Posted on November 29, 2017 by Emily Forbes

Who here has pull ups in their regular gym programme? Anyone? No one? And why would you, they’re hard! Too hard in fact, that’s why you don’t do them. But you’d like to do them. Because, well they look cool.

Pull ups also build great upper body strength and give you that sexy back you’re after. I’d call that a good reason to learn how to master your first pull up, which can then follow onto a goal of 5 or 10 and then variation progressions! (secret, it isn’t with resistance bands, or at least that’s not how I did it).

pull up

What you need to know

  • Consistency is key. There is no point trying to do a pull up once in a while with great expectations, only to fail and not try again. I add them into my upper body workout which I do at least 2 x per week, sometimes 3.
  • You need patience.  As with all exercises, this will be a gradual progression. You are not suddenly going to be able to lift 60kg, 80kg or 100kg etc. But the lighter you are the less you have to lift,  so a good excuse to shed a few pounds.
  • Once you can do them, keep doing them. If you don’t use it, you lose it!

How to start and progression for the pull up

  1. Inverted rows: set up a bar on a squat rack with weight on to stop it moving or use a Smith machine. I set the bar up to around lower rib height. Use overhand grip, hands shoulder width or slightly wider, engage the abs and glutes, pull your chest to the bar and lower back down. The more vertical your position the easier it is, the more horizontal you are the harder it is. Start in a position where you can manage 3 sets of 12 reps. Over your sessions, start to change to a more horizontal position to increase resistance. You can get to a full horizontal position where your feet are up on a bench.
  2. Pike chin ups. Set the bar up a bit higher this time. Place a plyo box a leg length distance in front. Use an underhand grip to hold onto the bar, and have your feet on the box so you are in a pike position. Lift your chest toward the bar, your feet will be there to take some of the weight. Build up to 4×10.
  3. Chin ups. Take the box away and try your first chin up. I started with 3×1 & 1×5 negatives. Negatives might be the only time I would use a resistance band, it can help to get to the top position, or jump, then slowly lower down. Each session I would keep adding an extra chin up 3×2, 3×3 up to 3×10 & 1×10.
  4. I then moved this onto a neutral grip (fingers facing each other). Building up to 3×10 and 1×10 negatives.
  5. I am now on full pull ups (overhand grip), hands shoulder width apart. Progression would take it to a wider grip and then eventually one handed. I’m currently on 3×10 (but I get to 6 in a row and do 4 singles)

Here’s a little sketch of me mastering my pull ups which may help!

pull up

This is predominantly a back exercise but some of the progressions will recruit other muscles like biceps and pecs. Focus on engaging your lats and retracting your scapula at the bottom of the pull to start the movement (think about getting your shoulders away from the ears).

I hope these tips on how to master your first pull up help. Remember the key to mastering pulls up is patience and consistency. You’ll get there!