How to Perfect the Pull-up

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Lance Cpl. Katelyn M. Hunter conducts pull-ups during an initial assessment at Camp Foster in Okinawa, Japan, on Dec. 12, 2012. (Pfc. Kasey Peacock/III Marine Expeditionary Force)

I received this request from a young Marine seeking to improve her PFT scores:

"I am a female in the Marine Corps and would like to know how I can not only better my flexed arm hang, but be able to perform pull-ups, too." The pull-up is one of the most challenging exercises. If you are 10 to 20 pounds overweight, it can affect your ability to do any pull-ups. But there is good news: I have several clients of both genders and all ages who, with just a few months of training, have gone from not being able to do a single pull-up to performing 10 perfect dead hang pull-ups. The common denominator between men and women who can do pull-ups is that they practice them regularly. The best way to train to increase the number of pull-ups you can do is simply to do pull-ups until you are exhausted every other day. If you want to get started doing pull-ups or work your way up to doing more, here are some methods to try: Assisted Pull-up

This is a pull-up I learned at Army Airborne School, where they had a lower bar about four feet from the ground for soldiers who couldn't do a pull-up. Soldiers sit on the ground, extend their arms to the bar and pull their chin over the bar leaving their feet on the ground. This method reduces the weight being pulled up by 40% to 50%. It's tougher than it sounds, but it can be your first step to doing a real pull-up. You also can do this with a pull-up or dip bar machine, using the dip bars as your assisted pull-up bars. Lat Pull-downs

This exercise is basically the same as a pull-up, except it is done with a machine that you can find in most weight rooms. Simply sit under a hanging bar attached to a stack of weights and pull the bar just below your chin. It is best to choose a weight that is roughly 40% to 50% of your weight. Do as many repetitions as you can for at least three sets. Negative Pull-ups

This is the last step in accomplishing your first pull-up -- or doubling your present maximum. It is also the way to build your endurance for the flexed arm hang. Hold yourself in the flexed arm hang position for 10 seconds, then you must fight gravity and slowly lower yourself down to the count of five seconds. Biceps Curl

Get two dumbbells weighing 10-30 pounds. Keeping your elbows stationary and your palms facing away from you, bend your elbows so your hands move from your hips to your shoulders. Repeat for three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions. Bent-over Rows

This dumbbell routine will help develop your biceps and the upper-back muscles required for performing pull-ups. Repeat for three sets of 10-15 repetitions. Only do pull-ups a maximum of three times a week -- not every day. Every other day is recommended. This will help you rest your back and arm muscles properly and prevent overtraining.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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