There are several techniques to try if you’re goal is to increase the number of repetitions you can perform during a set of pull-ups. The following list provides some great tips:
• Start and finish in the correct position . I often see people hanging on the bar with their shoulders elevated up to their ears as they get ready to start their pull-ups. Then they return to this position at the bottom of each repetition before pulling up again. This position is risky and should be avoided, as it places a significant amount of stress on the tendons and ligaments of the shoulder (rather than the muscles, which are better equipped to control and overcome the stress). Instead, pull-ups should be performed with the shoulder blades set in a position where they sit slightly back and downward in relation to the base of the neck. Please don’t misunderstand this set position to mean that the shoulder blades shouldn’t move during a pull-up, because they must move at a distinct rhythm along with the arms. However, if they are sliding up toward the ears at the bottom of each repetition, your performance and the integrity of the shoulder joint will suffer.
• Add some assistance. The most effective way to assist yourself during a pull-up is to use a large resistance band attached to the top of the pull-up bar. Put one knee in the band and then perform the pull-ups as usual. The elastic resistance provides the most assistance at the bottom of the movement and then tapers off as you get your chin toward the bar. This technique will allow you to start to build strength at the bottom of the movement where the muscles are elongated and weakest from a force-production standpoint. Start with a resistance band that provides heavy support, and then taper off by using a lighter resistance band until, eventually, you are ready to use all of your body weight (without the help of a band) in the pull-up.
• Use different hand grips . Chin-ups, with palms facing toward you or with the palms in a neutral grip (facing each other), put the upper body in a more advantageous position to produce more muscular force. You’ll be able to perform more repetitions with the hands in these positions than with the hands in the traditional pull-up position (palms facing away). Try a couple of weeks of practicing the easier grips until you can surpass the number of pull-ups you are currently able do with the more challenging hand position. Then go back to the traditional pull-up grip. You should be able to do more repetitions.
• Progress slowly. Give yourself a goal of increasing the number of pull-ups you do by only 1 repetition each week. This will help you avoid going to all-out fatigue each time you train pull-ups and help you progress in a gradual way to avoid overloading the upper extremity too severely. One problem with pull-ups is that when you get tired, proper form declines rapidly and it’s almost impossible to continue knocking out good repetitions once fatigue sets in. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “perfect practice, makes perfect.” This concept portrays the fact that you never want to reinforce bad form, which is exactly what happens when you continue to perform a challenging exercise beyond the point of being able to properly execute it. So, to protect yourself from injury, progress your repetitions smartly by gradually introducing more volume and stop the instant you notice your form degrading.