The pull-up is a fantastic bodyweight exercise which works your lats, as well as your biceps. Whilst it may seem like a straightforward movement, the fact that you have to use ‘at least’ your bodyweight can be challenging for some.
If you cannot perform a pull-up, or a set of pull-ups, then fear not. This article will take you through step by step, how to work towards achieving your goal.
#1: Hang in There…Literally
A large amount of the difficulty of pull-ups comes from being able to keep your body handing from the bar throughout the entire movement.
This requires a strong grip, as well as stabiliser muscles in the arms and shoulders.
This first step you should take is to build up this strength by practicing hanging from the pull-up bar. Depending on where you are at progress wise, you should take a different approach to this.
✓ If you are a complete beginner, then you should practice holding yourself on the bar for 5-10 seconds at a time. Do this several times or until you get fatigued. Once you build up this practice, you will be able to increase the number of sets you do, as well as the time you are able to hang.
✓ After this, you should aim to try and hang from the bar for as long as you possibly can.
Now, I don’t mean until you get a little tired; you should hang from the bar until you physically cannot any longer and you fall off!
✓ Take 60-90 seconds rest and repeat this. After you have practised this for a couple of weeks, you should aim to shorten the rest period, aiming for around 30 seconds.
#2: Assisted Pull-Ups
Once you have built up the grip strength, it’s time to perform your first variation of an actual pull-up. Assisted pull-ups are similar to the real thing, but they utilise an aid which helps you in performing the ‘pull’ part of the movement.
One way in which you can perform these is using the assisted pull-up machine is if your gym has one. You place your knees on the pad, set a weight which is less than your own, and pull yourself up to the bar with the aid of the force from the machine.
✓ Another way in which you can perform these is using a chair, or other elevated platform.
Place the chair under the bar, and using one or two feet to support you in the movement, pull yourself up towards the bar, lowering yourself back down onto the chair and repeat.
✓ You can also replicate this motion using a partner if you do not have a suitable platform to work with.
If you have sufficient resistance bands, you can use these to help you pull yourself up. Place the band over the bar, with your feet inside at the other end, and use the tension of the band to help in the movement.
✓ As soon as you are able to perform 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps of assisted pull-ups, you can move on to the next step!
#3: Negative Pull-Ups
These can be used as a replacement for the assisted pull-ups if you do not have a band, platform or partner to help you.
They are also a great exercise for building strength and are utilised by many lifters, even those who are able to perform complete pull-ups themselves.
When performing a negative pull-up, you will jump up to the bar, simulating the pull motion of the movement.
✓ Once you are at the top of the bar, slowly lower yourself in a controlled manner to the bottom of the movement. You can use a chair or platform to help you get to the top of the bar if you cannot reach it through jumping.
✓ The whole point of negative pull-ups is to use control. You do not need to be able to lift your bodyweight for these, just lower yourself back down.
#4: Chin Ups
Similar to pull-ups, chin-ups utilise more of your biceps muscles to help you complete the movement. Since you are able to use more muscle throughout the exercise, you will be able to complete a chin-up more successfully than you will a pull-up.
Using a supinated grip (palms facing towards you) with your arms shoulder width apart, hang from the bar in the starting position. Then proceed to pull yourself up to the top of the bar, pausing for a moment, and then lower yourself back down.
Now that you are actually performing a full movement, there are a few tips you should keep in mind:
✓ Ensure that you pull your shoulder blades back, retracting them, as you complete the movement.
✓ Imagine you are pulling the bar down, rather than yourself up.
✓ Keep your abs tight and glutes tensed for increased stability.
✓ Try to get your chin above the bar; don’t stretch your neck in order to achieve this.
Once you are able to complete 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps of chin-ups, you can move on to the notorious pull-up…
#5: The Pull-Up
You’ve built up the grip strength and mastered the movement; now it’s time for the real thing.
After following all the other steps which I detailed, performing a regular pull-up should not be too difficult.
With your hands shoulder width apart, using a pronated grip (palms facing away from you), hang from the pull-up bar.
✓ Proceed to pull yourself up to the bar. One full rep is completed when your chin is above the bar.
✓ Slowly lower yourself back to the starting position and repeat.
That’s it! Once you can perform 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps of pull-ups, you are ready to take it to the next level!
Take Home Message
With these simple steps, you will be on your way to performing your first pull-up in no time!
Once you have successfully completed several sets of pull-ups, why not try some more advanced movements?
You can begin by doing weighted pull-ups, using a weights belt, adding weight gradually over time.
Alternatively, you could take the steps to complete the coveted muscle-up!