The pull-up is the undisputed king of upper body movements. It's functional, versatile, and easy to throw into a circuit. That's not to say it's easy to do right. First, you'll need to stop swinging – it's cheating – and get ready to lower your reps. Doing a pull-up the right way is tough, but it's important to remain injury free while you work out.
Start from a dead hang.
There's nothing worse than doing partial reps in an exercise. You'll end up doing nothing but developing and fatigue in arm muscles (like the biceps and forearms) and miss all the core, back, and chest muscles. This is why performing the lift from a dead hang is rule number one.
Set your shoulders.
The first area of the body to move when performing a pull-up should be the shoulder blades. They need to travel down and back before you bend at the elbows. This is the toughest part of the lift and provides true testament to your upper back strength. If you're not good at this, it may take some practice to get the motion right. Watch the video below for a practical way to add this technique into your workouts.
CrossFit workouts may get you lean, but some of the methodologies aren't safe. Kipping pull-ups are a prime example of this. The amount of stress the preparatory body swing places on the shoulder capsule can cause some serious damage to the labrum and rotator cuff muscles, especially for beginners. The shoulder is a very delicate structure, due to the fact that the ball-and-socket attachment point is shallow and easy to injure. Keep the movement controlled at the bottom, and you'll build muscle and strength safely.
• Start from a dead hang, and first, retract the shoulder blades. This will pull the shoulders downward and push the chest up towards the bar first, before the elbows bend.
• Stay tight through the rest of the body to avoid creating momentum. This can cause shoulder injury, and it's also a cheat that doesn't help your strength.
• Remember to use complete range of motion and pull the face over the bar.
• Tuck the elbows in and pack the shoulders down, so the back is doing most of the work – not the arms.
• Use a tempo that controls the negative (downward) phase – 2 seconds down and 1 second up is a good guide.