We've all been guilty of cheating a pull-up. Some people kip, some do half reps, and others do that "swing" that looks suspiciously similar to a kip. If you want to test your true relative upper-body strength, master a strict pull-up.
This is a little more complicated than it first appears. A strict pull-up involves proper scapular retraction and core engagement so that your torso stays neutral and your ribs stay down during the movement.
A "true" strict pull-up does NOT involve trying to lift your chest to the bar to shorten your range of motion. In fact, the goal of a strict pull-up is to keep the ribs down as you pull yourself upwards. This allows for maximum core engagement.
Here's what a pull up with a loss of core engagement looks like, verses a strict pull-up:
Here the ribs lift and the body goes away from the bar at the top of the movement. The core isn't activated properly. This pull-up is relying on a slight kip to start the movement. And it relies very heavily on the elbow flexors (biceps) to finish the movement.
Notice that the ribs stay down and the body is pulled towards the bar at the top of the movement. This demonstrates proper core engagement.
Where Do You Stand?
If you want to know how you stack up, check out the chart. And remember, we're talking about strict pull-ups here:
How to Master the Perfect Pull-Up
Here's are the steps:
1 – Practice Good Core Engagement
One reason people can't do a strict pull-up is because their core is either weak or not activating correctly. If you struggle to keep the ribs down during a pull-up, try adding the following exercises into your routine to retrain your core to brace properly.
The focus of this exercise is to pull down your ribcage and retract your shoulder blade. Place your opposite arm on your ribcage and feel yourself pull your ribs down. Once you've stabilized your core, remove your hand.
This gymnast staple is great for teaching you how to tighten up your body. Try to pull your belly button to your spine and flatten your lower back to the floor when doing this exercise. If your back lifts off the floor, modify the movement by bringing your arms down to the sides of the body.
2 – Practice Scapular Retraction and Lat Activation
Another reason you may be struggling with the strict pull-up is a lack of scapular retraction and lat activation. Many people rely too heavily on their biceps when trying to perform a pull-up. Practicing the movements below will train you to use the large muscles of the back.
This movement is great for enhancing mobility through the scapula as well training the external rotators of the shoulder to fire correctly.
Doing this exercise teaches your lats to engage. Think of pulling your shoulders down from your ears to do this exercise. As you do, make sure you pull your ribcage downward by engaging your core.
If your shoulders ever get irritated when doing pull-ups, try to do some soft tissue work on the upper pecs and front part of your shoulder. Doing this should loosen them up a bit and will create less restriction during the pull-up.