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Why Are Pull-Ups So Hard? (Explained For Beginners)

Pull-ups are a highly effective upper body-building exercise.

They not only help build a strong muscular back but they also build strength and definition in your shoulders, arms, and core too.

There are a huge number of benefits that can be experienced by adding pull-ups into your training program.

However, one of the biggest disadvantages to pull-ups is that they’re a pretty difficult exercise.

Pull-ups provide a big challenge for the working muscles so they’re by no means an easy exercise to do.

In this article, we explore why pull-ups are so hard including why some people may find them even harder than others as well as looking at ways to make them a bit easier to add to your workouts.

Why Are Pull-Ups So Hard? 

A Lot Of Weight Needs To Be Lifted By Some Small Muscles

One of the main reasons why pull-ups are so hard is that they require you to lift your entire body weight with only a relatively small group of muscles.

Obviously, some of the muscles working during pull-ups aren’t actually that small…

…But asking even the larger muscles involved in the exercise (like your lats) to move your whole body is an extremely challenging thing to do.

In particular, your arms and shoulders are put under a lot of stress, so if you have any weakness in these areas, pull-ups are even more challenging for you to do.

They Are A Compound Exercise

As pull-ups are a compound exercise, multiple muscles and joints have to work together to make the movement happen.

If one of the working muscles is weaker than the other, other muscles have to take on more of the work which can make pull-ups harder.

As so many muscles come into play during pull-ups too, you need to have good levels of strength in all of them which can be an issue for some people.

Upper-body strength is needed to be able to do pull-ups successfully.

With a lot of muscles being involved in the movement, there isn’t too much room for weakness in any upper-body muscle.

The Technique Can Be Tricky

The technique involved in pull-ups can be quite challenging to master.

Small errors in your technique can not only make the exercise even harder but can actually lead to injury.

While the pull-up technique may look fairly straightforward, you need to get it right to get the full benefits of pull-ups.

Unless you have the upper-body strength, the appropriate fitness level, and the understanding of how pull-ups work, the technique can be very difficult to master.

The Movement Is Not A Commonly Used One

There are many exercises that can be performed that closely resemble movements we make in everyday life.

Bicep curls, for example, are similar to the action we may perform when lifting something.

The movement involved in pull-ups isn’t one you would ever likely do in your everyday life though.

As it’s a pretty complex movement that doesn’t really resemble any “normal” daily activities, your body doesn’t have any experience (or strength) in that range of motion.

If you think about the last time, outside of the gym, you reached up above your head, grabbed hold of something, and lifted yourself up using just your arms – it would be surprising if this has happened too many times!

Until you have built up strength in the movement, you’ll likely find pull-ups to be a very challenging exercise.

Muscle Coordination Is Needed

Good levels of coordination are needed to be able to perform pull-ups correctly.

Each working muscle has to activate at the right time to make the movement happen smoothly and effectively.

You also need to be able to keep your body in the right position throughout the movement.

This means that the stabilizing muscles involved also have to activate at just the right time to prevent your body from moving out of the correct position.

Grip Strength Is Important

Sometimes it isn’t the working muscles that aren’t strong enough to do pull-ups. It can be that your grip strength lets you down.

If you’re unable to grip the bar properly, pull-ups become even more difficult to do.

Not only do pull-ups require you to lift your body weight, but they also require you to be able to hold yourself on the bar using only your grip strength for the time it takes to complete a set.

This can make them too challenging for some people to do successfully.

Why Are Pull-Ups Hard To Progress?

There are several reasons why pull-ups are hard to progress with some reasons being easier to overcome than others.

One of the main reasons is that there aren’t too many ways that you can gradually build up the intensity.

For example, if you’re trying to progress your bench press, you simply start with a weight you can comfortably lift, and then gradually increase the weight in small increments until you reach your target bench press weight.

With pull-ups, you’re using your body weight as resistance so there isn’t really an option for you to change the amount of weight you’re moving.

You can increase the number of reps and sets you do, but you can’t do too much in the way of changing the amount of weight being lifted during pull-ups.

Another common problem is that you may have a weak point in your working muscles.

Compound exercises like pull-ups require multiple muscles to work together to make a movement happen.

If one of the muscles involved is even slightly weaker than the others, progress can come to a complete standstill.

You’ll need to spend time strengthening the weaker muscle so it can then keep up with the others as you try to do more pull-ups.

Why Are Pull-Ups Harder Than Chin-Ups?

The change in grip plays a big role in making pull-ups harder than chin-ups.

The pronated (palms-down) wide grip used in pull-ups does a much better job of isolating your lats.

While your lats aren’t completely isolated during the movement, they have to do a lot of the work.

In chin-ups, the underhand grip (supinated – palms-up) and closer hand position on the bar allow your biceps to get more involved in the exercise.

The additional help your biceps provide makes chin-ups quite a bit easier than pull-ups.

It should be said that neither pull-ups nor chin-ups are easy exercises, but of the two, chin-ups are the easiest due to the addition of your biceps to the working muscles.

Why Are Pull-Ups Hard For Females?

Pull-ups are a hard exercise to perform for anyone but females tend to find them a bit more of a challenge.

The main reason for this comes down to the biological differences between the male and female bodies.

In very basic terms, females tend to have a higher percentage of body fat and less muscle mass than males.

This higher level of fat and lower amounts of muscle is related to the production of testosterone.

If you’ve been training for a while, you likely would have heard all about testosterone.

It’s a hormone produced in the body that helps build muscle. And females produce less testosterone than males, so therefore have less muscle mass.

While naturally having more body fat and less muscle mass makes pull-ups a bit harder for females, it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t do them at all.

It may take more effort for females to progress their pull-ups, but they can definitely train their bodies to be able to do pull-ups very effectively.

Are Pull-Ups Suitable For Beginners?

Pull-ups aren’t usually suitable for beginners although this isn’t always the case.

As pull-ups require a good foundation of upper-body strength in order to be performed correctly, most beginners won’t be strong enough to do them.

It usually takes a bit of time spent in the gym building up strength before it’s a good idea to try and add pull-ups to a beginner’s workout.

That being said, some people naturally have a good foundation of strength whether they’ve trained before or not.

If this is the case, pull-ups might be suitable.

They could even be a good way of challenging someone with high levels of natural strength.

As long as they’re strong enough and understand the technique involved, pull-ups can be suitable for beginners.

Normally, the lack of strength will prevent beginners from being able to do them though.

How To Make Pull-Ups Easier

The key to making pull-ups easier is to develop the muscles used in the exercise so they’re stronger and better able to cope with the stress placed on them during pull-ups.

There are several exercises you can do that can help.

Lat Pulldown

Your lats play a huge part in pull-ups.

If you don’t have strong lats, pull-ups can seem almost impossible to do.

Lat pulldown is actually a very similar movement to pull-ups.

The main difference is that you’re seated so you aren’t lifting your body weight.

Instead, you can add or remove weight from the machine to work your lats to the desired level.

Performing lat pulldowns can be a great way of building strength in some of the working muscles used in pull-ups which can help make them easier.

Assisted Pull-Ups

Some gyms may have a specific assisted pull-up machine.

These usually have a platform that supports your lower body and assists you in the upward phase of the movement.

If the gym you train at doesn’t have one of these machines, resistance bands can be used for assistance instead.

The band usually attaches to the bar and then your foot or knee sits in the other end.

This then helps you lift your body weight up as you perform pull-ups.

If you’re training with a partner or a personal trainer, they could also offer you assistance by supporting your lower body during pull-ups and helping you during the upward phase if you need it.

Assisted pull-ups can help you get your body used to the movement of pull-ups without putting too much stress on the working muscles before they’re ready for it.

Negative Rep Pull-Ups

Negative rep pull-ups involve jumping or being assisted into the highest point of pull-ups and then slowly lowering yourself down unaided.

This has several benefits that can make pull-ups easier in the future.

Firstly, the muscles required to do full pull-ups are still being worked during negative rep pull-ups.

They’re still getting stronger as they lower your body weight down to the lowest point under control.

Less stress is placed on them during the lowering phase so it can be easier to build strength in this way before adding in the pulling part of the movement.

Another benefit is that they help to increase grip strength too.

As a weak grip can make pull-ups harder, this can be a great way of making pull-ups easier for you.

Negative rep pull-ups are very similar to full pull-ups, so you can develop the strength in the appropriate places as well as get used to the technique involved without having to go straight into full reps.

This can make a big difference to the level of challenge pull-ups provide you with.

Sources

Testosterone Levels of Women vs Men