As a kettlebell instructor one of my favorite non-kettlebell exercises is the pull-up. The pull-up is an efficient way to simultaneously improve abdominal strength, upper body strength and flexibility, shoulder health, grip strength, overall body composition, and all around athleticism. The good news is that the pull-up is nothing to be intimidated by, it’s simply one point on a long continuum from planks to pull-ups and beyond.
If you have healthy and mobile shoulders, want a challenge and an honest assessment of your overall fitness, the pull-up may be just what the doctor ordered.
5 Ways Pull-Ups Can Help You Achieve Your Fitness Goals
1. Pull-Ups are an excellent predictor of athletic performance.
Individuals who can perform a high number of pull-ups also tend to perform well in push-ups, sit-ups and even running, but the opposite is not true. It’s quite common to see someone who can do dozens of pushups or hundreds sit-ups perform poorly on the pull-up bar.
As a martial art instructor I used to test individuals on pushups, now I simply test pull-ups for the simple reason that if someone can perform well on pull-ups, then pushups are always a breeze.
Watch a video of Master SFG Instructor Karen Smith performing a weighted pull-up with a 53lb. kettlebell and more.
Subscribe to our email list to get more information on our March 8th Ladies’ Strength Workshop with Master StrongFirst Instructor Karen Smith Hosted by Omaha Elite Kettlebell
2. Pull-Ups Encourage a healthy body composition and strength to bodyweight ratio
If fat-loss is your goal, then the pull-up is a perfect way to assess progress.
As you get stronger at pull-ups you tend to improve lean muscle mass, and as you lose non-functional body-fat your pull-ups will just keep getting easier.
Kelly Rushlow pictured here has lost over 100 lbs and kept it off with the help of regular kettlebell training.
“When I started kettlebell training I had very little upper body strength. I think a lot of women like me see people hoisting these heavy weights overhead and probably say to themselves “I could never do that” or “I don’t want to get bulky”. What they don’t realize is that it’s a journey and you don’t have to do it all at once. Since training with Scott I’ve steadily progressed to strict push-ups, 5 chin-ups, 2 pull-ups a weighted pull-up and even pressing a 53lb kettlebell overhead. Bulking just doesn’t happen and now women actually compliment me on my arms. As an added bonus the special abdominal techniques we learn in class have helped me really tighten up my midsection when other people that have lost as much weight as I have might need to resort to surgery to tighten loose skin.”-Kelly
Pictured: A thumbless weighted pull-up (palms out) with 53lb kettlebell and a Chin-up (palms facing).
3. Pull-Ups Build an athletic and youthful physique
Chiseled arms, strong shoulders, the athletic v-shape created by a strong back and a tight mid-section are all by-products of training the pull-up. A woman that can do 5 or more pull-ups or a man who can do 20 or more generally possesses a very athletic physique.
One of the most athletic men I’ve ever known is a Vietnam Vet named Jan. Jan is a former kettlebell client of mine who told me he had completed over 30 marathons. He runs like a gazelle, lifts heavy weights and possesses a lean, mean physique with approximately 5% body fat and washboard abs. When I met him I had just witnessed him perform 64 consecutive chin-ups without rest. He was 64 years young at the time. When I asked him how he was able to maintain such an amazing level of strength at 64 he simply said that ever since he was 13 years old he insisted on doing one pull-up for every year he was alive.
4. Pull-Ups Can Improve Posture
Excelling at strict dead-hang pull-ups touching your chest to the bar stretches out tight chest muscles while strengthening the abs and muscles of the back. When performed the way we teach them they even strengthen the glutes. Coincidentally a strong back, strong abs and strong glutes are essential for good posture.
5. Pull-ups Make you feel like a champ
Pull-ups improve athleticism, upper body strength, posture, ab strength, encourage a lean physique. This means you get to feel like a champ PLUS flying over the top of the pull-up bar is just plain fun and empowering. It’s like starring in your own “Rocky” training montage.
I once heard a wise man say the job of a good trainer is to find the thing you’re not good at and make you better at that. In other words if you’re like the majority of the current population, then pull-ups may be exactly what the doctor ordered.
The pull-up is nothing to be intimidated by, it is one point on a continuum from the plank to hanging from the bar for time to more advanced pull-up variations like weighted pull-ups, hanging leg raises, muscle-ups, front-levers and even the one arm chin-up. Whatever your current strength or skill level at pull-ups we can find a safe and appropriately challenging progression for you then teach you the skills to conquer the pull-up and achieve your goals.
Raise the bar and give our Omaha Elite Kettlebell classes a try.
Enroll in Kettlebell classes before November 1st and receive a complimentary 30-minute Private Lesson, A Functional Movement Screen to keep you safe and a personalized corrective exercise progression.
ARE PULL-UPS RIGHT FOR YOU?
Before getting started here’s a quick list of pre-requisites for safely training on the pull-up bar.
Trunk Stability: Do you have sufficient core strength in your lats, abs and glutes to keep the body knitted together and stable as you raise and lower your body through space?
Shoulder Mobility: Do you have healthy mobile shoulders that are capable of safely attaining the overhead lockout or start position?
Shoulder Stability: Are all the muscles surrounding the shoulders including the lats strong enough and coordinated enough to keep the shoulders held tightly and safely in their sockets while supporting your weight?
Grip Strength: Do you have the grip strength and endurance to hang on to the bar long enough to get the job done?
As a Functional Movement Screen Specialist and StrongFirst Bodyweight Instructor I will use a quick series of object assessments to determine the appropriate starting point for you.
John Scott Stevens is a Level II StrongFirst Certified Kettlebell Instructor, StrongFirst Certified Bodyweight Strength Instructor and CK-FMS Functional Movement Specialist.
He can be reached at