The Common Mistakes You Should Avoid When Doing Pull-ups

While it is relatively easy to do a pull up correctly, it is amazing how often and how many people you see making serious mistakes.  The pull up doesn’t need to be tricky or hard, but if you are looking to really build and tone your muscles, you need to ensure that you know exactly how to do a proper, complete pull up.

Mistakes are inevitable, particularly when you are doing something new, but if you nip the mistakes in the bud right now, you will learn how to do pull ups properly and will never make the kind of errors that seem to be so common nowadays.

To help you learn from others mistakes and get pull ups right, we have put together a list of the most common mistakes people make and how you can avoid them.

Starting It Right

When you are hanging from a bar, you will be able to feel your body move just by tensing and relaxing your lats and shoulder muscles.  Although this is a very simple process, it is nonetheless crucial and you should make sure that you can feel that movement before doing each and every pull up.  If you avoid doing this, like many other people do, you could risk injuring yourself.

Not Completing A Full Range Of Movement

This is perhaps one of the most common mistakes that people make.  It is something that many people do, even when they claim they can do a large number of repetitions, when in actual fact they are only doing half pull ups because they want to get through them too quickly or are feeling fatigued.

Get it right every time.  A full pull up begins with your arms stretched out straight above you, before you lift yourself so that your chin almost touches the pull up bar and before you slowly lower yourself back down so that your arms are stretched out straight.

If you feel you only need to lower yourself halfway down or switch and change between pulling your chin above or just below the pull up bar, you are doing it wrong and you need to alter and correct this before you go any further.

Pull up bars are, by their very design, supposed to target and exercise your back muscles.  However, if you are only ever doing half movements, you are only working out your arms and not your lats as you should be.  While this is great in the short term for your arm muscles, if your goal is to target and work your back muscles, you are not doing yourself any real favours.

The Common Mistakes You Should Avoid When Doing Pull-ups

What’s Going On With Your Elbows?

Another common mistake many people make when doing pull ups is that they allow their elbows to flare out to the side, which does absolutely nothing for your lat muscles.  The worse case scenario of performing pull ups this way is that you can cause your elbows to become inflamed and swollen as a result of the force they are subjected to.

Keep Straight

People too often make the mistake of rolling and twisting while trying to perform pull ups.  This is not how you do pull ups.  In order for your pull up workout to be worth the effort, you need to make sure you keep your body as straight as you possible can.  Your body should form a straight line from the ground to the bar.

Leg Kicking

As some doing pull ups get tired and feel fatigued or are just trying to push that one last pull up, they have the rather bad habit of kicking their feet out in order to try and give that last push to complete the exercise.  Although we have all experienced that same urge, you need to stop it or at least keep the occurrence to a minimum.  Not only are you depriving your back muscles of the workout you wanted to give them in the first place, but you are also putting yourself at risk of dislocating joints or pulling muscles.

Failing To Set Shoulders Correctly

Perhaps the trickiest part of the pull up is learning how to control your shoulder blades (or scapulae) correctly.  Every single pull up repetition should start with a definite depression and then retraction of your shoulders.  This tightens your back muscles right up and prepares you to perform the pull up properly without relying on your biceps.

Not Pulling Chin Above The Bar

To successfully perform a complete pull up, regardless of what you may think, you need to pull your chin above the bar.  It is not enough to have your nose touch the bar, or even worse, have the top of your head up so it is level with the bar.  Trying to do a pull up without pulling your chin above the bar, does not involve the fullest range of motion it should and won’t give your back muscles the workout they need.

Exercising With Too Much Momentum

A pull up should always be a very controlled movement completed in a controlled and balanced manner.  People make the mistake of tackling standard pull ups in the same way they would a kipping pull up (a cross-fit exercise), but you should avoid utilising momentum to complete one.  When you lower yourself, it should be in a very slow and considered manner and the same when you are pulling yourself up.

Gripping The Bar Too Widely

Most guys have made this mistake at one point when they have attempted pull ups.  It is crucial though that when you are doing pull ups that you don’t grip the bar with your arms too wide apart.  The ideal grip is to hold the bar with your arms at shoulder width apart.  As well as taking the weight and strain off your shoulders and elbows, it will enable you to have the largest range of motion possible.

Not Keeping Back Flat

Further to the earlier mistake of not keeping straight, many people make the mistake of putting too much pressure on their back by hyperextending the lower back.  As well as not being conducive to completing pull ups successfully, this can also compress your spinal disks and cause you a lot of  back pain.   To keep your back straight throughout the exercise, you need to straighten your legs and tighten your abs as much as your body will allow while pulling up.  This will prevent your back from arching too much.

Doing Pull Ups Before Being Able To Do Pull Ups

Many guys fail to grasp the fact that in order to perform pull ups correctly, you need to have a certain level of strength for your own body weight.  If you do not have the appropriate level of strength yet or are a heavy guy, you will probably struggle to complete pull ups correctly.

In this situation, you can either:

Try assisted pull ups, if your local gym has that machine, or

Develop your strength by performing similar exercises that are less tricky, such as lat pull downs.  It is highly recommended that you avoid doing unassisted, proper pull ups until you are able to do 4 complete repetitions using your own body weight.

Not Challenging Yourself Enough Or At All

It is a very easy mistake to make and one that many people do – once they feel comfortable and able to complete pull ups, they do the number of reps they are able to and nothing more.  If you are looking to build your muscles, you need to add more weight to your pull ups.  By far the easiest and quickest way to do this is by investing in a dip belt, and gradually adding to the amount of weight you can carry while completing a set number of pull up repetitions.

As we stated at the outset of this post, it is not hard to complete a pull up in theory; in practice, though, it may require more patience, dedication and care than you first thought.  By following the guide above and avoiding the mistakes other (and perhaps even you) have made in the past and continue to do so, you will be able to work your body out effectively with pull ups.  Not only is your back muscles and arm muscles worked, but so too are other parts of your body.  So it is one exercise you will want to make sure you can perform correctly, to best benefit from it.


Click here for a quick guide on how to use a doorway pull up bar guide.

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