How to Make the Pull-Up Feminine
The femininity in this exercise can be found in the way it gives you excellent, ballerina-level posture. It tightens the upper and mid back muscles which pull your scapulae back and down. This opens up your shoulders, pushes your chest forward, and will have you walking around like a queen.
The major muscle groups worked in a pull-up are your back and biceps. Maximizing the back contribution and minimizing the biceps contribution will keep this exercise more traditionally feminine.
There are many modifications that can be made to put the emphasis more on your back and less on the biceps.
These modifications can be done on a spectrum. I personally like a bit more muscle in my upper arms so I continually adjust over time to my liking.
Other Benefits of the Pull-Up
Another reason I love the pull-up is that working your way up to a full body-weight pull-up is one of the most rewarding experiences in the gym. When you finally do your first real pull-up you will feel like the baddest boss in town.
Not only does the improved posture in your upper and mid back give you feminine poise and elegance, but also can help with many health issues related to poor posture (an epidemic in our era of computers and smartphones). Chronic neck pain, shoulder pain, breathing problems, and headaches can all come from poor upper body posture.
Tips on starting from the very beginning
There are multiple different ways to work your way up to a pull-up, depending on the equipment you have available. You will obviously need a pull-up bar or handles. But that’s really the only thing you actually need. Other helpful equipment are resistance bands or the weighted pull-up machine at the gym.
One tip basic tip I’ll mention here is: Never let yourself hang completely limp. Always keep some contraction in your back, even at the very bottom of the movement. This often means not letting yourself down as low as possible, but stopping at about 2 inches before you get to hanging completely limp. The first image shows about as far down as you want to go. And you always want to pull yourself up to the point that the bottom of your chin is at the same level as your knuckles on top of the bar/handles.
How to start using only a pull up bar:
Jump up to the bar so you are in the final flexed position at the top of the range of motion. As slowly as possible, keeping your back engaged, lower yourself down to the bottom position. This is one rep. Then jump up again for another rep. Do about 3 sets of 8-10 reps of this, each time letting yourself down as slowly as possible.
Once you are able to hold yourself in position at the top, start with tiny range of motion pull-ups, gradually increasing to the full range. Jump up to the top position, lower yourself 2 inches, then pull yourself back up. Do a full 3 sets of this small motion. The next training day (2-4 days later) increased the range to 3 inches, then 4 inches, etc. until you get to the full range pull-up.
How to start using a resistance band:
There are countless types/strengths of resistance bands and almost an equal number of ways to wrap the resistance band around the bar. This method will require a good bit of experimentation to find the right balance of aid from the resistance band and enough difficulty to actually build strength.
I’d start with one of the higher resistances and a longer band. Double it, tie it, loop it around your pull-up bar, try out different configurations. Making it shorter will increase the resistance, making the pull-up easier.
You’re going to put one or two feet into the bottom of the band and hold the bar on either side of where the band is attached to pull yourself up.
Figure out a configuration that lets you do about 8-10 pull-ups with moderate difficulty to start and decrease the resistance as you go until you can do a pull-up without any resistance band at all.
How to start using the weighted pull-up machine:
You’ll also have to experiment a bit with this one to figure out what weight to start with. I’d start with the weight set at 50-75% of your body weight. This means that the machine will take that much weight off of you while you’re doing the pull-up. This one is relatively easy to see the progression as you can set the machine to less and less weight each week.
4 Tips on Form to Make the Pull-Up More Feminine
The tips I will give on form are to put more of the emphasis on your back and less on your biceps as I feel like this is the goal for many women. Again, these adjustments can be made on a spectrum to your preferences.
1. Palms Facing Away
First, you want your palms facing forward (away from you). This direction makes the move officially a pull-up while having your palms facing you makes it technically a chin-up. Semantics aside, this puts your upper arms in a position where the muscles of your upper and mid back aid the movement more than your biceps.
2. Angle Body Back 15 degrees
You’re going to want your body angled about 15 degrees back from vertical, encouraging movement of your scapulae towards each other in the movement to pull yourself up. This will build muscle to help keep your scapulae pulled back and closer together during your daily life outside the gym, giving you that posture you’re looking for.
3. Keep Weight on Pinky Side of Hands
You also want to focus on keeping the weight on the pinky finger side of your hands. This encourages external rotation of your arms, again placing your arms in a position to more of the emphasis on your mid back and less on your shoulders.
4. Push Arms Wider While Pulling Up
I also focus on trying to push my hands wider while I’m pulling myself up. This engages the triceps. In the body, when one muscle group is engaged, the muscle group that makes the opposite movement tends to relax itself. In trying to push your hands wider while pulling up, your triceps get a touch of activation and although your body needs a little bit of biceps to pull yourself up, the biceps contribution will be minimized.
Over time, you’ll notice how you tend to walk with a more upright upper back and shoulders pulled back without even trying. You will subconsciously look and even feel more elegant and confident.
Dr. Elle, MD