What is a pull-up exercise?
It is a fundamental Calisthenics movement that works on your arms and back to demonstrate your pulling strength. It can be done on a high bar or a gymnastics ring, where you first hang on it and pull yourself up until your chin is over the bar/ring, then you go back down. You know you have decent pulling strength if you can do 20 pull-ups. This is one of the Calisthenics movements we aim to achieve in our Calisthenics Classes at UMove Fitness Singapore.
The pull-up exercise is present in almost every bodyweight athlete's routine. In military training, it is one of the exercises that they do to maintain and test their strength. It is a common requirement that you need to do a certain number of pull-ups to pass an Army physical training test.
Why is pull-up important?
Well, it gives you that assurance that you can pull yourself up in climbing walls, ladders, ropes, or other obstacles… which makes it more relevant, especially if your training is geared towards combat-oriented or going over obstacles.
But for us mere mortals, maybe it's not very functional to think of clearing an obstacle when our daily routine only requires us to sit down on the desk, carry our office bag, or a few bags of groceries here and there. Unless you need to be rescued by a flying helicopter for some reason, pulling your bodyweight up may not be that relevant, isn't it?
Well, this is true for these direct logical reasons, but doing pull-ups will give us more than what you think it does. Even if you really cannot pull your own body over the bar, you will still get many benefits from going through a pull-up routine.
Benefits of Pull-ups?
You will develop muscles in your back, arms, and even abs. You will get stronger and leaner in these areas, which will give you that toned, V-shaped look. The increase of strength from your upper body will transfer well in both functional activities and other fitness routines. The hanging itself gives you the benefits of stretching multiple joints in your body.
Here is a more comprehensive list of benefits you can get from pull-up training.
Better grip strength
Let's start from the anchor point here where you are about to start your pull, the hanging phase. Unknown to most, especially if you can't do a single pull-up at all, you think your arms and shoulders are not strong enough to do this movement. This is most likely true, but one thing you have overlooked is your grip strength. If you attempt to do a pull-up, you will start feeling that your fingers will just slowly slide off and unwrap themselves from the bar, blaming the bar because it's slippery. This is actually because of the lack of grip strength. Your fingers and forearm muscles have not developed enough strength yet to hang on the bar in the first place. This will be your first obstacle. It's like you're trying to do squats when you don't have enough strength to stand up on your own.
Train your pull-ups in the right progression, and you will improve your grip strength which will carry over to more than just climbing a flying helicopter's ladder to rescue you. Now, you will be able to carry your grocery bags more comfortably and walk with your chin up high out from the supermarket while extra tensing your toned arms to show off your lean muscles...that sounds good, right?
Improve Pulling strength = lift/carrying strength
You have to carry your own body weight when you do a pull-up, which you will be using similar muscles of your arms and upper back when you lift something off the ground. This makes pull-up a very functional exercise that makes these challenging daily chores easier.
Wrist, elbow, shoulder, and spine decompression stretch
Unless you go crazy with pull-ups and trying to do as many reps as you can in a set. And not doing the movement in full range, which will shorten your lats muscle (the muscle that runs from your armpit to the back and sides of your torso), you will get a great benefit of a good decompression stretch from multiple joints of your body including your wrists, elbows, shoulders, and spine.
When you hang fully relaxed at the bottom position(the passive hang), you will get a good stretch on all the muscles and joints of the upper body and even in your spine.
This decompression effect of hanging will increase the space in these joints, which will keep them healthier. This will stimulate the secretion of synovial fluid inside the joint, which is responsible for keeping it supple and nourished. And it will also relax the muscles of your upper body as you keep working on the passive hang.
So make sure you do the pull-up movement in a full range where you start in a passive hang position and then pull yourself up until your chin goes over the bar. One of the best ways to optimize the benefits of hanging is by holding it for around 10 seconds on the last rep of your pull-up. It will be quite challenging at first, as you will be tired already by then, but it will teach the muscles how to relax further even in their fatigued state.
More balance upper body musculature
Because of convenience and accessibility, pushing exercises are done more often than pulling. You only need the floor to do push-ups and planks, but you need a sturdy bar, at least for you to do pull-ups and hang. If you look at Yoga and Pilates Mat classes, for example, since it's done on the mat, it is very unlikely that you work on your pulling strength.
These activities will get you stronger with your pushing muscles, but your pulling muscles will get left behind. This can cause a significant imbalance in the future that will lead to injuries.
Here is a beginner's guide to do pushups if you still struggle with pushups as well.
So doing pull-ups or pulling exercises is needed to create this structural balance.
If you want to work on a more balanced routine that involves your pushing and pulling strength as well as working with your core and lower body, you can join us on our Calisthenics session. We will be happy to guide you with the movement. We have a Calisthenics introductory package for 3 sessions for you to try out. This is, of course, if you are based in Singapore.