I was surprised the other day how much interaction happened the other day as a result of a simple video I posted of me doing post-climb pull-ups.
The basics: A pull-up is the range of motion from a fully-relaxed hanging position to the chin level with the hands done with palms facing away from your body. No kipping, no starting with bent arms. When done properly, the pull-up is an excellent exercise for your abs (hello transverse abdominus!) and promotes good posture.
They help you climb: Though no single exercise is going to make you a strong climber, the strict pull-up (and any number of more challenging or more permissive variations) has a permanent place in the climber's training repertoire. Pull-ups have a direct translation to alpine and ice climbing as well as a more indirect translation to sport and shorter trad climbs. When an outdoor session does more of a job on your fingers than on big muscles such as your abs and lats, hit the rock rings post-crag to get an alpine-esque fatigue going in your forearms.
They help you run: More so than supporting one's climbing, pull-ups are excellent for mountain runners. Too often the runners I coach focus solely on building endurance in their lower bodies. There are two reasons this is not the best strategy. First, the athlete needs to build muscle in order to increase Vo2Max after a certain level of fitness is reached. Second, strong lats and abs support the upper body while the hip flexors and legs work away transferring all of the power into turning of the legs instead of into unnecessary movement in the upper body.
Most people don't do them right: Most climbers I see doing pull-ups at the gym either start with their arms slightly bent or kip slightly when they pull. Both of these mistakes negate much of the hard work done in a strict pull-up. Learning how to do them correctly is invaluable - and time saving.
The pelvic floor: I've said it before and I'll say it again... the pull-up is a wonderful ab workout. Any workout that strongly recruits your transverse abdominus, the band of muscle wrapping horizontally around your middle, translates directly into pelvic floor strength. Pull-ups are an extra good exercise for already-strong preggos and postpartum women alike - though not an exercise a woman is wise to begin during pregnancy.
The towel and dowel: One excellent thing about pull-ups is the amount of creative variations an athlete can devise given limited resources. While traveling for work in Sub Saharan Africa, I began slinging a hotel towel over a sturdy tree limb and holding one end in each hand for an effective training exercise for ice climbing. You can achieve the same effect in the gym by using the hanging dowels often provided.
Weighted: For those of you trying to up the number of pull-ups you can do in a set, weighted pull-ups can be useful for breaking through a plateau. Simply clip an alpine draw around a kettle bell and attach the draw to the belay loop of your climbing harness. Instant self-torture machine!
Negatives: For those of you just learning to do pull-ups, negatives can be a friendly way to start. Though many trainers advise beginners to do static holds in flexion, this can lead to overuse injury and simply does not translate well to the movement associated with climbing, running, and, well, pull-ups. To do a negative pull-up, jump up to the top of the pull-up and focus on lowering your body down in a controlled manner. Begin with one or two then progress to a full range-of-motion pull up when you're able.
Recruit a friend: Skip the crutch of using a chair, a wall, or a band for support (those props build bad habits) and, instead, get a friend to help you. If you need a bump on a pull-up, bend your knees behind you, cross your feet at the ankles, and have the friend gently lift up on your crossed feet while you pull like mad.
I coach endurance athletes of all stripes - even those who just want to do their first pull-up - or their first set of ten pull-ups.