Hang Your Way to Better Pull-ups

by George Corso on April 4, 2017

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George Corso Al Kavadlo Tree Hang

A basketball coach walks into the gym and witnesses one of his athletes shooting free throws. He makes 1 out of 50 shots. The coach asks the athlete what he’s doing and the athlete replies “practicing free throws.” The coach then asks him a simple question: “Are you practicing making them or are you practicing missing them?”

Pull-ups are kind of like free throws. They take practice, but you have to make sure you are practicing the right way. Though many people feel that they would have an easier time climbing Mount Everest than accomplishing even one pull-up, I hope to show you a different approach that will not only help with your pull-ups, but many other bar exercises as well.

When I started my own practice in calisthenics I was able to get my chin above the bar, but it really was far from a perfect pull-up. I sensed that something was off so I began to film myself doing pull-ups. It’s not always easy to be critical of yourself but I knew that this was an essential element of perfecting this exercise. I broke it down step by step from the first pull to the middle section and then to the top of the bar.  Then I studied it in reverse while lowering myself. I found that I was a complete mess!

It made me think back to the story about the free throws. I applied that coach’s criticism to my situation and realized that I was practicing my pull-ups without much regard for quality. It was obvious that I had to make corrections. I started with the initial pull. To my surprise, I found that I was pulling more from my biceps, which caused me to round my shoulders too much. A lack of strength in my scapulae was a real issue. I also discovered a lack of grip strength. In order to fix this problem I decided to scale back and dedicate my pull-up practice to different variations of hanging on the bar in order to work my way back up with proper technique.

Here’s what I did:

Dead Hangs
I started with the basic dead hang. The dead hang is such a great introduction to calisthenics bar training. It not only preps the hands but also decompresses the spine. Plus it opens up the chest so you can gain better shoulder mobility.

Start out with 10-30 seconds at a time. From there you can build to longer hangs. I recommend playing with different grips on the bar as well: Supinated, pronated and alternated grips are all fair game. I also suggest using a variety of different hand widths to add to the benefits of the dead hang. Using different grips will work the body in different ways, which can help you discover where your individual strengths and weakness lie.

George Corso Dead Hang Bar Hang Grip Variations

Active Hangs
The active hang is the next progression. In this variation, you’ll still be hanging with your arms completely straight, but your lats and shoulder blades will be engaged to “pack” the shoulders into their sockets. Adding this move into my programing leveled up my strength more than I could imagine. Active hangs helped me understand the proper muscle sequence in the motion of the pull-up, with scapula depression being first and foremost of the movements. As with dead hangs, I encourage you to explore and play with different grips.

Al Danny Kavadlo Active Hangs

Active Arch Hangs
These are one of my favorites! The active arch hang is one of the most challenging due the the body position needed. The goal is to hang with an arched back, while actively depressing and retracting the shoulder blades. It’s almost like a back bridge combined with an active hang. This will not only increase one’s strength in pull-ups, but will also aid you in someday catching the extremely challenging front lever.

George Corso Active Arch Hangs

Ape Swings
This exercise requires stamina, strength, control and mobility in order to accomplish. Start off in a dead hang with a mixed grip (one palm facing away and the other facing towards you). From here, release the palm that is facing you and rotate your body beneath the bar, switching your grip for the other side. Continue moving across the bar in this fashion, then reverse direction. What I love about this exercise is the control and scapular strength needed in order to bring yourself up enough to grab the bar. Each rep is almost like a one arm scapula pull-up.

George Corso Ape Swings

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George Corso is a PCC, RKC, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Certified Animal Flow instructor and the co-owner of FORZA in Millbrook, NY. For more information, connect with George on Facebook.

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  • 9eyedeel

    this is good

    • George Corso

      Thank you! Hope it helps with your own practice!

  • Paramesvara Dasa

    This is really great information. Thanks for sharing.

    • George Corso

      Thank you for your kind words. It was my pleasure! Just passing along ideas that I combined and picked up from others

  • Great stuff, George, it’s funny but when I do dead hangs it hadn’t occurred to me to vary the grip! Awesome 🙂

    • George Corso

      Thank you Adrienne! It’s amazing the difference it makes!

  • Jimjames Esson

    Great thinking,i have AnklosingSpondilitus had 3 vertabrae removed, sorry for the interruption,,I’ do lots of physio but i can no longer swim forward my neck is also fused. . Anyhoo I’m not looking for simpathy… Glad you get others your​ motivation.. Sound..All the best

    • George Corso

      Thank you for your extremely kind words! I definitely learned from some amazing instructors over the years to be able to write this Article. (This including Al and Danny!). I love hanging! It has help me in so many aspects of my training.

      I’m sorry to hear of your injuries and set backs. I do believe through our limitations we finds or greatest strengths! I have all the faith that you have!

      • Jimjames Esson

        If i hang Deary me the pain is unbearable.. But I’m still healing inside.2yrs till I’m good..I’m now 48yr ..You have a great way of training as i used to have a great build 17yr offshore..I used to get up 2hours before shift to the gym.. Even at College a school mate and i went to a gym 4days a week religiously for 3 yrs.but a gene defitionse. I lost 5 stone in 6months from 13.5 all my work career to 8… Stone.. When in my30s the gene.. Destroyed me IV been blind.blood transfusions…But what I want to say..I’m alover of motivation teaching I’m not ready as my surgeon gave me a talking to for snapping a titanium rod, which is a big deal..Had to open me up again & repair it..So keep on keeping on.. I will be reading.cheers George

        • Elisha Howard

          With all that work done, I say kudos to the spirit! If dead hangs are too much try gentle work with Therband pulls! I had both of my shoulders reconstructed and they seem to be my favorite new thing. Two years out and I’m finally getting back to the swing of things!

          • Jimjames Esson

            fit like Elisha.??,i do respectfully hope you’re shoulders,heal in the ways that you want them to,,, definitely already using the bands,,also reverse planking,reverse pushups,a& since I installed Pinterest it has absolutely ever part of the body strength , training,,but it’s your shoulders & my back well a fused solid bone i had the first 3 completely removed as the 3 disks had dissolved into my system IV had a massive cyst that ate into all the new growth forming bone.& 1 i snapped by being overly active. im feeling good about myself confidence,, being bent at 43 % hunched forward posture is was terrible unattractive to others people staring at me, young folk shouting “the bells” & worse ”watch where your going “FREEK” it tore into me .. imstill in pain & last year was horrible so many family , Auntys was the worst…Mom’s last & closest sister. mate’s 2 heart attack s 2 with cancer my best mates dad’s passing. I often think about why.. I would swapped with them to definitely.. sorry I’m away off track… Motivation please don’t have the wrong ideas on me.. stay strong and may you prosper & heal with people to be around you being true to heart.. Take Care Physical excersice is a must…..

        • George Corso

          Wow 😳 sorry to hear that.? Snapping that must have left you in a great amount of pain! As you said keep on keeping on! That being said, I appreciated you kinds words on the article and I wish you a speed recovery!

  • ohioan

    thanks for the tips. I’ll give them a try. I like doing pull ups already.

    • George Corso

      Your welcome! Glad you found this helpful! Good luck with your practice! I hope this becomes useful!

  • Paul Vrana

    Thanks! I’ve got to try the “Active Arch Hangs” – never seen those before

  • pixelzombie

    I’m curious why you have your thumbs over the bar.

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