This is a guest post from my buddy Dave Mace over from Maximum Potential Calisthenics. When it comes to pull-ups — and especially one-arm pull-ups — he’s the boss. In this article, Dave is sharing his 5 favorite pull-up variations. Up your pull-up game and give them a shot.

Since I started training calisthenics back in 2011, the pull-up has remained my favorite exercise. I recently estimated that I had done over 8000 since then!

So what do you do once they become too easy?

One option is to keep doing more and more. This will build great stamina but will do little for your strength gains.

Another option is to add weight, but not everyone has access to a weighted vest, so what else can we do?

Today I want to introduce you to 5 advanced pull-up variations.

Scapula Pull-ups

The scapula pull-up is a great exercise to teach you to engage your lats whilst performing pull-ups.

If you are at a level where pull-ups are quite difficult, then use this exercise to supplement your training.

Otherwise, if you are at an advanced level with pull-ups, then this makes a great warm-up exercise.

Start Position

scapula pull-up

  • Grab the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing away from you), hands shoulder width apart, shoulders loose.

Execution

scapula pull-up

  • Pull yourself up without bending your elbows. Feel your lats engage tightly.

L-Sit Pull-ups

The L-sit pull-up is an advanced pull-up that requires high levels of core strength.

To progress to it start with your knees tucked and gradually straighten them when you feel ready.

Start Position

l-sit pull-up

  • Grab the bar with your preferred grip.

  • Extend your legs horizontally until they are completely straight.

Execution

l-sit pull-up

  • Pull yourself up until your chin passes the bar.

  • Maintain the L-position throughout.

Uneven Ring Pull-ups

This is my preferred progression to get towards a one arm pull-up. Once you are ready to progress beyond standard pull-ups then this is the exercise for you.

Ensure that you keep your head in line with the top hand, the bottom hand is just there to assist.

Even though the lower arm isn’t the primary mover, it is assisting, so take a rest before you swap arms.

To progress, simply increase the distance between the rings.

Start Position

uneven ring pull-up

  • Set the rings up with a small gap between them to begin with.

  • Grab each ring, your top arm should be completely straight.

Execution

uneven ring pull-ups

  • Pull yourself up until your chin passes your top hand.

Isometric Pull-ups

Isometric pull-ups are a great exercise to increase your time under tension, leading to bigger strength gains. I find that it makes a great finishing exercise after an upper body workout.

Same as a regular pull-up, except we hold for 5 seconds at the key sticking points.

Beyond a minute, hold for 10 seconds in each spot.

Start with an underhand grip (palms facing you), progress to an overhand grip once you feel ready (I usually get people to 2 minutes before progressing, but that depends on their goals).

Start Position

isometric chin-up

  • Jump yourself up until your chin is over the bar.

  • This is the first position, hold this for 5 seconds.

Positions Number 2

isometric chin-up

  • Lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90 degree angle.

  • This is the second position, hold this for a further 5 seconds.

Position Number 3

isometric chin-up

  • Lower until your elbows are straight.

  • Keep your scapula engaged like with the scapula pull-ups above.

  • This is the third position, hold here for 5 seconds then try and pull yourself back up to the start position.

False Grip Pull-ups

The false grip is a technique for holding the bar that allows you to transition through to a slow muscle-up that is a little bit easier.

Instead of holding the bar, put the bottom of your palm on top of the bar. Make a fist to create more tension in your forearms.

This takes a bit of getting used to, so do some false grip hangs before attempting the pull-up.

Concentrate on pushing your elbows back, rather than down. This will help you get a little more height and build up to the muscle-up transition easier.

Start Position

false grip pull-up

  • Place your palms on top of the bar as directed in the picture.

  • Your arms should be completely straight, scapula engaged.

Execution

false grip pull-up

  • Pull yourself up as high as you can.

  • If you get your chest above the bar, then lean forward past the bar, then try push yourself up.

  • Congratulations, you’ve just achieved a false grip muscle-up!

These 5 pull-ups are just the start of some of the ways you can get more out of your pull-ups. Progress through all of these and you will have built great pull-up strength.

Dave Mace is a personal trainer based in Sydney, Australia. Specializing in outdoor calisthenics, he prides himself on helping others and himself to unlock moves that once seemed impossible. He can be contacted via his site at Maximum Potential Calisthenics or by his Facebook Page.

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