an issue is initiating the movement with the arms vs the upper back.
Both the arms and the upper back are integral parts to being able to perform a chin-up or a pull-up.
The problem arises when the upper back isn’t utilized to help perform the movement. Issues such as irritation to:
-Long Head of the Biceps
-Short Head of the Biceps
can occur due to this technique flaw as well as increased difficulty due to using a smaller muscle group such as the biceps, etc. as compared to the upper back musculature.
A cue that can also help with this is to think of initiating the movement at the scapulae/shoulder blades. By thinking of “bringing the shoulder blades into the back pockets” at the initiation of the movement, this can help to iron out issues of initiating the movement with the arms vs the back.
Miscue #4: Tractioning of the Upper Body
Not only is this not efficient to do from a mechanics standpoint due to the relaxing of the upper body as well as not maintaining tension, it can place increased stress on the shoulder, specifically the:
Over time, this can create issues at the shoulder that can be minimized through not allowing the upper body to completely relax at the bottom of the chin-up/pull-up.
I am not saying someone should keep their shoulder blades in their back pockets during the entirety of the movement, but controlling the descent back to the starting position as well as maintaining some tension in the upper back musculature can be ideal for shoulder health and performance.
One cue that can help is to “stay tight.” This cue is accompanied with some tactile feedback from the coach to the client by touching between the inferior angles of the scapulae. By instructing the person to “stay tight,” this can help to avoid the traction position.
Also, thinking of straightening the elbows before allowing the shoulders to traction/shrug up can be another way to think of it.
Miscue #4: Excessive Shoulder Extension
This miscue can occur when people don’t incorporate using their upper back into the movement. Of course, shoulder extension needs to occur to some extent when performing the pull-up, but it can become excessive when the humerii translate past the plane of the body.
As mentioned above with the forward head miscue, by using the cue, “bring your chest to the bar",
can help to remedy any excessive shoulder extension issues.
If you or your clients are having issues with lumbar spine extension, forward head posture, or sub-par movement of the upper body during the pull-up or chin-up, try some of these cues to help clean up technique and improve upper body pulling performance.
Here I will be writing and posting about topics ranging from physical therapy, injury prevention/reduction, and strength and conditioning.