Perfect form is one thing in the gym. Conditions are right. The equipment it perfectly constructed so your hands can sit at the most comfortable angle and even has padding. Now that so many of us are working out from home, improvising is necessary. And when you’re in an uncomfortable environment with unfamiliar equipment focusing on form can easily slip from your mind.
First we will take a look at some ways to do pull-ups outside of the gym. Then we’ll review what perfect form looks like and give some pointers on how you can make sure you are keeping injury free while doing pull ups with the equipment you have available to you now.
How To Do Home Pull Ups
The most ideal home set up would be a door frame pull up bar. With how hard it has been to get exercise equipment online though this may not be an option for you right away. My clients have seen wait times as long as 8 weeks to receive equipment orders made online. So let’s look at some additional options.
My preferred pull up equipment for the last two months has been my TRX. Again, this could require some wait time if you have to order a TRX online. But besides resistance bands a TRX has been the piece of equipment I have recommended to the highest number of my clients who are training from home. If you aren’t trying to build an entire home gym and need one piece of equipment that will allow you to do the biggest variety of exercises and hit the muscles, a TRX is the way to go. One other great plus of using a TRX for those who aren’t ready for body weight pull ups is that your feet are planted on the ground, meaning when you start to fail (no cheating until you absolutely fail) you can use some assistance from your legs to finish your set out.
While you’re waiting for your bar, or TRX, you can’t let your lats disappear! So what options are there. For those in the suburbs, see if you can find a tree! I searched my backyard and managed to find one tree that was sturdy and parallel enough to hold be up. This may require some additional form improvising we’ll talk about later. If you’re in the city, or don’t have a good sturdy tree, find something that can hold your body weight and string a strong towel over the top of it. Again here we’re not in a gym so the grip will be off and the pull up will be way harder, but desperate times call for desperate measures if you want to keep those wings.
Perfect Pull Up Form
Pull Ups might just be the most difficult upper body exercise to complete perfectly even in the gym, so let’s go through a reminder of how to set up your pull up.
Pack Your Lats
This is most important to protect yourself from straining your neck. There are a few ways I have used to describe this to my clients. (1) The traditional roll your shoulder back and down is one way to think about it. If that’s confusing you try thinking of one of these. (2) Try to make pockets under your armpits. (3) Pull your shoulders away from your ears. Keeping your lats firing not only makes sure you don’t try and pull with the muscles that run into your neck, but also makes sure you maximize the benefit of the exercise in your lats.
Tuck Your Chin
Again this is important in not straining your neck. Tucking your chin, or trying to make a dreaded double chin, lengthens your cervical spine (the first seven vertebrae of your spine). There are over 20 muscles in your neck, but the most common issues can occur in the trapezius (traps), or levator scapulae (the muscles in the side of your neck).
Tighten Your Core
That’s right your core needs to be activated in a pull up too. This may be difficult initially, but in the long run will allow you to generate the most power and strength and do the most reps your body can handle. It may be difficult to activate your core once you’re suspended in the air, so you may want to start prepping before you are holding the bar. To properly activate your core think about tucking the bottom of your rib cage down towards your belly button and keeping your hips neutral (most often people have anterior pelvic tilts, think Kim Kardashian butt, from sitting at a desk most of their day) by rocking your hips forward. If your doing this correctly you should feel all of your abdominal muscles working before you even add weight.
Form Adjustments For Home Equipment
Finally, to make sure you’re staying safe even in this unfamiliar environment, let’s look at a few adjustments you will need to make at home.
TRX pull ups are done with your feet on the ground. So you need to set yourself up in an unfamiliar position. First you should think about trying to make a straight line from the top of the TRX all the way down to your hips. Once you have that set up, tuck your knees in towards your chest and put your feet flat on the ground. As you start pulling make sure you don’t use your legs unless you absolutely have to. It’s easy to be lazy, but if you don’t want to get back to the gym and be doing 5 pull ups instead of your usual 10, challenge yourself the full set.
When completing pull ups from non-traditional gym equipment like a tree you may not be able to evenly distribute your weight. The branch I have been using isn’t the strongest, so I shift my weight towards the inside hand, closes to the trunk of the tree, and alternate the direction I face each set. If you are going the towel route, I recommend holding as close to the top of the towel as possible. Your forearms will burn. And you don’t want to slide right off the end and cost yourself a couple reps you otherwise could have completed.