The Exercise: I would rank pull-ups as the second-most important calisthenics exercise after push-ups. Pulling your entire body weight against gravity really does take a long of strength and multiple muscle groups. And just like push-ups, you can change up your pull-up variation very easily with different grips, arm width, and movements.
Proper Form: Jump up to grab onto the bar with your hands, with your palms facing AWAY from you. If you are doing chin-ups, your palms should face TOWARDS you. Your arms should be about shoulder width apart. Keep your body straight and either let your legs hang, or cross/fold them, but do not use them to help you. Begin to pull yourself up, until your head is over the bar.
It is acceptable to just clear the bar with your head, or go all the way up with the bar going to your chest, like the above photo. Lower your body to go back into starting position. It should take you about 2 seconds to do each pull-up.
- Pull-ups are known as the exercise that a lot of people do wrong, or “cheat” on. By far the biggest mistake is “kipping” – using your legs to help pull yourself up, by using momentum to lessen the effect of gravity. To avoid this, ONLY use your arms to pull yourself up.
- Not going all the way up – your head should clear the bar before you go back down to the starting position.
- Not locking out arms completely – that is, not straightening your arms out fully at the end of the movement (like the guy in the picture above). There is still some debate about this, but I would say that as long as you don’t suffer any pain from fully locking out, you should do it for the higher range of motion.
Muscles worked: latissimus dorsi in your back, arm/forearm muscles, shoulders, and to a lesser degree your abs because they stabilize your body, and also provide some help in lifting your body up.
Video Demonstration (35 different pull-up variations!) :
Chin-up: same as a pull-up, except your grip is different – your palms are facing TOWARDS you rather than away.
Neutral-grip pull-up: this is the 3rd grip option with pull ups. With this grip you are holding two parallel bars or rings at about shoulder width, and your palms are facing towards each other.
Wide-grip pull-up /chin-up: Place your hands wider than shoulder width. This variation really targets your back, and will be a more difficult to do.
Close-grip pull-up / chin-up: Place your hands closer than shoulder width, or you can even have your hands touching for the hardest variation. Close-grip targets your biceps.
Typewriter pull-up: start in a normal pull-up position, but instead of pulling-up normally, concentrate your pull-up either to the right or the left side. Once your chin is at about bar level, pull your body to the other side, parallel to the bar. Here’s a video demonstration.