How-To: Proper Pullup/Chinup Technique

Over the next week I’ll be covering some key concepts related to the recently-released Primal Blueprint Fitness. You can get your own copy of the free eBook here. Yesterday I covered proper pushup technique. Next up, proper pullup/chinup technique.

Not everyone loves doing pullups and chinups, but they are an absolutely necessary part of the Primal Blueprint Fitness program. See, with most other bodyweight exercises, it’s possible to make the case for the superiority of their weighted analogues. There is at least a debate to be had for bench presses and barbell squats versus pushups and pistol squats, but nothing trumps the pullup. You could spend years training with lat pulldowns and bent over rows, but they will never match the strength-building capacity of pullups and chinups.

Pushups don’t ask you to handle your entire body weight; you’ve always got your feet on the ground, taking a load off your upper body. Pullups force you to manipulate the entirety of your body weight. If you are good at pullups and chinups, you possess, by definition, a superior strength-to-body-weight ratio. In our distant (and not so distant) past, the ability of a human to pull his or her own body weight up and over cliffs, branches, vines, and trees was crucial for his or her success and survival. Likewise, we modern humans must be able to manipulate our body weight on the vertical plane if we want to call ourselves physically fit. Training pullups and chinups are the most effective ways to develop that ability. They make us strong; strong enough to climb ropes and trees and pull things toward us with great effectiveness. The pullup is vital – here’s how to do it.

How to Do the Basic Pullup/Chinup

  1. Begin from a dead hang: arms fully extended, hands about shoulder width apart (palms facing out for pullups, facing you for chinups), elbows straight, chest up, shoulders back and tight, eyes trained on the bar above.
  2. Pull yourself up toward the bar, leading with the chest and keeping your eyes focused on the bar. Drive your elbows toward the floor.
  3. Clear the bar with your chin.
  4. Lower yourself in a controlled fashion, then repeat the process.

Things to Remember

  1. Stay honest when you clear the bar. Don’t lift your chin and strain your neck just so you can say you cleared it. You run the risk of pinching a nerve and cutting off muscular power.
  2. Keep your body neutral. Don’t swing with your hips to generate momentum on a strict pullup or chinup.
  3. Keep those shoulder blades tight/retracted. Pulling with a loose shoulder girdle can lead to rotator cuff problems.
  4. Chinups work the biceps more and are slightly easier than pullups, which work the back more.

That’s the basic pullup or chinup. If you can do these, you’re stronger and fitter than most people!

Now, watch this video on proper form and technique for the first 4 of 9 total pullup movements in the PBF Lift Heavy Things bodyweight progression.

Find out where you should begin in the pullup progression by taking the self-assessment test found in Primal Blueprint Fitness and then get started today!

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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100 thoughts on “How-To: Proper Pullup/Chinup Technique”

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  1. How do you feel about the inverted or Australia pullup as an alternative in the progression?

    1. I’m a fan of inverted pullups/rows. You’ll see rows, dips, lunges and other variations of PBF Essential Movements in Workouts of the Week (WOWs).

      For those wondering what we’re talking about check out this video from Al Kavadlo:

  2. Why did you choose to go with strict pull-ups rather than kipping pull-ups? Kipping pull-ups seem like a much more functional exercise.

    1. Snarky answer: Because the goal is strength and fitness, not tendonitis and bursitis.

      Real answer: There is a good argument that the upstroke of a kipping pullup is a more natural or functional or primal or whatever motion, but the hard landing onto the joints of the negative half of the motion is not natural and definitely not something that our bodies are made to do repetitively. We’re built to climb things; we’re not really built to climb a little way up something and then change our mind about it 100 times. Grok’s brain may have been a little smaller than ours, but he wasn’t that much of a bonehead.

      Rock climbers found this out the hard way in the 70’s when everyone started training by going up and down overhung ladders and promptly developed elbow problems. A lot of people doing lots of reps of kipping pullups are getting the same injuries these days — it’s probably the most common injury from crossfit.

      Most body weight exercises create a kind of natural equilibrium in the positive and negative motions that allow a lot of different muscle groups to get in on the act when they’re done dynamically. Pullups, unfortunately, just don’t work that way. You can use virtually your whole body getting yourself up in a kipping pullup, but on the way down only the arms and shoulders can get in on the act. No coach would tell you do do 100 pushups where you pushed up with both arms but only lowered down with your right, but that’s what kipping pullups amount to.

      If you can do the upstroke of a kipping pullup and a controlled lower that’s a lot more like a static pullup you’re getting the benefit of the full body movement without doing the damage of a hard lower, but you can spend hours and hours watching people doing kipping pullups at gyms or on the web and maybe see one in 20 people actually doing this. It’s rough on the ego to go from doing 100 kipping pullups to maybe 20 like this, and it cuts against the “strength exercises done for time” mentality of crossfit — you can snap out bad kipping pullups a lot faster than you can do controlled lowers.

      1. I cannot agree with this. I do lots of kipping pullups for CrossFit all the time without injury (and my form’s not perfect).

        Your argument that only the upstroke of the kipping pullup uses the whole body is patently false. One kips on both the upward and downward movements. During the downstroke, you do this by pushing off with your arms and shoulders while simultaneously arcing the rest of your body into a “C” shape. This whole process creates momentum in the horizontal plane that is transferred to momentum in the vertical plane.

        In the downstroke, you are effectively training to push yourself under an object at an high(er) speed–a highly athletic movement that is transferable to many other skills. Assuming that you agree that the pull under during a snatch or clean is valuable, the natural extension of this is that the kipping pullup is valuable.

        The kipping pullup increases maximum (and average) power output, requires more total-body fitness than a dead hang pull up, and is more functional.

        Why would you choose not to do them?

        1. So you’re claiming that you’re actually absorbing just as much momentum on the downstroke kip as you’re generating on the upstroke and not transferring any excess to the elbow joint? Or that you’re actually generating more downward momentum and then converting it into forward force. If the former were the case you wouldn’t swing forward, if the latter were the case then that just feeds my argument that you’re generating force with other muscles on the upstroke and then transferring it to the elbow joints on the downstroke. That’s the recipe for tendonitis.

        2. I work out in a crossfit gym, but do my own programming (mtnathlete). In the last 2 years I have seen at least 9 specific instances where folks injured themselves kipping. That’s just remembering off the top of my head and happened when I was in the gym. Shoulders, elbows, and even, somehow, a knee (don’t ask me to explain the physics of it, but it wasn’t a “contact” injury it was in the motion). I would second the observation that it is by far the most common injury for crossfitters.

          I know crossfit makes kipping a priority and I used to do lots of them. But after a while I realized that they really didn’t make me any stronger, mobile or flexible. I quadrupled the # of kipping pullups I could do, but the number of strict pullups stayed essentially the same (+1 rep or a 5% increase). That is to say, doing lots of kipping pullups made me better at doing kipping pullups. Sweet. If you’re like me and train in the gym to be better outside the gym, then you want to focus your gym time on movements with the most carryover. Kipping just isn’t one of them.

      2. Also, the key movement of a kipping pull-up is powerful hip flexion/extension. That is where you are driving from, and is the key to chaining a number of kipping pull-ups together. If your scapula are retracted and your shoulders and core are tight through the movement I really don’t see how you could get the injury you describe in the plane of motion you would travel. It sounds like you are talking about dropping straight down at the top of the bar until your elbows lock, which is patently NOT the way to do a KPU.

        1. A kipping pull-up is not practical, primal or otherwise a good idea unless you have room for the swing and a small bar or small (really strong) branch to hang onto.

          Try kipping up a rock face, a window ledge, or a large diameter branch that you cannot fully wrap your hand around.

          If you are shooting for big numbers of reps or trying to make the movement more metabolic then a kip is great but it is not inherently superior to other types of pull-ups.

          Have a look at the MovNat videos for a truly practical “pull-up”. It more closely resembles a dead-hang than a kip and uses the legs to mount the branch.

      3. You can also give yourself rhabdomyolosis by doing the ‘controlled’ lowering.

        It isn’t actually about ‘ego’ at all.

  3. I know there are a lot of people who won’t even attempt a pull up because they think they can’t do them. I just wanted to point out that you can get resistance bands that will assist with pull ups, allowing you to do the motion and build your muscles until you can do them unassisted.

    1. Thanks jus! I’m starting to build my strength with the 100 pushups (& situps & squats) routine & I need to begin adding the pull-ups. I like the band idea… I also think the reverse progression will work for me.

    2. I love these videos! Pull ups are something I’ve especially been wanting to work on. I’ve never been able to do a full pull up in my life, but it’s great to see how to progress through each step to get stronger.

    3. Where can we get more information on the band technique? I am totally intimidated by the pushup. I cannot do even your most basic with the stool or chair. I suspect there are a lot of women in particular in my situation, 57+ with minimal upper body strength.

      I hate getting frustrated on Day 1!

  4. Mark,

    Great post! Pull ups and chin ups in my opinion are the best resistance exercise anyone can do. Between sprinting and chin ups you’ve got yourself a superior workout to just about anything. I’ve also found that chin ups (when done often for max reps) develop the biceps much larger and more defined than any other direct bicep workout done with free weights.

  5. While I understand the purpose of strict pull-ups from a purely strength perspective (and do incorporate them into my training on an occasional basis), I would argue that the kipping pull-up is a far superior movement when it comes to functionality, power generation and overall athleticism.

    If you watch a person surmount an obstacle using a pull-up type movement, he or she will invariably use power generated from a hip and/or shoulder swing to do so. So why, then, would we advocate practicing a movement in a different and less “functional” way than we intend to use it?

    Comments? Opinions?

    1. The rationale, as I see it, is that strict form isolates and strengthens the specific muscles used for the pull, so that, should you need to flee from a predator (whether you’re being stalked in a park or otherwise), the inclusion of the rest of the body in the move will make it that much easier.

    2. In terms of the training effect, the use of ‘kipping’ pull-ups varies significantly to that of a ‘standard/strict’ equivalent.

      Kipping employs more momentum but generally sees a quicker rate of muscular contraction. This recruits more motor units and therefore more muscle fibre, but results in less time under tension. Compared to the strict technique, this gives you more of a neural load rather than a muscular one, which requires more time under tension.

      As alluded to above, this often means that improvements in ‘kipping’ pull-ups are not mirrored in the ‘standard’ equivalent, and vice versa.

      In my opinion, both are useful for different reasons BUT I prefer my clients to do the standard versions as, in my experience, the repetitive/fast/tired movements involved in kipping increase the likelihood of injuries. No doubt Crossfit fans will disagree with me!

    3. So I would ask you then, when exactly do you expect to use it? And where?

      I’m not trying to be overly trite, but the forces and directions that forces are applied to the body with these types of movements are a recipe for injury if the programming isn’t perfect (and a game-ified form of speed weight training is probably not perfect programming).

      The environments I have seen in the cross fit world do not allow enough time for recovery of even light (controlled) induced soft tissue damage, let alone the type of damage that an uncontrolled or at least very dynamic movement like this entail, where you’re absorbing at least a few times body weight directly through your elbows, many times at non-ideal angles, and then instantly bounding back up again right after many times over.

      Remember from physics class, force = mass x velocity^2, meaning that the forces absorbed by the entire body are exponentially higher as you begin to move the body faster and faster. Do you think the body is subjected to greater forces doing and iron cross, or a giant swing on the rings? Giant swings, every day of the week, the forces are 2-4 times body weight depending on exactly how it’s done. We don’t always understand the forces these dynamic movements induce because they happen quickly, but the forces are very, very high.

      Just for reference, when I was training heavily, I would do strength work one day on and two days off, and even this pace left me periodically with injuries to the joints that required a week or two off to clear up (because my programming was not correct and did not leave out enough time to heal). The soft tissue(non-muscle portions of the movement chain) have very little blood flow, so they do not heal quickly at all. Programming is specifically designed to break up the exercises and ensure that these tissues have time to fully recover.

      What you want to strain are the muscles, they are great, they have a lot of blood flow and they heal very quickly. Almost no one has to quit sports because of a muscle body injury; these heal in a week or two, and you move on. Almost all serious injuries are in the tendons, ligaments or cartilage.

      What you want to only lightly and gingerly strain over a very long period and very carefully are the connective tissues (tendons). These heal very slowly but can over a long time be trained to handle much greater loads. But you have to be very cautious because you can easily injure them.

      You need to be on the lookout for these injuries, which can be hard to discern if you haven’t had them before (meaning you possibly have serious damage already) or you have a coach who is more concerned with your longevity in any type of athletics than with keeping the numbers up in their classes.

      What you never want to strain are the ligaments, all these do is take load off of your muscles (when you have bad form, you can load your ligaments to make it feel like you can do more than you can, which always leads to injury to some degree). There are other tissues as well in this vein. Worst of all is cartilage. Cartilage basically doesn’t heal, ever. There’s just almost no blood flow there at all. You never want to load up either ligaments or cartilage (this is generally done through improper form which squeezes the cartilage between the bones and wears it down).

      The problems I see with these movements are that they’re not unnatural on their own, but they are extremely unnatural to do 30 times in 15 seconds. You would never, in the wild, swing yourself up over a limb that many times that quickly. Definitely not repeatedly over the same limb (meaning that the differences in height, etc would strain the tissues differently, perhaps giving some structures less total load as different structures are used with different height and shapes of limbs).

      Actually, if you want to talk about nature, you’d be better off to work on straight, boring, vanilla long range endurance work (jogging), that’s our real leg up over almost all animals on the planet. Incredible feats of upper body strength (for a human) are impressive to us, but not at all what we excel at from a physiological standpoint. Endurance is. We have to train for a long time to do all these neat upper body and strength things, because they’re not natural for us to do. We aren’t arboreal any more, we’re something else.

  6. Mark,

    I have been doing pull-ups consistently ever since I have been primal (4 months).

    When I do them I do half pull-ups and half chin-ups as you would say. Is this ok? What is the difference between a chin-up and pull-up as far as working your muscles goes? Anything?

    If a pull-up is a lot better than I am fine doing just those. I have just been switching the grip as you showed in the video.

    Just wondering what is best overall.

    Thanks for another awesome video and explanation!

    1. “What is the difference between a chin-up and pull-up as far as working your muscles goes?”

      Point 4. “Chinups work the biceps more and are slightly easier than pullups, which work the back more.”

      Both moves work the biceps and back (and grip), but the bulk of the effort shifts from the lats to the biceps when you move from a pronated to supinated grip.

      1. Thanks!

        I do notice my biceps working more when I do a chin up as opposed to a pull-up.

        Do you (or anyone else) think its best to do both or just choose one?

        I will be diving into primal fitness this week – maybe tomorrow.

        1. Chin-ups have a better range of motion throughout the entire movement. I PREFER chin-ups.

          However, a goal of mine is to do muscle-ups…so, I also incorporate pull-ups into my routine as well.

        2. For me, as a climber, pull-ups are more useful. We seldom haul ourselves up a cliff palms toward our faces (palm face?!). But i do some chin-ups just for the sake of working opposing muscle groups. Also I do regular grip (shoulder width) and wide grip pull ups…but the wider grip can irritate my shoulders if I do too many. I also do weighted pull ups, during my serious weight training cycles. (We hang metal weights from the climbing harness or any belt). Then you really get some strength to weight built up! It’d be interesting to hear the primal take on rock rings and hang boards. Pull ups hanging from finger tips on these things are more difficult than from a bar, especially on the swinging rock rings. One should work up tendon strength first though. The thing someone wrote about climbers hurting their elbows on overhanging terrain in the 70s I had never heard. The climbers I know tend to pop tendons or tweak their shoulders. That’s been my main experience…never had any elbow issues. And people boulder overhanging terrain a lot more now than they did in the 70s, since the advent of sticky rubber climbing shoes.

        1. There is an interesing study floating around that suggests you’ll actually get more work through your back (lats etc) through doing chinups rather than pull-ups. The reason being simply that the assistance you get from you biceps allows you to get more reps in.

          Not a game changer but reason enough to feel cool about doing chinups instead of pullups!

          Take it easy folks.

    2. You probably should do all grips, although the half and half grip (hammer grip, or parallel grip) is a favorite for gymnasts because it activates a really small muscle between your bicep and tricep which is essential for the really advanced bodyweight strength work.

      This tiny muscle is worked over really long periods to get really strong, and forms the basis for all the straight arm strength work in the advanced skills.

  7. I’m yet to see pull-ups and its variations performed correctly at my gym. Women don’t even try doing them as they are busy ploughing away on the treadmill or stairmaster.
    Most guys do partial range and never go to a dead hang (their ego takes a beating).
    My personal fav now are the sternum chins where you have to lean back while you pull up and you end up with your sternum touching the bar.
    Strength coach Poliquin’s test of a good trainer is if he/she can get a female to do 12 pull-ups in 12 weeks. That would automatically disqualify most of the ‘trainers’ out there.

    1. I can’t do a dead hang due to a reconstructed right shoulder and a bad back but still get a hell of a workout doing partial. I can almost get to the point of a dead hang but physically its not feasible.

    2. Please be careful suggesting people start from a “dead hang”. It is very important to ALWAYS have your scapulas back and engaged even at the bottom. Failure to do so will inevitably cause shoulder damage. The damage may not occur suddenly but it will occur as time goes on. Many people think a dead hang is just that, hanging with nothing more than your grip engaged. Again this is very dangerous to the delicate shoulder joint.

      1. Agree 100%. Always keeping the muscles engaged is crucial to injury prevention.

      2. The main point being full range of motion and not the dweeb style half range of motion pull ups you see more often

    3. Well MOST women don’t even try doing them but some of us do! I think it doesn’t require any mad trainer skill. All you have to do is do 50 a day, however long it takes ya, every other day, with pull ups and push ups mixed in on odd days. Google for Navy Seals pull up routine. As with sprints, the trick is motivation. As my climbing partner put it, pull-ups are “painful and demoralizing.” But gains can be made quickly…just be doing a bunch of them daily.

  8. I am curious as to whether anyone can tell me how to begin a “kipping” pull-up. I have watched them online, but what is the progression? In other words, how do I know I am concentrating my strength/form in the right way and not just flailing?


    1. Sarah,
      Start with kipping swings to get the rhythm of the movement. Just hang on the bar and practice swinging back and forth metronomically until you feel comfortable with it.

      The power is generated in the leg kick and hips-it is horizontal movement that is converted to vertical movement when you pull. The key, though, is getting used to the swing. Lots of videos out there to learn from. Good luck.

    2. Sorry forgot the other tip that I give on kipping pullups-pretend there is a pole going through your hips around which your body is swinging, so that when your upper body is in front of the bar, your lower half is behind, and vice-versa.

    3. I’ve found that the kip is almost impossible to effectively teach both verbally and textually. Even videos are tricky because it really helps having a person standing next to you noticing what you are doing.

      Try thinking of the two extreme cases. 1) You are doing a strict, deadhang pullup. You are working entirely against gravity pulling yourself directly away from the ground. 2) You are floating in the air vertically, and the bar is out in front of you at arms length and all you have to do is pull yourself toward it. You don’t work against gravity at all.

      It may be useful to think of the kip as a combination of/transition between those two cases. Effectively, you use your “swing” momentum and a hip pop to ripple movement into your upper body and position your it so that you incorporate more horizontal pull instead of pure vertical pull.

      To avoid flailing, keep your feet together and practice hanging from the bar and doing the “parentheses” exercise. Swing lightly, transitioning from a convex to concave shape. Like going from ( to ). Focus on keeping your feet together and as directly under the bar as possible through the whole movement. As your coordination between the swing and changing your body improves, you can push the limits fowards and backwards. At the front of the swing it’ll feel like you’re spreading your chest, arching your back, and throwing yourself forward a bit. The back of the swing you somewhat stick your butt out, but keeping a good curve to the whole length of the body. Towards the back of the swing is when you would explosively pop your hips and pull towards the bar. The exact leg movement is best shown in person…

      As you get better and better, you can reduce your swing for a more effective kip. I left out a lot of nuance, but just getting the hang of the swinging exercise helps a lot.

      1. My daughter’s gymnastics coach used to call the “parentheses” exercise: “Banana, Canoe” 🙂

      1. ^^haha no doubt. Where did that idea come from anyway? I can see kipping to do a soldier mount on the bar, but kipping just to chin up? Uh, worthless.

    4. I would suggest against it. I’d start with just hanging from the bar for 10-15 seconds for a few sets.

      If this is easy, then you can get a stool to get yourself up into the top of the chinup/pullup and with your feet on the stool see how much of you weight you can bear with your arms in a negative.

      If/once this is easy, then move on to straight negatives (eccentrics) attempting to go as slow as possible all the way down.

      Before you know it, you’ll have a full range of motion pull up or chinup, especially if you’re not too far overweight (although if you’re heavier, it will take longer).

      Personally, I wouldn’t do more than 1-3 of these kipping movements every few days (if at all), and I would only do that if you have some specific skill that you want to do that requires you to move that; I have no idea what that skill would be, but that’s the only reason I’d do that personally.

      The problem is that most people kip because they’re too weak to do a strict pull up, not because it’s a new or different skill or represents a progression to something else they want to do. Because they’re too weak to do the pull up, they’re also way too weak to control their body very well during the kip and the drop (both of which subject the body to forces much, much higher than a strict and controlled chinup/pullup), so they compensate all over the place to make up for that lack of strength.

      This is all a recipe for injury because those compensations generally mean the ligaments taking force instead of the muscles (which are too weak to take the force).

      I’d suggest just to work the pull/chin up as a progression, and give yourself a month or two. When I started, I was pretty weak and pretty heavy (5’6″ and about 235 pounds) and I think it took me about 3 months to get a really good, solid, steady and controlled hammer grip chin up.

      By the end of that I would always turn heads at the gym with my full range of motion, ridiculously slow and completely controlled, chinups. You could say stop at any point in the movement and I could freeze and hold there. Few others could actually do that.

  9. Great video. As someone who has struggled with back pain I love pull-ups. these have single handedly (well with a tweak to my diet) have all but erased my pain. I have a pull-up bar that fits the doorway and we leave it downstais so when ever we walk by it we do 2-3. At the end of the day I do about 40-50 on average. Gotta love it.

  10. Kips are great! The crossfit message boards have great discussions about them. Can anybody out there do butterfly pullups? I’m learning them now. Really fun!

  11. Mark,

    I love pull-ups and chin-ups for developing your back and arms. It really does make you feel strong when you can bang out a dozen dead hang pull-ups. My goal is to do 25 dead hang pull-ups (i’m at 15 right now).

    As for kipping pull-ups, they are also a great exercise. You get the added benefit a cardio workout as you can do many more kipping pull-ups versus deadhangs. And let’s face it, if you were hanging off a cliff and had to pull yourself up you would kick and kip as much as you could to get up.

    Do the deadhang version first then once you can do a dozen start working on your kipping. Grok on!


    1. I love a good kip in the gym but on a rock face it’s not really an option. Perhaps if the route were really overhanging but the risk of losing your grip with a big swing would be high.

      The most practical thing to practice in this case are uneven grip pull-ups which more closely emulate what you’d face in the field. Better yet, go climb a rock!

      1. YUP! On a cliff, we stick a leg out and find purchase with our feet. Course grok didnt’ have La Sportiva sticky rubber

    2. Well said. I am a trainer and encourage people to mix in all varieties of pull ups with in their ability. Not just dead hang or kip. Doing pull ups extensively for 6 years I have learned by doing your best to maintain form challenge yourself, your mind and body to try different pull ups at different reps and weights. The kip is what allowed me to first learn the muscle up and after mastering that I was strong enough to perform 10 strict dead hang muscle ups and now after mastering that I am able to perform one super slow muscle up. So mix it all into your routines to achieve maximum results.

  12. I’ve been doing pull ups for years (i’m 48) because i hate gyms.

    I find excercise paths or hang from soccer goal posts. So i can run or walk in between sets.

    Truth is the more you do them, the more you can do.

    Unfortunately, at some point you wear out your elbows and its back to doing fewer in a set.

  13. How much does hand position matter? The bar I have at home has two grips pointed outward, so that when you grip them your palms face each other rather than facing forward (pullup) or backward (chinup). Does this hand position have any value? Also the position of these grips forces the hands to be pretty close together for a standard pullup or chinup – about shoulder width, narrower than I see Mark using in the video. Is this a problem? It doesn’t seem to affect chinups but it makes pullups seem harder.

    1. They all work different muscles more and less in different combinations in the upper arms and forearms.

      You should do them all if they don’t hurt in your joints to do.

      The hands facing each other activates the brachialys, a tiny muscle between the tricep and bicep, which is essential for heavy straight arm strength work (like holding the body up with the biceps with straight arms in an iron cross).

      For normal people not wanting to do this type of thing(cross, back lever, planche, etc.), I don’t know how much it’s worth, but I’d do them all if they don’t hurt you to do.

  14. Mark, thanks for the detailed answer and explanation re kipping pull-ups. I have noticed that while I do use a kip for the upstroke, I have always instinctively used a controlled lower, as you describe at the end of your post. I’d never really given much thought to the reasoning behind it (other than perhaps preserving the skin on my hands!), but now I understand exactly why it feels more comfortable.

  15. Another scaling option that is not often discussed is using a body of water to reduce your body weight. If you have a pool with a corner, you can make an adjustable-height bar that allows you to keep some portion of your body in the water.

    This one’s fun, too, because you get heavier the higher you pull, so you get a nice muscle squeeze at the top of the motion. You stay nice and cool in the summer months, too!

    I’m sure Grok had to make an escape from river rapids by pulling himself out using an overhanging branch at some point.

  16. Any suggestions for a good pullup bar? I have never done a pullup in my life. Haven’t tried, either, ever since 3rd grade gym class where I had to just hang there until the teacher let me drop. My volleyball team called me noodle arm… obviously I need to do these 😉

    1. Any bar that you can reach and grip comfortably. If there’s a park around you with monkey bars they work perfectly.

      1. Thanks jus, I was actually looking for something to use indoors during hot weather…

        1. I have an Iron Gym that works well for me, but be careful because it can leave marks on the wall and door frame.

        2. Hit up amazon, you can grab an iron gym knock off for twenty bucks. I’ve also seen the actually iron gym pull up bar on sale at CVS for twenty five. They work great and have several different places to grip so you can incorporate different types into your routine.

    2. The Lifeline Jungle Gym is a good, portable pull-up/chin-up/body row alternative. It’s not a bar but you can take it anywhere.

  17. wont doing pullups and push ups cause High bp??? In the long run it could lead to Aortic dissection…. :S ?

    1. Ummm…no. Anyone with any experience or knowledge about exercise and its effects on the body will tell you that resistance training is good for your heart.

      Will it cause an elevated heart rate? Yes. That is what exercise does. That’s the sign that your body is working harder than normal which results in adaptation i.e. increased work capacity at whatever it is you’re doing.

    2. This is generally more of a problem when dealing with loads well above bodyweight such as heavy squats. With proper progression you have little to worry about from BW exercises.

  18. Anyone else having elbow issues after a pull/chin session? I know it’s commonly referred to as “golfers elbow” but I ain’t play no golf!!!

    Seriously though, I love pullups but this seems to be my limiting issue.

    Doesn’t seem to bother me doing inverted rows but even after taking about 6 weeks off from doing pulls or chins my elbow (left only) was bugging me after the first session when I got back into them.

    1. I’m wondering about the elbows too. It seems like starting from a dead hang every time would put a lot of stress on them. Or is that just something we need to strengthen? My elbows would always hurt after doing bicep curls too because I’d bring the weights ALL the way back down instead of keeping my arms tense.

    2. If your joints hurt, that means that you need to stop for a bit, probably at least a week by my experience.

      The elbows will adapt, but while the muscles adapt quickly, the tendons don’t. The minute you feel anything in your joints (this is generally a low ache) you should stop (I always had two rest days off and did all my strength work on one day) for a few days and see if it subsides. If it doesn’t, you just wait a week, then two. If it’s not radically improved in two weeks, you need to go see your doctor.

      Also, using compression helps because it locally increases blood pressure, which increases blood flow in the tissues. Those tissues take a long time to heal because of low blood flow, so it helps. Not a miracle, but it helps.

  19. Mark,

    Thanks for the terrific e-book you have changed a lot of lives through your blog/books.

    This is off-topic, but why are there no Deadlift (or other predominatly glute/ham excercises) in the PFB LHT workouts? Does the sprinting work those muscles enough? Or is there another reason?

    Deadlifting is a pretty fundamental human movement, I am wondering why it was not included. Thanks.

  20. My opinion on kipping pullups is that they are fine once in a while. The skill is useful as it is very athletic and functional. You need to know how to kip if you ever want to do a muscleup. They are also useful in the context of a metcon since you involve more of your musculature.

    On the other hand, you still need to do regular pullups and chinups. And when you can do 15 or so you need to add weight. Crossfit is way too enamored with the KPU and they do way too many of them, too often. It isn’t surprising to me that people are getting RSIs from doing 100’s of KPUs every week.

  21. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a progression. I was always expected to just do it from a dead hang.

    This is why I really hated PE in school. Too many kids and we were all expected to just know what to do and be able to do it.

    Great! Now I just need to locate a bar and I can get started! Thanks Mark!

  22. I like the progression. I would have tried to go straight from the two leg assisted to a standard pull-up, and probably would have become quite frustrated.

  23. Hey Mark! First of all, have to thank you so much for the wonderful new ebook on Primal Blueprint Fitness. Secondly, wanted to thank you for this great video clip on how to do a pull up…as the timing is perfect as I just installed a pull-up bar with handles in one of my doorways!
    Also, since I attend the Primal Con 2010, I have been following the PB fairly well and have lost weight, but I notice that my body is really changing shape and composition! I haven’t been doing a lot of exercise, so this new PBF is a great new motivation.
    However, I have to tell you that this summer, a couple of weeks ago in fact, I actually went SURFING for the first time in my life and managed to get on to my knees! Surfing in the Pacific ocean in 12 degrees Celcius (in a wetsuit, ofcourse) is not the same as you probably do it in California, but YOU were my inspiration by your surfing pic on your website! My goal after leaving the Primal Con last April was to be fit enough to surf and I did it! I still have a long way to go..but I really wanted to thank you and share my surfing story with you 🙂

  24. When I was 12 years old I was proud of myself that I could do one handed pull-ups. I have no idea if these are bad for the bod ….but hey, I was 12.

    In college I could only swing myself up on the bar.

    Now, at 70 I can’t even begin to do a pull-up. So, Friday we start with the PBF and I am looking forward to getting strong enough to do at least one pull-up. That will be an accomplishment.

    Thanks Mark for giving us weaklings a place to start.

  25. Mark,
    This is great, but what advice do you have for the pullup challenged? To be able to get to the point of actually being able to do a pull up?

    1. In Mark’s fitness book he demonstrates a progression for pull-ups. He also has links to video demonstrations. I am not fit enough to do a pull up, but I started at level one with the two-legged assist. I was surprised at how much of a workout I received while using my legs to assist me. If you focus on using your upper body as much as possible and your legs as little as possible you will find you get a good work out.

  26. i had to stop doing pullups because of elbow problems. Now, it has been about 1.5 years since i tried and my elbows are fine. i would really like to do pullups again but am reluctant due to the elbow concerns. any recommendations on how to get going and not reinjure the elbows?

    1. I’d recommend starting slow, good range of motion and not jerking to start or dropping in to finish. A lot of people get “elbow” issues but it is actually forearm/grip issues. Be aware if its joint related or tendon insertion points.

  27. Great Post, Mark!

    I often wonder about the average guy in the gym who has no clue about form. It’s just “add more weight!” – but only rarely do people stick to the right form.
    Regarding pull-ups, I always found it most important to remember keeping your head straight and lead with your chest. Pretend that you are trying to touch the pull-up bar with your chest and keep your head level.

    If you’re just starting out with the whole pull-up thing, try to concentrate on the muscle movement in your back. Concentrate on your upper back muscles and shoulders and think of it as if you’re trying to crush something between your shoulder blades.

  28. I just did pull-ups today (I do them 3x a week) and noticed that my grip was a little off.

    I have a pull-up bar and there are 2 places to put your hands.

    Mark – thanks to your video I moved my hands outward so they are more outside of my shoulders and it felt MUCH better!

    For the chin up I use the closer grip.

    I hope everyone does this correctly!

  29. I have one above the door & petite me (5’0) can’t even reach it to do 1 so I run & jump high to grab hold & use my legs to climb up to the sides of the door to reach above the bar & steady hang on a few seconds & drop down. I have lots of fun doing this & do like 10 or so through out the day. My son loves to see his mommy to be strong & calls me “primal mom” 😀 (of course he copies what I do & I let him build his own little strength while having fun)
    Thanks for the video. I’ll try those & eventually do 1 pullup. Lol… I’m going to need a higher chair 🙂

  30. I, like Dave above, am curious as to why the deadlift is not included in the PBF exercise. Picking up a carcass from the ground and putting it on your shoulder has at least a little bit of deadlifting action. I guess sprinting does work some of the same muscles.

    P.S. On topic though, I love me some pull-ups.

  31. Too bad I haven’t been able to do a pull-up since the 4th grade. Sad times 🙁

  32. I’ve never been able to do a pull-up at all, even in fourth grade. So I’m excited about the possibility of learning to do one, using a chair at first.

    Yesterday I took a plastic chair down to the creek near my house and found a low-hanging branch to use as a pull-up bar. I put the chair under the branch and did my pull-ups. I left the chair there for next time. Fun!

  33. I’ve been doing pull-ups on my own for about 2 months, but I’ve only been doing it sporatically (sp?).

    I’ve been wanting to get my wife to join me, but she had shoulder surgery 2 years ago (they reattached the ligament by drilling into the bone), and I don’t know if it would do damage to put her full weight on it. Any ideas?

  34. I can do 8 regular pull-ups, which puts me at reverse pull-ups in the progression. However, I find that reverse pull-ups are too easy: I can do 20 or so, even though the goal is only 7. Still, I haven’t moved up to regular pull-ups, because the pull-up goal is 12 and I’m far from that.

    Has anyone else had a similar experience? Any ideas on other exercises for improving the pull-up?

    1. Anything that works back and bi, I use Hammerstrength lat pulldown machine and row machine.

  35. Mark,
    where does that portable chin-up bar comes from? it seems most stores only have the one that fits on doorways. I’d like to get my hands on a bar that’s just like the one in the video

  36. I am just getting started with pull-ups. I have small tears in the right rotator cuff (not sure which specific muscle); they are not surgical. Any thoughts? I want to be able to do pull-ups.


  37. I don’t have a pull up bar or access to anything that I know of I can substitute. Is there something else that can replace pull ups?

  38. Hello,

    Please provide a link for the free primal fitness e-book.

    I signed up to receive the newsletters and the offer for the free e-book of primal fitness. I received the confirmation email and responded to it. However I did not get a link in the welcome email for the e-book nor did I see a link for it on the page where I signed up.