Still not got your first pull-up?

Don’t stress – most people haven’t. Being able to do a single pull up is a huge achievement and sets you apart as a practitioner of discipline and consistent training. Especially if you started out with a little extra weight.

We’re going to talk you through how to get your first pull up and what you can do from there to maximise your performance and keeping getting stronger and fitter. It’s a huge achievement and you deserve the sweet satisfaction of that first chest-to-bar pull up moment!

Getting Your First Pull Up

We’ve already covered a progression to get your first 10 chin ups, but that’s not the focus of this piece. Today we’re all about that very first pull-up – the game changer that makes every next step a little simpler.

Once you can do one strict pull up, training your pull ups is a simple matter of doing them more often and following the guidelines in this article.

So today we’re not worrying about how many pull-ups you can do. The most important progress is from none to 1!

Are you Ready?

There are two areas where you need to be real with yourself before a pull up:

  1. Are your joints healthy enough to try this? If not, consult the relevant medical professionals until you’re ready
  2. Are your mobility and control good enough to start exercising through bodyweight ranges?

Mobility and control come from strength and training a full range of movement. It’s totally fine if you can’t perform the first exercise on this list (inverted rows) right now. There are ways you can strengthen the muscles without training these specific movements.

We recommend a series of simple and effective exercises that you can perform with very little equipment. It might take as little as a pull-up mate and a resistance band!

Band Pull Apart: exactly what it sounds like. Get a resistance and pull it apart, focusing on keeping the arms stiff throughout and performing the movement by pulling the shoulder blades back and together. Sets should be 8 or more reps, but if you’re under this number that’s okay too, it’ll still improve your strength and control.

Co-contraction Training: this is what happens when you’re using both sides of a joint at the same time. This might involve holding a push-up halfway down, or simply holding yourself up against a wall in a position that requires your shoulder and upper back muscles to work harder.

Step 1: Inverted row

The inverted row is a really simple, easy-to-scale movement that you can perform with a pull up mate or horizontal bar. It involves pulling up your bodyweight, just like a pull up, but at an angle that is much easier, and you can slowly lower your angle to make the exercise more difficult.

This is great because it simulates some of the benefits of the pull up without the difficulty and can be used to develop foundational strength.

Initially, perform as many reps as you can. Once you can perform roughly 8-10 repetitions, you can start training in the 5 sets of 8-12 repetition range. Once this gets easy, change the angle so you’re pulling up more of your own weight and start again!

Step 2: ring row (more vertical, less horizontal)

This is similar in many ways to the pull up and the inverted row. It’s a mid-ground between the two and provides a way of strengthening the movement in a more-specific way.

Despite the name, this can be done on a pull up mate itself. You’d need to keep the feet on the floor – but you should keep the chest up nice and tall rather than the horizontal position you take in an inverted row.

Step 3: Holds and lowers

Pull up holds and slow-lowering are two key tools in your toolkit to get better. They’re a way of strengthening the specific movement of a pull up without having to do the difficult concentric (pulling up) bit.

When you’re starting out these are key. You can jump or step up using a box or other aid, and then hold yourself at the top position for as long as possible. When you can’t hold on any more, lower yourself as slowly as possible.

You should be fighting gravity the entire way down and trying to pull back up. You probably can’t, but that effort is a great way of making sure you’re training the right muscles.

Step 4: Jumping pull up + hold + lower

Once you can perform your rows and pull up hold/lowers, you can start jumping into them and performing slightly more of the concentric part of the exercise.

This is a great way of assisting your own pull ups in a really specific and easy-to-master way. The more you jump, the less work you’re doing on the way up – try and jump lower over time to continue to progress.

Step 5: Dead-stop pull up from half-ROM and lowering

Once you’ve gotten the hang of other aspects of the pull up from this progression, it’s time to start performing partial reps. Just like the jumping pull up, but we’re taking out the momentum to improve your muscular strength and involvement.

Stand on a box or other small object so that you’re off the floor and pull yourself up from there. This should be around half-way up to start, but ideally as low as possible.

As you get better, start lowering your step or box. This can get you all the way to a full pull-up if you take your time and combine it with rows and holds/eccentrics. Once you’ve pulled up from the box, continue to hold and lower slowly on your last set.

Other Ways to Build Pull Up Strength

There are some simple ways to boost your progress with pull ups. What we’re going to foc8us on is how you should structure a pull up training session for progress.

It’s actually very simple and intuitive when you get the hang of it. You start with the toughest exercise you can possibly do until you can’t do it anymore, then you shift gears and get more volume work in with easier exercises while you’re fatigued.

For example, if you can perform exactly 3 box pull ups, your session might look like this:

3 box pull-ups

3 sets of 2 box pull-ups

5 sets of 10 ring rows

3 sets of inverted rows to failure

This allows you to train the stuff you’re trying to progress, while also adding in extra strength work and preparing your joints for future loading. This is how you get a great pull-up workout when you can’t perform many of the more-advanced exercises.

Another way of ensuring your progress is to continue adding in strength training and use free-weight exercises like rows to develop the muscles and tendons that do all the work in these exercises.

Final Thoughts: Overlapping methods for maximal results

This is a good template for progressing to your first pull-up, but you shouldn’t rely on just one of these exercises at a time.

As mentioned above, you need to overlap these key exercises to provide yourself with the best results. You’ll not be able to progress every session, so focus on getting the technique right and controlling the movement as much as possible.

Pull ups aren’t easy or you’d already be doing them. They take time, patience, and a little know-how. We’ve provided the progression, now you just need to put in your time and see the results rolling in!