“How can I do my first pull up?”
It’s an all too frequent question from my clients and readers (especially women).The path to the pull up can be a long one for many, but here are a few secrets to put you in the fast lane.
How To Do One Pullup
1. Remember we’re talking about a strength move.
And by “strength move” I mean moving as much weight as possible for one repetition. If you can’t do one complete pull-up, then what we are really working toward is increasing your one rep max in this exercise.
So train accordingly. Quit sitting on the lat pull down machine and banging the weight stack up and down with light-ass weight for 12 reps each set. Instead, work with as much resistance as possible in sets of 5 reps or less and take long breaks between each set. How long? Well private clients in my experience get antsy if I ask them to wait much more than 2 minutes.
But if you can stand it, as much as a 5-minute rest between sets can be beneficial when working in the strength protocol. This goes for all of your major lifts such as the deadlift, squat, shoulder press and bench press.
2. Reproduce the movement as closely as possible.
That means stay off of the damn lat pull down machine if you can. My preferred method of reducing the resistance in the movement is to use a band such as the ones that can be found at Performax (run by my buddy Dave Schmitz)
Loop one end of the band around the pull-up bar. Now put one foot through the other end so that you are standing on the band (in the video above they use the knee). The band will now assist you through the full range of motion of the pull-up. Another good option is to have a training partner help you through the motion by pushing up at the bottom of your foot. Just make sure they give you no more assistance than is needed to get that chin above the bar.
Many of the big gyms will have a machine with a weight stack that will assist you through the range of motion; I don’t like these as much as the bands or partner assist but they are still better than the lat pull down machine. And finally, if you must, you can use a lat pull down machine.
3. Work through the full range of motion – almost all of the time
The majority of your time training for the pull up should be spent working through the full range of motion. That means arms completely extended at the bottom and chin above the bar at the top.
Use whatever means of assistance you need to get you through that full extension and contraction (bands, partner, or machine assist), but work completely from the top to the bottom. With two exceptions.
First, once per week try your damnedest to to one full real deal pull up with no assistance. That means start at a complete dead hang and PULLLLLL! Fight for every fraction of an inch. Second, start at the top of the motion (chin above the bar; stand on a chair or other sturdy object to get you up there) and lower yourself as far down as you can and still maintain the ability to pull yourself back up to the top. This might be only a few inches your first attempt.
But do this drill once per week and watch your range of motion grow slowly but surely with each attempt.
4. Lose Some Weight
If you lose weight you will have less resistance in the movement and your path to the pull up will be that much faster. Depending on your current body composition, this could be THE most important factor in getting your first pull-up.
So if you’re carrying around a few extra pounds, watching your diet is likely more important than cranking out a bunch of assisted pull ups.
The pull up is one of my personal favorite exercises – I do them at least once each week. There is no better upper body movement to develop a muscular back and big biceps. Getting that first pull up might take some effort and discipline, but it is time and effort well spent.
I wanna know how many pullups you can do. Or if you’re struggling to do one still, what questions do you have? Leave me a comment a below and I’ll answer your questions…
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I have another method for working up to your first pullup. I put a chair under my pullup bar and went through the whole range of motion while leaving some of my weight on the chair. I did 3 sets of 5 reps like this, pulling up as much of my own weight as I could. Within a dew weeks I could do an unassisted pullup, and a few weeks layer I could do three. It’s a good way to train wo much equipment.
A fine method for working towards that first pull up, indeed! Many thanks for mentioning it.
I’ve been using bands for the last month and was able to finally do a chin up at 284 lbs, 16+ lbs less than when I started a month ago and couldn’t perform one.
I’m working on chin ups first and will then work on pull ups.
Here’s the video I made: http://www.fatmanunleashed.com/chin-up-challenge-attempt-at-284-lbs/
Congrats, Israel. On both the chin up and the weight loss.
And for anyone wondering, a chin up usually refers to the palms facing towards you in the grip and the pull up the palms face away. A chin up is usually a little easier for people than the pull up. Personally, I use both.
Thanks Vic. It was a great feeling.
iv always found close grip pull ups fairly easy, mainly because i have pretty strong arms, and iv progressed from being able to do 5 reps, to now being able to do about 12 before i struggle.
however, wide grip with palms facing away from me iv always struggled.
i used to struggle to do 2 full reps,but iv recently been doing 1 slow rep between each excercise i do in the gym. so say im doin a arms workout, il do say 3 sets of tricep dips, then go an do 1 rep of wide grip pull up.an i do this for every excercise, so i end up doing say 8 slow full reps of wide grip pullups each time i go to the gym.
iv been doing this 3 or 4 times a week for 2 months now, an am able to do around 8-10 full wide grip pullups in a set now!
its working for me, an it seems to be helping me gain upper body strength and also making me look more defined.
so if you are sumone who can do a single pull up or morem but want to increase the amount, mite be worth trying what i did,worked for me!
Another fine way to increase your pullups! Sometimes, this is called “greasing the groove” and as you’ve found can be effective.
I use rings to do pullups at the moment. I can do 8 but progress is slow. I am currently microloading to create some degree of progressive overload. I’m hoping to get the muscle up sorted by the end of the year.
If you aren’t already, I recommend using the kipping pull up to train for the muscle up. Doing the muscle up from the strict pull up is tough! Doable, but damned tough. Good luck, hitting my first muscle up was one of the best feelings I’ve had in all my training. Definitely worth the effort.
These are some solid tips for the folks who are still either too heavy or too weak to do their first pull-up.
Here is an article I wrote with some tips, although they could be considered somewhat more advanced:
How To Get Insanely Good At Chin-ups And Pull-ups
For the beginner I would side with Vic – train often, train with intensity/hustle, try to reproduce the movement(lat pull-downs with shoulder width grip pulled to the chest mimic full range of motions very well too) and lose a bit of weight..
Thanks, Yavor. A fine article you have on the pull up; everyone should check it out!
Thanks, Vic. Now that I’m fairly comfortable with push-ups, I decided it was time to learn pull-ups, since I only need proper form and the attitude of “just one” to get my push-ups rolling. Pull-ups seem harder but you’ve given me a starting point.
Good luck, Marilyn. Learning the pull up is well worth the effort. It is the best upper body pulling motion.
Great tips Vic, especially the one about the importance of ‘weighting’ the excercise. I initially couldn’t even do 1, and found it frustrating since as a girl, much of my weight was in my lower body. But once you get the first one, it gets fun. Now I do 4-5 and am working on being able to do 2 with the palms facing away (harder for me). Helps a LOT that I lost 10 lbs. Essential excercise, love using in your 8 min workouts- pull up-push up combo.
Thanks for the post!
Thanks for the comment! I agree, the pull up becomes essential once you learn to do them.
Great article, thanks.
I’m still working my way towards my first unassisted pull-up, and so I’m still using the machine for assistance. My experience of the machine is that it works well for me (i.e. I’m needing less and less assistance over time) but I can definitely see why people are leery of it. The problem goes like this:
When I’m concentrating on good form and doing most of the work with my back, I sort of let my legs dangle on the pad and don’t really think about them. This means I perform what feels like a proper pull-up movement.
When I’ve reached that “ah, sod it” stage and am getting lazy, it’s remarkably tempting to do a teeny bit of effort with my arms and then cheat by pulling my lower body up so that the pad hits its neutral position way. This means I’m wasting my time.
I will never forget the shock of finding out I had muscles in my armpits. Exciting and novel places to ache!
Well put, Ali. You describe perfectly the problem with using the assisted pull up machine. Keep working, you’ll get that first real deal pull up!
What size of band should I get?
Well that depends on how much assistance you need. I suggest getting a few different bands in varying strengths so you can progress towards that first unassisted chin up. Remember to work in the strength training protocol, so a band that helps you to get 3 full range of motion pull ups is best.
Hey Vic – I’ve never had problems with doing a pullup personally although I’ve always been quite light so that probably has something to do with it. I’ve not done any for a while but last time I tried I could do about 15 close grip pullups and about 8 wide grip pullpus.
Those are solid numbers. That’s about exactly where my numbers are on the strict versions of each; maybe a few less close grips than you and a few more wide grips. Neither of us will win a pull up contest with our numbers, but I think it’s a good range that indicates being fit.
Ah memories. Back in 1998 i was so weak. This exercise was damn hard for me to do. But after a while i became good at them. These days i can do pull ups with one hand. So for me , that last headline will say ‘pile on the weight’ as it gets quite easy. But it’s like most things, do it long enough and you become good, slowly forgetting how hard the early days were. Either way i still advise people and I’ll pass this on to them because of the videos. Great post Vic
Man, a one arm pull up is no joke! It took me about 6 months to get a muscle up. And a one arm pull up seems so far beyond that. . . Great work, Shaun.