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Achieving your first pull up!


The pull up is an exercise that many gym goers, athletes and everyone in between like to perform as part of their routine or would like to be able to perform!

Mainly because it requires minimal kit and is a rewarding movement that works the shoulders, arms, back and core muscles very effectively.

There is no doubt about it, the pull up is a tough exercise and can take a long time to master and perform optimally for repetitions. It is extremely common for many people when first attempting to not even be able to do 1 rep. Don’t get discouraged though, with patience, commitment and consistent work, the pull up is possible.

As Personal Trainers, we get lots of clients who would like to be able to do pull ups but don’t know where to start. The good news is that there are many ways you can work towards performing unassisted pull ups both from actively training pull up methods or alternative movements that are similar to the pull up. First, we’ll look at the pull up itself and then some alternative exercises until you gain the confidence and strength to give them a go!


The Dead Hang

The Dead Hang will improve your form and grip strength, whilst getting used to just holding your bodyweight with feet off of the floor.

How to do the dead hang:

  • Use a sturdy pull-up bar that’s tall enough for you to hang with your arms fully extended.

  • Grab the bar and position your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

  • Lift your feet off of the ground and try to bring your shoulder blades together to activate your back muscles.

  • Hold the position for as long as you can before relaxing your body.

  • Try to hold your dead hang for at least 10 seconds at a time and repeat the exercise for 10 reps.

  • Work your way up to 30/60 second holds to get used to the position.

Assisted Pull up (using Resistance Bands)

If you cannot perform a pull up unassisted with your body weight a great way of still being able to do the exercise with some help is by using a resistance band. The thicker the band the easier it will be, ideally you would start on the ‘easiest’ band and then once you are performing reps of say 10 comfortably, you would use the next lightest band and so on, all the way down until you no longer need a band at all. Note, this will take a long time but will be possible.

How to do the assisted pull up:

  • Use a resistance band that forms a closed loop. Drape the band over your pull-up bar and feed one end through the loop.

  • Pull the end down to secure the band to the pull-up bar. Place your foot in the resistance band and hold onto the bar so your hands are shoulder-width apart.

  • Pull yourself up so your chin is over the bar.

  • Hold the position for 1 count before lowering yourself back down.

  • Try doing 1–3 sets of 5–10 assisted pull-ups.

Negative Pull ups (using a bench/box)

A negative pull up can be a great way to just get used to lowering yourself from the bar. This would be just after the hardest part of pulling yourself up, doing these nice and slow over time will certainly develop the strength needed to assist with the overall pull up. The great part here is you do not have to do the hard part, just the lowering of your body weight in a slow, controlled manner.

How to do a negative pull up:

  • Stand on a bench or box so your head is already over the pull-up bar.

  • Keep your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width and hold tightly onto the bar.

  • Step off of the bench/box and slowly straighten your arms to lower your body down. When your arms are fully extended, let go of the bar.

  • Do 1–3 sets that are around 8–10 reps each.


Inverted Row (using a Barbell in a Rack)

This is a really effective way of working towards a pull up. You are in more of a horizontal position and it is utilizing your body weight to pull you through the movement. All you need is a barbell and a rack to place it in.

How to do an inverted row:

  • Set a barbell on a rack so it’s at waist height. Lie on your back underneath the bar and grab onto it so your hands are shoulder-width apart.

  • Keep the legs and body straight as you pull yourself up toward the bar.

  • Hold your chest against the bar for 1 count before slowly lowering yourself back down.

  • Try to do at least 10 reps for about 1–3 sets.

If you want more of a challenge, try putting the bar at knee height instead of at your waist, these rows will help improve your back form and help you get used to lifting your body weight just like you would in a pull up.

Farmers Carry (grip and core strength)

Performing a Farmers Carry is a hugely beneficial exercise to perform anyway, but when a pull up is the goal, these will help develop grip strength, core strength as well as strengthening your arms and shoulders whilst getting stability throughout your back muscles.

How to do the farmers carry:

  • Hold a heavy kettlebell or dumbbell in each hand and grip the handle tightly.

  • Keep your back in a neutral position and your arms at your sides.

  • Hold the kettlebells for at least 60 seconds before lowering them back down to the floor.

  • Rest for a few counts before picking the kettlebells up again.

  • Complete 5 or 6 reps during your workout. If you want to make your farmer’s carry more difficult, try holding onto the kettlebells while you walk the length of the turf in the gym or around 50M outside.

The Lat Pulldown

A Lat Pulldown can be another great way of developing strength throughout your back, shoulders and arms. The difference here is that you are seated and secured whilst pulling the weight down towards you. You can utilize different attachments here to hit different areas too.

How to do the lat pulldown:

  • Lat pull-down machines simulate the motion you’ll use during a pull-up but you can choose the weight you're lifting.

  • Slide the pin into a comfortable weight and reach up to grab the bar.

  • Pull the bar on the machine down so it’s below your chin and hold it for 1 count.

  • Raise the bar back up slowly to the starting position.

  • Try doing 8–12 lat pull-downs per set for 1–3 sets.

  • Increase the weight as you get more comfortable on the machine.

  • Try to work all the way up to your body weight so you’re prepared to do your first pull-up.

There are certainly many more ways of getting towards your first pull up such as but not limited to the TRX Row, Single Arm Rows, working your upper body and training consistently on a regular basis with the aim being to progress strength across the board. For now though, by including any or as much as possible of the above exercises you will be well on your way to getting your first pull up!

Assess regularly and keep a log of your progress, with patience and effort you will be there soon. Keep up the hard work!

Visit our Hove studio to start working with one of our expert personal trainers to get you off to the right start with your pull up training!

(You can find us on the Hove end of Shoreham Port- Unit 13 Hove Enterprise Centre BN411UY or give us a call on 01273703331)

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