Pull-ups are tricky. And by tricky I mean quite difficult. And by quite difficult I mean get butchered as frequently as Quentin Tarantino has someone executed in his films. (Butchered= executed... right? Right?!!! #pun) As someone who loves pull-ups, and thinks they are absolutely fantastic at developing pure upper body strength, this is troublesome to me.
So I present to you an alternative form of pull-up to help us along the way to perfect form. They can be considered a regression (an easier version) from pull-ups on the bar, but also as a way to isolate the specific “pulling” muscles. I personally can do about a million pull-ups (give or take) but still find sets of 10 of these assisted pull-ups to be quite challenging— if — I do them correctly.
Quickly, here are the muscles we are mainly looking to use during this exercise, and also during normal pull-ups, although the regular from-the-bar pull-ups will have more full body use.
Pay no attention to the gentleman wearing gloves (c’mon man!), but as you can see, quite a few muscles, although the illustrator seems to have forgotten that the abs should also be highly engaged. Lats and arms we probably knew, but a few of those weird named muscles like Teres Minor and Subscapularis, are part of the rotator cuff, meaning you can think of pull-ups as not only muscle building, but also just good for shoulder health and rotator cuff health. Anything with the word ”Pec” in it is the chest, which is super important for balance around the shoulder as well.
The problems with this exercise are generally: One, people are not strong enough (yet) to pull themselves up from a hang. Two, because people aren’t strong enough yet, they shorten the range of motion, not returning to a full hang at the bottom, or not pulling all the way up over the bar. They also have a tendency to use their hips or legs to ”help” them up as well, which is part of the game in CrossFit, but not in what we’re doing here.
The TRX assisted pull-up solves both of these issues.
As you can see, my demonstrator (Thanks Wilson!) starts from the floor, where his arms are fully (or almost fully) extended with each rep. The floor becomes his guide for reaching full range of motion. He also is using his core to stay upright with each rep, and if the need arises for him to gain some ”help” he can by using his feet, to get all the way up on the rep. This exercise checks my boxes on solving those two main issues.
I present this variation to help you on your way of mastering the pull-up. It has been a miracle worker for my clients and has allowed us to learn proper form and engagement as we work towards the next progression in my ladder: the negative pull-up. (Check out the previous post on negative exercises here: https://www.whiteheadfit.com/post/why-i-like-negative-exercises-not-about-attitude )