What is a negative pull-up?
Negative Pull-ups are a very effective progression exercise that focuses on the lowering part of a traditional pull-up. Think of negative pull-ups as a stepping stone to standard pull-ups, but instead of pulling yourself up, you are focusing on the downward section of a standard pull-up.
The way you carry out a negative pull-up is by beginning in the flex hang, and then you move onto a dead hand position. This might seem like an easier version of a standard pull-up, and it is, but you still gain benefits from performing this exercise.
Negative pull-ups benefits
Here are the benefits of negative pull ups:
- Great preparation exercise for traditional pull-ups
- Improves grip strength
- Increases muscle mass and strength
- Works multiple muscle groups including back, arms, chest, and core
- Improves other exercises like deadlifts and barbell rows
- Helps build body control and coordination
This popular exercise might seem weird at first glance; however, it has a number of benefits you cannot ignore. For example, negative pull-ups are a great upper-body exercise. All your muscles in your arms, chest, shoulders, and core are engaged, making it a great preparation exercise for traditional pull-ups.
There are various studies that show that the negative portion of the exercise may be more effective at building muscle than the entire rep.
Over time you will see an increase in your endurance as well as grip strength, which is a great benefit of pull-up negatives.
Another benefit of performing negative pull-ups is that you are essentially preparing your body to perform standard pull-ups. Through negative pull-ups, you are progressively improving your muscle mass and strength, helping you to eventually perform a standard pull-up.
This exercise can shake up your gym routine, especially if you are having trouble doing a tradition pull up. You should always challenge yourself during your workout if it becomes too easy; it means you should move up to the next level, a standard pull-up.
Negative pull-ups muscles worked
The main muscles worked when performing a Negative Pull Ups are:
- Lats (Primary)
- Back Muscles
The lats are responsible for the majority of the pulling throughout a regular pull up. They are a large muscle that drives the momentum upward. In this case, they are helping you to control your weight on the way back down.
Any form of pull up recruits many muscles in the back including the trapezius, rhomboids, teres major, and levator scapulae. All of these muscles are recruited during a negative pull up as they work in coordination to lower yourself down.
Depending on your hand position, the biceps will be engaged to a varying extent. When your hands are turned in towards you, you will get more bicep recruitment. And there will be less when your hands are facing forward. There will still always be some bicep usage throughout a negative pull up
The triceps are not engaged as much as the rest of these muscles, but they are engaged as they help to extend the elbow which will happen at the lower phase of the movement.
Your core will be used during a negative pull up as keeping it engaged will help you control yourself on the negative phase. Keeping your core tight will help to prevent you from swinging too much and will keep the focus on the back muscles
Negative pulls will also engage your shoulder especially your rear delts and trapezius muscles which are involved in pulling motions. You’ll also want to focus on keeping your shoulder blades back and tight through the movement which further involves your shoulders.
Similarly, to standard pull-ups, pull-up negatives help to train your core muscles as well as upper body muscles. It is good for a whole-body workout.
How to do negative pull ups
Here is your step by step guide on how to perform a negative pull-up:
- You might be happy to hear that your starting position is above a pull-up bar. Hold onto the bar and your chin should be above the bar. This means you can stand on a structure in order to position yourself properly – If it is your first time doing this exercise, we recommend seeking the help of a partner.
- If you are positioned on an object, remove your feet from it and then you slowly lower yourself. Control your body to increase the amount of resistance you feel while slowly lowering yourself.
- Once you have lowered yourself you should be in a hanging position, known as a dead hang.
- Your arms should be outstretched, while your feet will be positioned on a flat surface.
- Repeat as you see fit.
Top tip: Do not just drop down as this will not provide you with any benefit, which is why controlling your descent is the best way to improve core strength and muscle mass.
Please note: If you experience pain while performing this exercise, we recommend seeking professional assistance.
A pull-up bar will be the main piece of equipment needed to perform negative pull-ups. There are various grips and handles which will pertain to which style of pull up you are doing.
There are straight bars that work for a wider-grip, hands forward pull up. They also have attachments with parallel bars for inward grip pull-ups. You will find these at most gyms either on their own or as part of a squat rack, or cable crossover machine. You can also use rings to perform them.
Other equipment you will need will be a box or bench as a way to help yourself up to the top of the movement. You can also use resistance bands that will also help propel you upward so you can then perform the negative pull up.
Weighted negative pull-up
A weighted negative pull up will be a more advanced way to build even greater strength and muscle. The added resistance will force your muscles to adapt which leads them to get bigger and stronger.
To do these you simply link a dumbbell between your feet and jump up to get to the top of the bar.
You can also use a weighted belt that you can hang a weighted plate from to give you some added resistance. There are also weight vests that will help accomplish the same thing.
Negative pull-ups vs assisted pull-ups
These are both going to be great exercises but with a negative pull up you are required to be more in control of your body than an assisted one.
The assisted pull up (whether it’s an assisted pull up machine, resistance band, bench, or partner) is helping you to do some of the work.
With a negative pull up, you are using all your own weight and need to control it on the way down. This will force you to engage all your upper body muscles as you control yourself against the resistance.
An assisted pull up can be useful, but a negative pull up will be more ideal for building strength and muscle.
Why are negative pull ups so good?
The ability to control one’s own weight is a true test of strength, body control, and functional strength. A negative pull up is a great way to build lean muscle and strength if you struggle to do regular pull ups.
They still allow you to get the benefit of the exercise and also allow you to continue doing reps after you are unable to pull yourself up anymore.
They will help you build up the strength, muscle, and ability to perform regular pull ups while still allowing you to build muscle.
There are studies showing how just the negative phase of a repetition might be just as good at building muscle as a full rep – especially in the case of negative pull up.
They also strengthen your back, arms, and grip which have a carryover to other lifts such as deadlifts, barbell rows, cleans, and even rack pulls.
The first thing is to start doing negative pull ups even if it’s only a few. The best way to get good at a specific lift is to regularly do it. The next thing you can do is to perform exercises that are similar to the movement such as barbell rows, one-arm rows, inverted pull ups, and lat pull downs.
Negative pull ups will be one of the best ways to develop your pull up ability. With a negative pull up, you’re still doing half the motion while building the strength and muscle required to do a full one.
Negative pull ups allow you to continue part of the movement when you have reached the point of failure. This will allow you to build muscle and strength through the extra negative reps that you would not have been able to do. They are a way to continue your set when you can no longer pull yourself. When you can no longer perform a pull up with good form, use a bench or box to get in some more negative reps at the end of your set making sure to lower yourself down with strict control. The more you do this, the more strength you will be building to extend your regular pull up repetitions.
You can do negative reps each time you do pull ups. The best way to do them is either at the end of your set to fully exhaust the muscle, or to help make up the rest of your targeted rep range. If you are going for 10 pull ups and you can only do 6 regular ones, finish the set with 4 negative pull ups making sure to keep strict form and control on the descent.