We all know pull-ups are difficult. The move requires hauling your entire body upward. It’s a complex movement, requiring several muscle groups to fire in a controlled pattern, while adding movement from the major joints. In aerial arts and pole we add the bonus of trying to do this with pointed toes and pretty form.
The major muscle groups that fire are the lats and pecs and it is easy to rely on these two groups. And yes, smaller shoulder muscles will be active too. However pull-ups become easier if you work on engaging the rhomboids, traps and core as well. By engaging the core, and upper back muscles we protect the smaller shoulder muscles and help prevent overdeveloping the lats and pecs. Here is a big post on Scapular Retraction. The other important, and often forgotten engagement zone is the legs. You are working with dynamic tension in the legs. Here is a post on understanding Dynamic Tension.
So you now know what should activate, but let’s talk about how to activate.The pecs, the lats and the shoulders are automatically going to kick in. The difficulty is in getting the other muscle groups to work.
Rhombiods and Traps
First thing, bring the shoulder blades toward the spine, opening the chest. Make sure the shoulders did not lift toward the ears. This is called scapular retraction with shoulder depression. This engages the rhomboids and traps. Opening the chest and dropping the shoulders produces good form and posture. Here is an entire post on Scapular Retraction.
Pull the stomach in and up, using a pilates-style active engagement. You simply want to feel your abs lightly engaged. Core engagement also helps improve posture, giving the pull-up better form.
Beautiful lines in dance come from dynamic tension. We often get so focused on what the arms and back are doing we forget to keep our legs active. If you want to know more about dynamic tension, here is our Post.
How to Start working on Your Pull-ups
The Kneeling Pull-up
Begin facing the pole while kneeling. Place your chest and stomach on the pole, finding a stacked grip for pulling up. Engage the shoulder blades together behind the back, keeping the shoulders down. Pull the core in. Keep the legs engaged and with control lift and lower in a pull-up.
The toes may be tucked under if you are just learning pull-ups.
The Standing Pull-up
Face the pole, make sure your stomach and chest are against the pole. (This makes the movement easier to control and you will not slam into the pole with the lower body on the up.) Same steps as with the kneeling: Scapular retraction, shoulder depression, core engagement, dynamic tension in the legs. Go slow on the up and the down.