Pull-ups are one of the foundational exercises in any quality strength training program. However, I think many trainers or strength athletes do not realize that most beginners cannot even do one pull-up to start with.
If you want to master pull-ups, a great place to start the journey is by mastering negative pull-ups. Negative pull-ups are an excellent upper-body exercise that will strengthen your back, biceps, grip, and more.
In this guide, we will break down how to do negative pull-ups as well as the benefits and muscles used. Stick around if you want to truly become a pull-up master.
How To Do Negative Pull Ups: A Step By Step Guide
How To Do Negative Pull Ups
Get Into Your Starting Position
To start your negative pull-ups, you are going to want to start at the locked-out position of a pull-up. You can do this by either jumping up or stepping on a platform.
Once you are at the top, stabilize your body to ensure that you are not swinging. Try to engage all the muscles in your body, especially your core.
- Lower Yourself Down
Slowly lower yourself down until you reach a dead hang position.
Proper yourself back up to the top of the pull-up position and redo the movement all over again
Negative Pull-Ups Tips
Here are some basic pointers to make sure that you are getting the most out of negative pull-ups:
Trying using a platform instead jumping: It can be tiring to jump back up to the starting position after every rep, especially if you are heavier. To save more of your energy for the actual exercises, having a simple box you can stop on will make things easier.
Prioritize Form: It can be tempting to jerk yourself up and down, but try to really slow things down to ensure that your back is getting most of the load.
Try Variations: Do not just stick to a regular shoulder width grip, try switching grips or grip widths to change the exercises slightly. This will help strengthen different muscles and keep training fresh.
Do Them While Fresh: If you really want to progress on an exercise, you have to make it a priority. Try to do these early in your workout, or at least when your back muscles are fresh.
Negative Pull-Ups Benefits
There are several benefits to this eccentric exercise:
Great Progression Exercise
The most obvious benefit of performing negative pull-ups is that they are very beginner friendly and often the way by which many people achieve their first pull-up.
Given the minimal strength and equipment requirements, virtually anyone can do them as long as they have access to a pull-up bar.
Anyway, you look at it, the negative pull-up is a great way to get someone on their way into more advanced body weight or back exercises.
Our muscles are actually stronger in the negative or eccentric portion of the rep. This means that during conventional training, we are leaving lots of gains on the table by not training the eccentric portion of the rep till failure as well.
In fact, many studies have shown that eccentric exercises are more effective at building muscles thanks to the added muscle stretch factor.
More Time Under Tension
Another key aspect of muscle mass growth and strength progression is time under tension. Since you are slowing things down significantly with negative pull-ups, you are exposing your upper body muscles to more time under tension.
Slowly lowering yourself while keeping your body stable will heavily tax your core.
The core training aspects of both negative and regular pull-ups are an often overlooked benefit.
Build A Stronger Back
Although not the same as regular pull-ups, you are still going to build serious back strength with negative pull-ups.
Not to mention that in many cases it is the strength built by negative pull-ups that allow lifters to move on to more difficult exercises.
Muscles Worked By Negative Pull Ups
Just like regular pulls ups, negative pull-ups will also primarily target the back, biceps, and core:
Latissimus Dorsi (Lats): The lats are the large muscles on either side of your back and will be the primary muscles at play when you do negative pull-ups.
Biceps Brachii (Biceps): The biceps are the muscles in your arm that help during pulling movements. These will be working hard during hard at the top of the rep to prevent your arm from straightening.
Trapezius (Traps): Your traps are located in the upper back and neck region. These will primarily be doing shoulder blade stabilization work during the negative pull-up.
Rhomboids: Your rhomboid is located in your upper back between your shoulder blades. Like your traps, these will stabilize your shoulder blades and maintain proper posture.
Teres Major (Teres): The teres muscle is located on the outer edge of your shoulder blades and works alongside your lats.
Core Muscles: Although your core muscles are not worked directly, they will have to work hard to stabilize your torso and maintain proper body alignment.
While these are the main muscles that will be worked, it should be noted that some variations will work some muscles more than others. For example, chin-ups (underhand grip), will work the biceps more.
In contrast, pull-ups done with an overhead grip will not work the biceps as much and work the upper back muscles more.
How To Incorporate Negative Pull-Ups Into Your Training
Here is how you should you this beneficial exercise into your training based on your experience level:
If you doing negative pull-ups with the goal of eventually being able to do sets of full pull-ups, you should be doing negative pull-ups as often as your can.
Since there is no weight involved, the exercises will be relatively low impact. Obviously, pay attention to how the body responds and if you feel soreness in your elbows, back, or biceps give yourself some time to recover.
But if you truly trying to fast-track your way to your first pull-up, there is no downside to doing a few negative pull-ups every chance you get.
Just be sure that if you are doing them on training days you do them while you are fresh.
When Should You Move Onto Real Pull-Ups?
Once you have enough strength to do 3 sets of 10 negative pull-ups with proper form, start trying to do regular pull-ups.
A good potential strategy is slowly switching negatives for full reps so you are still getting plenty of volume as your progress.
For example, in one week you do 2 full reps and 8 negatives so it is still 10 total reps. The next week, maybe you can do 5 full reps and 5 negatives.
Before you know it, you will be able to do a full set of 10 of regular pull ups.
While the negative pull-up is traditionally seen as a beginner exercise, experienced lifters still have plenty to gain as well.
If you already have the basics down and can perform some solid pull-ups, consider doing negative pull-ups at the end of your set as a sort of burnout exercise.
This way you are truly pushing both the concentric and eccentric contractions portion to complete failure.
Negative Pull-Up Alternatives
There are plenty of other pull variations that you can do that can complement your regular training:
Weighted Negative Pull Up
Weighted negative pulls ups are the same as regular negative pull-ups except that add more weight through a weight belt or dumbbell. This can potentially be a way to add difficulty to the movement.
This also circles back to the benefits of eccentric overload that we have mentioned before.
Assisted Pull Ups
Assisted pull-ups are similar to negative pull-ups in that they are great progression exercises that can help beginners build some foundational back strength.
The difference is that you actually go through a full range of motion with assisted pull-ups as opposed to just the eccentric portion. This also means that you are being assisted throughout the entire movement.
When you do negative pull-ups, it is really you and your back muscles taking the full brunt of the load.
If your gym has an assisted pull up machine or resistance bands, assisted pulls can be a great tool to add to your training.
If you cannot do negative pull ups with proper form, an easier variation that you can try is dead hangs. With dead hangs, you essentially just hang from a pull up bar.
Even though you are in a static position, your muscles will still have to be engaged to keep your body stable and hanging from the bar.
With this exercise, your progression can instead be measured by how much time you can dead hang for as opposed to how many reps you can do.
Scapular Pull Ups
Scapular pull ups can be thought of as the next step up from dead hangs. As opposed to just hanging from the bar, what you can do instead is squeeze your shoulder back and together and lift your chest slightly upwards.
This will help you master the bottom portion of the pull-up. Not to mention that the scapula is involved in many other exercises as well. Building strength in this area will translate well to other areas of your training as well.
Inverted rows can be done with a barbell and squat rack or with dips bars. While they will still target your back muscles, that activation will come from a horizontal angle as opposed to a vertical angle.
Regardless, strength is still strength. Any progression you make here will still translate over handily to other back exercises.
Weighted pull-ups are often seen as the king of all back exercises and for good reason.
Once you have worked your way up to being able to do weighted pull-ups with a decent percentage of your own body weight, you are fairly advanced in terms of back training.
Weight is most commonly added through a dip belt, weighted vest, or weight belt.
Negative pull ups are a great way to build some foundational back strength for beginners and get you well on the way to achieving your first pull up, getting stronger, and gaining muscle.
Moreover, negative pull ups have more benefits to offer than just being a simple progression exercise. Even experienced lifters can benefit from the eccentric overload on their back muscles.
You should do negative pull-ups until you can 3 sets with proper form. Once you have done this, you are ready to do real pull-ups.
A negative pull up is also commonly referred to as an eccentric pull-up as you are only performing the eccentric portion.
Yes, your lats will be the primary muscle fighting against gravity as you lower yourself down.