“Getting your pull-ups” is a universal achievement – from CrossFit to Gymnastics to Calisthenics.

The Pull up is a foundational part of bodyweight training, but to the beginner it’s a huge milestone. We’ve covered how to perform pull-ups in the past, but where does the difficulty come from?

Today you’ll learn why they’re tough and what you should do about it.

“Getting your pull-ups” is a universal achievement – from CrossFit to Gymnastics to Calisthenics.

The Pull up is a foundational part of bodyweight training, but to the beginner it’s a huge milestone. We’ve covered how to perform pull-ups in the past, but where does the difficulty come from?

Today you’ll learn why they’re tough and what you should do about it.

1.BODYWEIGHT IS A REAL TEST

Most of us come to training – whether resistance or bodyweight – from being out of shape.

This adds two layers to pull-up difficulty: carrying a little more weight, and being less muscular, than we’d like.

Your bodyweight is almost always heavier than what you can move with your muscles when you start training. This is an inevitable part of starting weak and getting stronger. While you can start with a 20kg barbell for weights, you can’t pull up just some of your bodyweight. This is why progressions are so important – they help you train without having to ‘just do the thing’.

2.UPPER BODY MUSCLES IN EVERYDAY LIFE

Pull ups use muscles you simply won’t use in everyday life. When was the last time you had to perform an overhead pull?

Probably never.

This leaves the muscles of the upper back weaker than they’d need to be to bang out 10 pull ups. Muscles like the biceps can catch up quickly, but if you’ve got a weak or dysfunctional scap (the area around the shoulder blades), it’s a slow process. This is why the middle part of a pull up is okay, but most beginners suck at the top/bottom of a pull up.

Obviously, this gets better over time. It’s why our guides to more pull-ups focus on improving scap strength and control through progressions and accessory exercises.

3.FREQUENCY AND RECOVERY

Pull ups are tough but they respond well to frequency.

This is why a lot of us struggle with pull-ups: if you’re training twice a week, they’ll stagnate. You can make progress with this, but no optimally. The pull up without weight can be trained 4-5 times a week without too much risk of overtraining. This applies to accessory/progression exercises, too.

The loading is lighter so, if you’re not performing pull ups roughly 2-3 times a week, you’re not likely to get better. If you’re adding weight, this isn’t a huge problem but if you’re doing weighted pull ups then you don’t need this article…

4.CO-ORDINATION AND PRACTICE

While pull ups test your strength, they’re also demanding on your co-ordination. Muscles in the upper back and arms need to fire in the right order to be efficient. This also extends down to effective core strength and activation. If you’ve got a weak, flaccid core then you’re not going to progress effectively with pull ups.

There are a lot of moving parts in the pull up and weak links can limit your progress. Take some time to work on the little muscles, keep your core strong, and practice the un-sexy core work to improve your pull ups.

5.BIG JUMPS = BIG CHALLENGE

The problem with progressing your pull ups is that you can’t make small progress very easily – so it’s hard to see the work paying off. The difference you see with a few extra kg on your weight training is easy to measure and you can progress in small jumps.

Seeing the problem?

Progressing from 1 to 2 pull ups per set is an enormous jump. The sheer size of the “break point” for all your hard work makes it tough to see where all your hard work is going. Pull ups aren’t necessarily more difficult than any other exercise – they’re just harder to see your progress with. This stacks up with your expectations and can result in a feeling that you’re banging your head against a wall…

6.EXPECTATIONS SET YOUR REALITY

Are pull ups really that hard or are do they just carry an increased expectation of progress?

This is something we see all the time: new trainees get upset with their pull ups because of the gap between expectations and reality.

Whether you just thought you were a stud or you watched too many rocky montages, pull ups can be humbling. For a lot of us, there’s a point of stark realisation that your goal years, not weeks or months. Feats of enormous calisthenic strength are built on practice, repetition, and time. This can be a tough pill to swallow for beginners.

However, tempering your expectations and focusing on step-by-step progress is how you achieve your goals.

WHILE YOU’RE HERE…

Don’t forget to check out our complete calisthenics workout tool Tall Pull Up Mate!

You will get there with your pull ups. They’ve got some interesting unique challenges, and they take a while to get really good at, but the key is getting the process right.

Repetition and practice are key – which is why we think a home pull up bar is a fantastic piece of equipment to maximise your pull up progress.

Whether you’re adding pull-ups to a weight training routine or you’re trying to be a calisthenics god, having access to 24/7 pull up training is a huge boost. Doing it from the comfort of your own home? That’s a convenience and luxury that you can afford.

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