Steps to Mastering the Pull-up/Heave


Looking to improve your heave (pull-up) count, or just starting out?

Below we share some of the muscle groups you will need to target and outline some exercises to help you achieve your aim.

The Muscles

The latissimus dorsi provides the most power during the upward movement towards the bar, with other muscles involved in the movement including:

  • The rhomboids;
  • Posterior deltoids; and
  • Biceps.

It is important to activate these muscles and engage the core throughout, while maintaining correct shoulder alignment. Remember, everyone has to start somewhere and strengthening these areas will increase your ability to perform a heave.

The Exercises

  • Lat Pull Downs:
    • These are a good place to start to train and strengthen the relevant muscle groups.
    • Choose a weight that is right for you – there should be enough resistance that you are nearing muscular failure by the last repetition, while still maintaining the correct form.
    • Execution:
      • Using a pronated grip (palms facing down) – grab the bar with your hands wider than shoulder width apart.
      • Pull down, keeping your arms straight out in front of you.
      • Next, with your back and arms pull your elbows back so the bar is touching your chest.
    • Do three sets of five repetitions.
  • Negative Heaves:
    • Execution:
      • Jump up ensuring the chest is level with the bar.
      • Hold the position for three seconds and slowly lower yourself down in a controlled manner.
    • Do three sets of five repetitions.
  • Assisted Heaves:
    • These can be done with a partner or resistance bands.
    • The thicker the band, the more support it gives you.
    • As your strength improves use a thinner band until you are performing the heaves unaided.
    • Execution:
      • Pass one end of the band through the other on the bar and place a knee or foot in the loop.
      • Hold onto the bar with hands slightly wider than your shoulders.
      • Complete a controlled assisted heave.
    • Do three sets of however many you can, resting for one-minute in between.
  • Dead Hangs:
    • These are a great way to strengthen the upper back, shoulders, core, forearms, hands and wrist flexors.
    • Execution:
      • Use a step to reach the bar.
      • Grip the bar with an over hand grip, arms shoulder width apart.
      • Move you feet away from the step so you are hanging from the bar.
      • Keep your arms straight and relax.
      • Hang for 30 seconds (work your way up to 45 seconds then one minute as you get stronger).
    • Repeat three times with a minute rest in between.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Now you need to practise. It is very easy to avoid doing exercises we are not good at. At the end of a session jump on the bar and do as many heaves as you can (assisted or unassisted).


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