How To Warm Up For Pull-Ups: 12 Great Exercises And Tips

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If you want to do more pull-ups and get more results out of your bodyweight training, you need to harness all the leverage you can get.

How do you get he most leverage?

To take advantage of every opportunity to improve your pull up technique.

Warming up for pull-ups is one of these opportunities, a surefire way to make a difference in your training and increase your count.

But conditioning your body to take up more pull-ups can’t happen through generic warm-up routines that are aimed at nothing in particular.

So, what 12 exercises does a warm up for pull-ups include?

You need a routine that gets you ready for this exercise specifically. Luckily, I have compiled a list of the best exercises that you can use for the most efficient warm-up protocol for pull-ups.

We are looking at stretches, strength training, and a tad bit of cardio to maximize your potential and avoid injuries during your workout.

The article will provide you with some crucial tips for getting into optimal shape before gripping the bar.

What Should A Warm Up For Pull Ups Have?

A great warm-up session should get the body ready for effort in the key areas that you aim to train.

This means increased blood flow, mobilizing the joints, raising the overall temperature, and activating the muscle groups.

Now, we will translate this information to the requirements of the pull-up.

Muscles Used In The Pull Up

The pull-up concerns a couple of prime movers: the core, the biceps, the lats, the middle traps and the lower traps.

So, your routine will have to get these muscles ready for effort. You can also work on the supporting, or secondary muscle groups through a general warm-up session, but it will only have a limited impact. The gold is in the prime movers.

Next, you have to increase your mobility in the key joints that you will use.

These joints are the wrists, the elbows, and the shoulders. Out of these three, the shoulders work the hardest, so we need to pay additional attention to them.

This is a rough guideline for our pull-up warm-up session. But it does no good as only an approximate recommendation.

Let’s look into some exercises that nail these points home.

General Cardio

Some warm-up cardio never hurt anyone, and it’s always a good starting point.

Even though you wouldn’t expect a pull-up warm-up guide to include cardio, it is important for increasing the blood flow to the muscles.

Once your heart rate is higher, it will be easier to tap into your muscle fibers while working out.

To achieve this, you don’t need anything advanced or specific. I usually go for jumping jacks or light jogging for a maximum of 10-15 minutes to get the systems running.

If you’re short on time and 15 minutes is too much, try 5 minutes which can have a positive outcome on performance (Wilson et al., 2012).

Be careful not to overreach with cardio, as too much of it can fatigue you early on. This leads to shortcomings in your reps and overall performance, so it’s best to be avoided.

Raising Core Temperature

Now it’s time to get more specific. The first important muscle group of our pull-up warm-up session is the core.

It helps your body remain straight under stress and maintain the correct posture, so it’s crucial to have it ready to go.

The best way to raise the core temperature is through plank variations. I recommend doing some dynamic type of plank, to get more engagement out of your core and avoid uniform contraction.

1. Shoulder Tap Plank

You can go for the Shoulder Tap Plank, in which you start from a straight arm position and tap your shoulder with the opposing hand.

This needs to be done without much rotation of the body, to hit multiple sections of the core.

2. Knee to Elbow Plank

To get more burn in the obliques, you can opt for the Knee to Elbow Plank. In this exercise, you can start from either a straight arm or forearm position.

You want to drive your knee towards the elbow of the arm on the same side. You can choose to do all the reps on one side, then switch to the other, or to switch sides alternatively during the same set. The effect is the same.

3. Breakdancer Plank

Lastly, a more advanced variation that can be done at the cardio level for optimal temperature raise is the Breakdancer Plank.

In this exercise, starting from a straight arm position, you want to drive your knee towards the opposing side of your body.

Then, you extend that leg and raise the opposing arm, getting you into a one-arm plank. You can either tap your foot with this hand or maintain it in the air until you get back to the original position.

If this sounds too complicated, stick with the other two and you will be fine.

These exercises should get your core up to speed. Remember to not overreach with the planks either, as it can pose problems for your pull-ups later on.

Dynamic Stretching and Mobility

For the stretches, the joints used in the pull-up are in the spotlight. Your warm-up session must get every joint involved in the pull-up to a high mobility point.

This way, you won’t run into injuries or difficulties in executing the movements.

Mobilizing The Shoulders

By doing mobility drills for your shoulders, blood flow to the muscles are increased. In turn, this increases range of motion.

Mobility drills can be done using a foam roller and keep applying pressure to the muscles. When it comes to pull ups, having tight shoulders will limit your ability to perform the technique (Peacock et al., 2014).

4. Shoulder Circles

Continuing with Shoulder Circles is an efficient way of working with the warm-up done by the rotation.

Shoulder Circles are shrugs done in a circular motion, both backward and forward. For the best benefits, make sure to execute the movement slowly and hit all of the extremities that you can.

Keeping a reduced range of motion during warm-up can make some parts of the body more prone to injury during the pull-ups, so be careful.

5. Shoulder Oscillations

After that, you can move on to Shoulder Oscillations. Raise your hands until your body reaches a ‘T’ pose, then do the same motion from the Shoulder Circles.

This will help you hit more areas of your shoulders and upper back. Make sure to also use different positions of the hands, as palms-up will have a different effect from palms-down or sideways.

These exercises should be enough to get your joints ready for the pull-ups. You can do another short set of wrist and elbow rotations after the shoulder exercises, to ensure that every joint is prepared.

Mobilizing The Lats

The lats are the biggest muscle group used in pull-ups and need to be loose before getting the full benefit of the exercise.

6. Foam Rolling The Lats

Foam rolling your lats will increase range of motion and increase muscle activation later on.

Some people really over do the foam rolling here but the purpose is not for it to hurt! Instead, think of a muscle release through massage.

7. Lat Stretch

The next way to mobilize those lats is an effective over head stretch. 

The key here is again to have a light stretch to lengthen the muscle.

Mobilizing The Forearms And Wrists

The forearms and wrists play a huge role in pull-ups overall. Your total weight is hanging off the ligaments, muscles and tendons of your forearms and wrist.

The first part of mobilizing the forearms is an awesome video from Jeff at Athlean X.

8. Forearm Mobility

Many people who experience forearm tightness also experience pain through a condition known as Tennis Elbow.

9. Wrist Presses

The next set of drills are incredibly important to help stretch and mobilize the forearms and wrists.

By pressing and rolling the wrists, you'll find the ability to hang from the pull up bar is much easier.

Muscle Activation

As the last part of the warm-up routine, you will have to ‘wake up’ your muscles before the pull-up sets.

You can accomplish this by doing some light exercises for the muscles put under stress by the pull-up.

Too much effort during this section can become a real problem for your later sets, so be careful with the amount of effort you exhibit.

10. Banded Arm Rotations

If you happen to have a resistance band, one of the best exercises that fit this category is the Arms Rotation.

You want to tie the resistance band around a pole behind you, then grab the ends with your hands.

Then, pull your arms forward without moving your body, so that your shoulder remains in place during the rotation. Alternatively, if you have dumbbells instead of a resistance band, a version of Shoulder Raises should have a similar effect, albeit less efficient.

Lat Activation

Next, we have to target the lats. For this, you can choose from Resistance Band Rows, Rings Rows, or Australian Pull-Ups (limited sets). 

11. Rings Rows

The Rings Row would be the best approach for our target, and you can improvise the equipment if you don’t have rings. But you will need a pole or column.

Place your feet next to the pole or column.

The closer they are to the base, the harder the exercise will be. Then, you want to tie your rings around the pole and lean backwards until you stretch the ring's band to the maximum.

In case you don’t have a pair of rings, you can simply use a towel made from a tougher material to accomplish the same thing.

You then pull yourself towards the pole with your arms, activating the lats and increasing blood flow in that region.

If you would opt for Australian Pull-Ups instead, you can check out our useful guide here.

12. Scapular Pull-Ups

Lastly, for activating the middle and lower traps, I strongly recommend doing some limited sets of Scapular Pull-Ups. This exercise implies starting from a dead hang position on the bar.

You then want to pull yourself up without your arms, letting the back do all the work. The lift will be quite subtle, so don’t expect to get a lot of height out of this.

You want to go for both overhand and underhand grips for this exercise, to target different parts of the traps and get maximum activation.

After this, you are all set to go for your pull-ups. Your body should now be in prime position to get the most reps possible, given that you respect the guidelines of the warm-up routine.

Full Warm-Up Protocol

Your warm-up for pull-ups routine should consist of a single set of these exercises if you are a beginner or intermediate, and no more than 2 sets if you are advanced.

This is to, once again, stress the importance of not fatiguing yourself before strength training.

For the sake of brevity and simplicity, I will list the routine here in a more organized manner.

Pull-up Warm-up Routine

  • General cardio: Jumping Jacks or Light Jogging - 2-3 minutes;
  • Core: Shoulder Tap Plank + Knee to Elbow Plank - 1 set of 10 reps; Optional - Breakdancer Plank - 1 set of 10 reps;
  • Dynamic stretching and mobility: Wrist, Elbow, and Shoulder Rotations; Shoulder Circles; Shoulder Oscillations; Foam Rolling The Lats; Lat Stretch; Forearm Mobility; Wrist Presses;
  • Muscle activation: Resistance Band Arms Rotation or Shoulder Raises - 1 set of 10 reps; Resistance Band Rows, Rings Rows, or Australian Pull-Ups - 1 set of 5-6 reps; Scapular Pull-Ups - 2 sets of 5-6 reps (one for overhand grip, one for underhand).

Frequently Asked Questions

Do You Need To Warm Up For Pull-Ups?

Yes! As I mentioned before, your best chances of getting good training from pull-ups are when you properly warm up the muscles that will be put under stress for it. If you don’t do that, the movement's efficiency will decrease significantly, and you even run the risk of injuring yourself.

How Should I Warm Up For Pull-Ups?

Yes! As I mentioned before, your best chances of getting good training from pull-ups are when you properly warm up the muscles that will be put under stress for it. If you don’t do that, the movement's efficiency will decrease significantly, and you even run the risk of injuring yourself.

Can I Do Pull Ups Without Warming Up?

Yes! As I mentioned before, your best chances of getting good training from pull-ups are when you properly warm up the muscles that will be put under stress for it. If you don’t do that, the movement's efficiency will decrease significantly, and you even run the risk of injuring yourself.

Do Shrugs Help Pull-Ups?

Yes! As I mentioned before, your best chances of getting good training from pull-ups are when you properly warm up the muscles that will be put under stress for it. If you don’t do that, the movement's efficiency will decrease significantly, and you even run the risk of injuring yourself.

Final Thoughts

Warming up for pull-ups in the proper sense of the phrase is not an easy task.

Can you get away with a general warm-up routine? Of course, you can. But a specialized protocol will get you much further than that, and for only 10-15 minutes of your time.

All of the elements that I mentioned (cardio, core temperature, dynamic stretching, mobility, muscle activation) play a crucial role in the warm-up session. Skipping any of them will have an impact on the efficiency of your training.

Respect the need for warm up for pull ups, go for the specialized routine instead of the generic, and see your pull-up performance skyrocket over time.

Happy lifting!

References

McMillian, D., Moore, J., Hatler, B., Taylor, D. (2006) Dynamic vs. Static Stretching Warm Up: The Effect on Power And Agility Performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 20(3) 492-499.

Peacock, C., Krein, D., Silver, T., Sander, G., Carlowitz, K. (2014). An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release in The Form of Foam Rolling Improves Performance Testing. International Journal of Exercise Science. 7(3), 202-211.

Wilson, J., Marin, P., Rhea, M., Wilson, S., Loenneke, J., Anderson, J. (2012). Concurrent Training: A Meta-Analysis is Examining Interference of Aerobic And Resistance Exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 26(8), 2293-2307.

DISCLAIMER: This article is for intended for educational purposes only and not as an individualized exercise prescription, therefore no one can be held liable in the occurrence of injuries, damages or monetary losses as a result of the information.

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