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How To Get Your First Pull Up

Updated on October 25, 2019
BodystrongBen profile image

I have a masters degree in sports science and around 10 years experience in personal training and sports research.

How To Do A Pull Up For Beginners

To start let’s clear up the standards of a full range pull up. A pull up is hands gripped over a high bar, just outside the shoulder width. Then you must pull yourself up so your chin is above the bar and lower yourself down so that your arms are fully extended. A lot of people tend to cheat on the downward motion and not fully extend but it’s essential.

Doing a pull may sound easy but I can assure it’s not. People can go to the gym and train for years without being able to do 1 full strict pull up. I must say though, that may be down to the fact they aren’t training correctly to achieve one.

Part 1 - First Pull Up Program

This is a program devised for you to get towards your first ever pull up. It’s for people starting at the very beginning, if you are already close to a pull then I would suggest moving on to the part 2 - pull up progression program.

Getting your first pull up may seem impossible but it’s certainly not. To start, you need to become custom to lifting your own body weight. To do this, if you’re overweight, then a strict diet and high cardiovascular training must be done to bring your weight down. Along with this you must start lifting your body weight in minor movements. This can be things such as push ups, whether that be a normal push up or even from the knees if needed. Also dead hanging from a bar can be beneficial, as strengthening the hold will massively increase pull up potential. Once you feel comfortable in the dead hang, start performing slight repetitions. Just small sets of max reps, trying to pull up as far as you can go.

After you can pull yourself roughly half way to the bar then move onto part 2.


Part 2 - Pull Up Progression Program

Now that we have that initial pull strength and we’ve bought our body weight down, we can move the training up a level. Next is to start working on exercises to help with pull ups.

Some gyms will have a weight assisted pull up machine. This is obviously very advantageous and I would suggest using it if possible, I will be writing for people that don’t have one of these machines available.

Firstly is banded pull ups. To do these, simply get a resistance band and loop it around the bar and back through itself. Now place one foot inside the bar and perform a pull up. The wider and stronger the band, the easier pull ups will be. Once you can perform pull ups without much strain on a certain band, then try using a thinner band for less aid.

At this stage it’s also key to start building your latissimus dorsi muscles (back muscles/lats). To do this I would always suggest lat pull downs. On top of lat pull downs you can perform medicine ball slams, bent over rows and standing lat push downs. A great body weight exercise would be ring rows. Using gymnastic rings, have them around 10 inches more than arms length above the ground. Proceed to hold on to inside of the rings with a a firm grip, walk forward and ease your upper body toward the ground so you are holding on to the rings to keep yourself aloft. Now complete ring rows, similar to bent over rows.

When you can complete 8-10 pull ups with a low resistance band move onto part 3.

Part 3 - Completing A Pull Up

You should now be strong enough to complete at least 1 full motion pull up. To edge yourself toward this feat, then there are a couple of variations to try first.

Descending pull ups can be a great tool if you are close to your first pull up. This means concentration only on the downward motion of a pull up. Grab a bar at the right height that you can hold on from the ground or grab an elevated platform to allow this. Holding on to the bar jump so your chin is above the bar and slowly allow yourself to drop down. This motion must be slow to work efficiently.

If you have a friend or someone to assist you in the gym, then you can also get them to assist you on a pull up. Get them to ease you up by pushing up your legs while doing a pull up.

Strong But Can't Do A Pull Up?

Still struggling doing pull ups even though you know you have enough strength? This could be one of 2 things.

First is flexibility. Your body may be struggling with the actual movement of a pull up. To help I would suggest searching online for back/lat stretches and performing them regularly. You could even try a sports massage and get them back muscles really loose. Make sure you always stretch and warm up before working out, to allow yourself more movement.

The second thing could be a mental block. So many people think they can’t do something and therefore never will. It’s hard to say how to stop this but it can be done. Just know you CAN do a pull up, anyone can with work and dedication. Even consider getting a personal trainer and telling them your goal. Having someone stand over you and giving you motivation can do wonders.

Thank you for reading.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Ben Smith


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