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The ability to pull your body to the bar (repeatedly) proves that you’re a man who can truly pull his own weight—not someone who just dabbles in fitness. And for years, three points have governed proper form: Keep your body straight from shoulders to knees, bring your chest to the bar, and squeeze your shoulder blades. Now a Russian trainer is questioning those cues, asking if there’s really only one way to do a pull-up.
“Traditional pull-ups work great as a corrective exercise to improve posture,” says Pavel Tsatsouline, cofounder of StrongFirst.com. “But they’re not conducive to exerting the greatest amount of strength.” If that’s your goal, you’d do better to emulate a gymnast. “They’re the strongest people in the world for their body weight,” says Tsatsouline. “If you watch how they pull themselves up, you’ll see they use a ‘hollow’ body position: They’re concave, like a C, and their shoulders are a bit hunched.”
A “hollow pull-up” not only engages more muscles—including your glutes, hams, and other powerhouses along your “posterior chain”—but also forces your lats and abs to work together, increasing stability, says Men’s Health training advisor Bill Hartman, C.S.C.S.
The Hollow Pullup
Grab the bar using an overhand grip that’s hip-width to shoulder-width apart. Hang at arm’s length, pointing your legs slightly in front of you to form a wide C. Now press your thighs together and brace your abs; your body should remain rigid for the entire movement. As you pull yourself up, imagine that you’re pressing down on the top of the bar, and focus on bringing your belly button up; both steps will help engage your lats and core and boost stability. Look straight ahead and pull until your neck or upper chest touches the bar. Sink in your chest slightly rather than expanding it. Lower yourself.