The Key To Doing A Perfect Pull-Up Is To NOT Think About Pulling Yourself Up, According To This Expert Trainer

Man performing pull-up in gym
(Image credit: MoMo Productions / Getty Images)

The pull-up is one of the best bodyweight exercises you can do, but it’s also one of the hardest. Even getting to the stage of being able to pull yourself up once is cause for celebration, and once you can reel off a few pull-ups in a row there are always ways you can go about improving your form.

To help you out on that front, I spoke to Alasdair Nicoll, personal trainer and tutor at PT-course provider The Fitness Group, for his advice on how to perfect your pull-up technique once you were able to perform a few reps of the move unassisted.

About Our Expert
Alasdair Nicoll headshot
About Our Expert
Alasdair Nicoll

Alasdair Nicoll is a personal trainer tutor and assessor at The Fitness Group, which provides personal training courses, and a level 3 personal trainer himself. Nicoll has been a personal trainer since 2018 and also has a BSc in Food Bioscience from Glasgow Caledonian University.

It’s fair to say Nicoll’s top tip was a surprise because it’s to not think about pulling yourself up during the movement.

“Instead of thinking about pulling yourself up, I suggest people think about driving their elbows down into their hips,” says Nicoll. “What’s going to happen is your lat muscles and your upper-back muscles, like the rhomboids and traps, take over.”

When you think about pulling yourself up, Nicoll says, you put more strain on your biceps, but placing the emphasis on your back muscles means you get the intended stimulus from the exercise. “You’re also going to find that you have much more control of the movement,” says Nicoll

You can find more of Nicoll’s tips for the move, plus advice on how to build up to a pull-up if you’re not yet able to do one unaided, in our pull-up form guide. 

Our beginner pull-up plan will also help you build up to doing a full set of proper pull-ups by the end of a 28-day training plan.

Explore our top-rated picks in our guide to the best pull-up bars.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.