The pull-up only involves your bodyweight, but it’s one of the best tests of upper-body, grip, and core strength. Every man should learn how to master it.
Not a pull-up pro yet? Don’t worry. Here are 10 tips that will turn you into one.
1. Crush the bar
The benefit: Securing your grip allows you to get a proper muscle contraction in your upper back and shoulders. This makes you stronger and makes it easier to hoist your weight up to the bar.
Do it: Stand on a box or bench so your hands can reach the pull-up bar. Grab the bar with your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart. Squeeze the bar three times. On the last squeeze, pretend as though you’re trying to crush the bar in your hands. Maintain this grip throughout the entire movement.
2. Do a reverse shrug
The benefit: This prevents your traps from doing all the work. Instead, it allows your latissimus dorsi – the biggest muscles in your upper body – and teres major – muscles in the shoulder blades – to do the pulling.
Do it: Hang from the bar with an overhand grip. Pull your shoulder blades down and toward your spine. You’ll feel your lats tense under your armpits and your shoulders move away from your ears.
If you can’t hang from the bar just yet, start by performing the reverse shrug on a lat pulldown machine.
3. Prep for a punch
The benefit: Most men do pull-ups with their backs arched. However, this sabotages your strength and puts your back at risk for injury. Bracing your abs – as if you’re about to be punched in the gut – will keep your spine straight and stable.
Do it: When you’re hanging from the bar, imagine pulling your belly button toward your rib cage. Maintain this contraction for the entire pull-up.
4. Clench your glutes
The benefit: Squeezing your butt muscles and your thighs together stabilises your lower body and keeps your legs from swinging, which can pull power away from your upper body.
Do it: Clench your glutes as hard as you can. The front of your pelvis should slightly lift up, while the back should slightly angle downward.
5. Assume a hollow-body position
The benefit: This position will force your lats and abs to work together. It will increase stability, allowing you to focus more effort on pulling your body up to the bar.
Do it: Tighten your abs, press your thighs together, and point your legs slightly in front of you so your body forms a wide C. Maintain this position for the entire time.
6. Move as one solid unit
The benefit: Keeping your entire body rigid from head to toe not only engages more muscles in your body – including your glutes, hams, and core – but also increases the pulling power in your lats and arms.
Do it: Tense all of your muscles from your fingers to your toes. Maintain this tension from a dead hang, to the top of the bar, and back to a dead hang again.
7. Clear the bar with your shoulders
The benefit: Pulling your upper chest and shoulders to the bar – instead of just your chin – will help you maintain proper shoulder position.
Do it: Keep your eyes forward and slightly lean your torso back to allow your chin to clear the top. If you’re able, try to actually touch your collarbone to the bar.
8. Hang at the bottom
The benefit: Coming to a dead hang at the bottom of each rep will ensure that you don’t rely on momentum to perform rep after rep. It feels harder, but it will help you build more muscle in the long run.
Do it: Make sure your arms elbows straighten all the way between repetitions.
9. Exhale up, inhale down
The benefit: Exhaling as you pull yourself up will increase the tension in your core, making it easier to keep your body a solid, tight unit.
Do it: Don’t push the air out all at once. Instead, use your abs to forcefully push the air out of your lungs over the course of the entire rep. On the way down, breathe in as you extend your arms.
10. Don’t drop
The benefit: The lowering portion of the exercise can help you build strength even more than the lifting phase. Therefore, simply dropping from the top of the pull-up to a dead hang can sabotage your strength gains. Take control of your release.
Do it: Take at least 1 full second to lower from the bar.
A version of this article originally appeared on MensHealth.com