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Answers to All of Your Questions About Pull-ups, Including "What if I Can't Even Do One?"

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

First things first. Let me assure you right off the bat that I rarely get a student walk through the doors at Levitation Nation without having them tell me that a) they are scared they won’t be strong enough or b) they can’t even do one pull-up. Fortunately, pull-ups nor super human strength are requirements for aerial training! We are in the business of making fitness fun but we do NOT expect people to come in already strong and capable. In fact, we pride ourselves in showing that aerial is for all body sizes and fitness types.

But, since y’all are hyper-focused on the ability to do pull-ups, let’s break it down:

Q: What is the difference between a chin-up and a pull-up?

A: Simply put, pull-ups use an overhand grip (palms facing away from you) whereas chin-ups use an underhand grip (palms facing toward you). Most people find chin-ups easier to do because it puts the body in a position to recoup the most assistance from the biceps.

Q: Why are pull-ups so coveted? A: Both pull-ups and chin-ups are a great indicator of overall strength…all the way down to grip strength which has been linked to overall health and a lower risk of heart disease.

Q: In addition to grip strength, what other muscles are used for a pull-up and what exercises build those muscles?

A: Primary muscles used for a pull-up are: Latissimus dorsi (lats), rhomboids, posterior deltoids, and biceps. Strength building exercises I recommend are:

  • Lat pull downs

  • Rear fly

  • Bicep curls

Q: What about chin-ups? What muscles are used and what exercises build those muscles?

A: Primary muscles used for chin-ups are: biceps, Latissimus dorsi (lats), teres major, and posterior deltoid. Strength building exercises I recommend are:

  • Bicep Curls

  • Lat pull downs

  • Reverse Grip (palms facing out) Barbell Rows

Q: What should I do if I don’t know what those exercise are?

A: Join us for our month-long HIIT series. We target all of the necessary muscle groups in every class! Classes run Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6:45 am.

Q: I can’t make that class time but I would still like to get stronger. What can I do?

A: Since you asked, I will share my tricks of the trade with you to get folks to their first pull-up. But these are my secret sauce, mums the word, (right?!?!?):

  • Inverted body weight rows – Use a low-hanging apparatus (for example, the bottom bar of an aerial hoop or even the edge of a table) to perform an inverted row. You can do this by climbing underneath the apparatus and stepping the feet out so you are in a bit of a diagonal and holding on with straight arms. Pull your chest up to the apparatus by bending your arms. The more horizontal you are, the harder this will be. Find a position that is challenging but do-able.

  • Negatives – To perform a negative on your pull-up bar, jump up to a bent arm hang, then slowly lower your weight down.

  • Assisted pull-ups – Find something to carry part of your body weight to perform an assisted pull-up. For example, loop a resistance band through the pull-up bar and put one foot in the bottom of the band. Or, place a chair under the pull-up bar to stand on the back to help carry some of the weight. Likewise, enlist a buddy to hold your feet and help carry some of the weight.

I recommend these drills even if you DO have access to traditional weights / weight classes, or, simply come to a class at Levitation Nation to play. Since strength building is a by-product of an aerial or pole practice, many people eventually find themselves able to do pull-ups down the road just through frequenting the classes.

Once you have your pull-up, you absolutely must use it or lose it! I train my pull-ups once per week. Here are some advanced variations that keep it interesting:

  • Pull up increments

  • Pull up archers

  • Pull up with a tuck up to one side

In fitness, you are only as strong as your weakest link. At Levitation Nation, pull-ups and chin-ups usually just come naturally with a committed aerial or pole practice. Between that and the boost for cognitive function you get from engaging in any type of dance or gymnastics, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

Article by Mindy Cochran. Mindy is the founder of Kalispell's Levitation Nation Aerial Studio, where the catch phrase "fitness is fun" is embodied alongside a culture of movement & women empowerment. Mindy is also a columnist for "Montana Woman Magazine." Her column "The Real Levitation Experience" shares expertise for elevating health and wellness that she has acquired through her certifications as a personal trainer, nutrition coach, and life coach. For more about Mindy, please visit:


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