The most under appreciated, under utilized, most basic bodyweight movement is none other than the pull-up. If you go into any gym or look up any of the latest “fitness gurus” routines you’ll definitely see someone performing a squat. If you look in those places you’ll also undoubtedly see someone doing some version of a push-up. But think back to your globo gym days, did you ever see anyone doing strict pull-ups? You can probably count on one hand the amount of times that you did. I know for sure the Instagram models don’t do them. The pull-up, like many of our wonderful basic gymnastic movements, got reduced down to the lat pull-down. Bodybuilders popularized the lat pull-down but it was really a crutch they invented because they couldn’t do the pull-up. Now, I’m not saying the lat pull-down is worthless but if you take a person who has never done a pull-up in their life and put them on the lat pull-down for 6 weeks, I promise they will be no closer to doing an actual pull-up.
The pull-up, like many of our functional movements, is compound yet irreducible. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I can do lat pull-downs and bicep curls until the cows come home but it will not make me great at pull-ups. The same way doing leg extensions and hamstring curls isn’t going to make me a better squatter. The holistic nature of these movements determines that. The body is moving as a whole and therefore the movements must be practiced as such. Can doing those isolation movements add to your ability to perform those compound movements? Sure. But, will you be able to perform them if you solely do isolation movements? No.
The pull-up is the complete utilization of the gripping muscles of the forearm, the concentric ability of the bicep and the proper elevation of the scapula as contracted upon by the lats. It is a symphony of contractions that takes the body from below and hanging to the possibility of being above and supporting. It is the building block for all gymnast movements that involve hanging from something. Toes to bar, the bar muscle up, the muscle up, all begin with great STRICT pull-up capacity. We LOVE the kipping pull-up for power output but the STRICT pull-up is what determines real capacity.
If you can’t quite yet perform one we strongly believe in still doing the movement without any “crutches”. Place a barbell on a squat rack that you can reach while sitting on the floor. Leave your feet on the floor and perform sets of however many reps you can. There is no substitute for great pull-up capacity. You want and NEED more strict pull-ups. There is no number that I could ever say “I’m done” at. Don’t neglect it!