back pain? How the right pull-ups can help you

Why torture yourself with back pain through countless therapies or rehabilitation measures when so much can already be done prophylactically? The magic word is: movement and proper training. In Germany, back pain is one of the most common causes of inability to work.

“Targeted training can prevent back pain and improve the overall condition,” says Vivien Schirow. The fitness trainer looks after many customers with back problems and shows them muscle-strengthening, mobilizing exercises. “The basis for good back training is mobilization, strengthening and good stretching.”

The basic exercises of back training include, for example, back extensions and deadlifts, which particularly stress the lower back. However, the supreme discipline is pull-ups. With this exercise you achieve a greater growth stimulus for the entire upper body musculature than with other exercises. They ensure a broad lower back, trained arms and a strong core muscle.

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But pull-ups? Many amateur athletes groan at the thought of it. Yes, a pull-up is difficult, but it can be trained. Anyone can do it with simple steps and strengthen their back with this power exercise. We tell you how that can be done.

Instep, comb and hammer grip when pulling up

How does a pull-up work? In theory, it works like this: When you pull up, you pull your own body weight up a horizontal bar until your chest touches the bar, and then lower yourself back down. The term pull-up comes from “climbing”, i.e. “climbing”, and is a classic compound exercise because the entire back muscles, shoulders, biceps, forearms and the stabilizing core muscles are trained.

There are different implementation options: A distinction is made between the instep grip, when the palms point away from the body, the comb grip, when the palms point towards the body, and the hammer grip (the palms face each other). Not only the handles, but also the grip width are decisive for the intensity and the load on the different muscle groups.

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The following guidelines apply to the setting of priorities:

– A pull-up in the wide instep grip trains the width of the back in particular, i.e. the large back muscle The latissimus dorsi muscle and is the most difficult for beginners.

This man pulls himself up in a wide instep grip

Quelle: Getty Images

– A pull-up in the tight comb grip puts particular strain on the biceps and the core of the back, the middle back muscles.

– Pull-ups in shoulder-width hammer grip can be understood as a mixture of both.

Don’t swing!

For professionals, a pull-up may look easy and controlled in practice. For beginners, the first pull-up is more like pulling up a wet bag uncontrollably, ending in sore arms and sheer frustration. Which brings us to the classic Not-To-Dos are during a pull-up.

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Beginners should not underestimate the simple-sounding theory. “The biggest mistake is usually too little body tension, then the legs swing and the pull-up is unconsciously performed with momentum,” says fitness trainer Schirow. The beginner’s mistake should not be confused with the demanding professional variation, in which the legs are intended to gain momentum. This is called “Kipping Pull-up” and is very popular in CrossFit due to its high intensity, as it also puts a strain on the buttocks and leg muscles.

In order to exclude the risk of injury as a pull-up newcomer, you should definitely make sure that the range of motion is performed slowly at first, but cleanly (and thus over the entire movement sequence). “The pull-up lives from looking over the bar at the top and also hanging out at the bottom.” The position of the head is also crucial. It is best to keep your head up and look ahead.

How to practice your first pull-up

From theory to practice: The foundation for the first pull-up can be practiced with the basic movement of the shoulder blades. These should press against each other as firmly as if you were trying to hold a pencil between your shoulder blades. This tension should also be maintained during the next steps.

The second step is to rise to the basic position. You can either use a chair and stand on it, or you can jump up a little to get into the holding position. It should look like this: Hold onto the pull-up bar and try to push your elbows back and keep your chin above the bar. During this exercise you will have enough time to control yourself:

– Are the legs straight and not dangling?

– Is the head straight so that the spine forms one long line?

– Is the chest pushed out? Are my shoulder blades tightly squeezed?

Another important point is: Am I breathing regularly? It sounds strange, but some athletes forget to breathe during exertion. You should try to regulate your breathing so that you exhale during the ascent.

The third step is the descent. As you do this, slowly lower yourself from the holding position (inhaling as you do so) so that your feet return to the mounting device or the floor. “Increasing the holding position is called a negative pull-up,” explains Vivien Schirow. It is important to take two to four seconds while lowering.

These three steps are then repeated one after the other until the body gets used to the exertion. After a successfully completed exercise phase, advanced users can then try the ascent without any aids and thus master the full range of motion with their own muscle power.

Other challenges are the different types and widths of grips, which can be varied as desired so that all muscle groups are trained. There are no limits to the diversity.

Try it out for yourself, true to the motto: get on the pull-up bar, get set, pull up! Your back will thank you.

This article was first published in August 2015.


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