Pull Up When performed with good technique and as part of a balanced program, Pull Ups are an ideal exercise to develop Lat muscles (Latissimus Dorsi) in the middle back. These muscles are key to core stability, coordinating power from hips and core, and transferring that power through the upper body. When Pull Ups are performed improperly and or overused, they may actually increase the risk of shoulder and back injuries.
Note: The best Pull Up grip for shoulder elbow, and wrist health, and the only grip I use with overhead athletes, is a neutral grip—palms facing. The overhand and/or underhand grip may be appropriate for non-overhead athletes with good shoulder mobility and without existing shoulder pain or injuries.
- Grab the pull up bar with a shoulder width grip, arms extended while still keeping tension. Avoid a dead hang—losing all tension and allowing shoulders to shrug toward your ears. The dead hang places strain on your biceps tendons and rotator cuffs.
- Engage muscles around mid-section (as if expecting a punch to the gut). When Pull Ups are done improperly, the ribcage flares upward and the back hyperextends, which indicates a lack of core recruitment and increased risk of back injury. In a proper Pull Up, the spine remains neutral from neck to tailbone, and the scapula rotates upward and downward on the rib cage.
- With core engaged, pull yourself straight up toward the bar until your chin clears the bar. Think about pulling through with your elbows as your shoulder blades rotate downward and together. End with elbows even with or slightly in front of your torso. Avoid rounded back, shoulders forward, or elbows finishing behind the torso, all of which hinder scapular movement and increase risks for shoulder injury and dysfunction. Also avoid reaching your chin forward at the top of a Pull Up; The forward head position leads to neck pain and muscle imbalance.
- Under control, lower yourself to starting position—arms extended while still keeping tension— allowing shoulder blades to rotate upward and wrap around your rib cage.
Note: A standard Pull Up requires athletes to lift 100 percent of their body weight. Because most athletes—especially at youth level—don’t have adequate strength to do a proper bodyweight Pull Up, the solution is a Band-Assisted Pull Up (see below).
Note: Emphasize Horizontal Pulling (Band or Cable Rows, Inverted Pull Ups, and DB Rows)
While Pull Ups can be a useful part of an overall program, they are frequently overused. Coaches often program Pull Ups in every workout as the primary pulling exercise; but Pull Ups are middle back dominant (not shoulder stabilizers) and don’t count toward the balance of pull to push. Overhead athletes typically require a 2 or 3 to 1 ratio of horizontal pulling to pushing. Non-overhead athletes require at least a 1 to 1—and more often a 2 to 1—ratio of horizontal pulling to pushing. In addition, too much emphasis on vertical pulling can put the scapula in excessive downward rotation, eventually interfering with the ability to produce healthy upward rotation of the scapula. Scapular upward rotation is necessary for arms to move safely overhead.
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