Your First Pull Up (No, seriously, this program will get you there)



How To Do A Real (Instagram Worthy) Pull Up

(No Assisted Bands and No Jumping)

When I first got into fitness I was young, and had not yet completed my Masters degree in Exercise Science. At that point my understanding of fitness, health, wellness and exercise was as narrow as I hoped my waist line would be. All I truly cared about was burning some calories and fitting into a size 2 dress size.

Fast forward to everything I know now. Strength is wealth. Health is the future. The mobility of my body is exactly related to how freely and actively I will live my life. Once I understood the true value and definition of fitness everything in my life began to change. I was able to live a fuller, less stressed, more rewarding and exciting life. I began to play sports, take part in active vacations around the world, train martial arts- and maintain a very lean, muscular, energized and healthy size 4 dress size.

However there was one other thing… As I began to understand the value of strength and mobility and began to train correctly there as one motion that eluded and taunted me for years – the pull up.

Now, at this point I was fully capable of swinging 60lb kettlebell, pressing 25 pound dumbbells overhead, running, sprinting, sprawling, wrestling (I train martial arts) and even executing perfect, deep pushups. However the pull up was something I just could not do. And I began to notice that many other women (and men) could not either.

I pulled this exact quote off of the US Marines website:

The Marine Corps has delayed its plan to require women to do pull-ups beginning Jan. 1 after tests revealed that more than half of female recruits in boot camp could not do three pull-ups, the minimum requirement for male Marines.”

The ability to pull your own weight is a direct measure of your strength-to-weight ratio.

I had spent years using pull up assisted straps and pull up assisted machines (you’ve seen them at the gym). Finally, after some time spent in Thailand and Cambodia, where I had none of these tools to workout, I realized that I had missed the very most basic lesson I learned getting my fancy degree in exercise science. So, with in a month I applied the same concepts I had learned about the body in school and finally was able to execute a pull up, and soon, two, three four…

So, here are my – “I speak from experience, and I have an MS in Exercise Science Steps to getting a perfect, safe pull-up.”

*Do Not Use Assisted Band or Machines

In all of my years of training individuals, and in all of my years working with professional athletes, celebrities for movie roles, and of course years spent around fitness I have never seen a person really graduate from a band or an assisted machine to an actual pull up or chin up.

You’ve gotta let go and push yourself (correctly) to do the motion on your own. Of course, it won’t happen over night, but instead of using machines and bands, use the static strength, negative strength, positive strength principles below – I guarantee it will work!

Use Static Strength and Negative Strength To Build Positive (Pull Up Strength)

Positive Strength: Contracting the muscles, in the case of our pull ups means actually having the strength to ‘pull your won body weight up’

Static Strength: Not moving, bracing yourself against the weight, or in our case here, holding yourself up, above the pull up bar in whats called a flexed arm hang.

Negative Strength: Extending the muscle, it can mean lowering the weight in a press. Or, in our case, lowering your body from over the bar super slow with complete muscle control to your dead hang.

Now- the basic science of building strength is as follows:

Your Static Strength will help build your negative strength and muscle control, and your negative strength will help you build positive strength.

So… lets use negatives and static holds to build your pull up strength

First Set:

Get yourself over the pull up bar (have a friend help you, use the wall to walk up, or a workout bench).

Hold over the bar, strong and steady for as long as you can.

Second Set:

Similarly get yourself over the bar and begin to lower down 2/3rd of the way – hold there for a count of 5 / 10 or 15 seconds .

Go down half way (your arms are flexed and elbows at 90 degrees) and similarly hold there for 5/10 or 15 seconds.

Set Three:

Get yourself over the bar and slowly lower yourself down (the slower the better). On your first try here count how long it takes you to lower down. Overtime you do this drill try to add another 3seconds to how slow it takes you.

Add these three sets of positive strength builders into your strength workout 2-3 times a week.

Make sure you have rest between days, and if you are super sore, give yourself 48 plus hours of recovery before doing this workout again.

*After 4 weeks of doing this, try to execute your first, real pull up.

Strengthen The Shoulders

If you want to be able to do pull ups you also want a strong supporting body, this way you wont suffer injuries that can put you out of training. Shoulders due to their huge range of motion, and the fact that they are commonly overlooked in most exercise routines have a huge potential of injury.

Add at least two shoulder strength exercises into your routine.

Learn To Use Your Back

The pull-up is a fundamental exercise that strengthens your entire back region with more emphasis on the latissimus dorsi muscles. Which means you can add other lat exercises into your routine to strength your back.

Rows are a simple way to help build strong lats.

You should also activate your smaller, more dormant muscles in the back. These get weak from hours of sitting hunched over in front of the computer or TV. Then when you go to pull your own body weight up, these areas of the body disrupt the kinetic chain of motion and don’t allow you to use and engage your larger muscles correctly.

To wake up your back by doing:

  • A set of 25 wall angels

  • A set of 25 sub Scapular Stabilization Push-ups

  • You can add these as a warm up in your weekly strength training workouts

Additionally you should be doing core and glute strengthening exercises (think hip thrusters, kettlebell swings, planks). All of these will help strengthen the supporting muscles of your pull up, as well as help you reach a more mobile and capable shape.

No Kippling Pull Ups Yet

What are kippling pull ups:

It’s when you see someone jerking/ swinging/ generating momentum horizontally to get themselves over a bar to get a desired number of pull ups.

So, they are a way to ‘cheat’ pull ups to an extent, but they do allow you to do more pull ups as well. I am not going to go into a full out scientific discussion of why people should, or should not do them. However I am going to tell you why pull up beginners should not:

I have a Masters degree in Exercise Science and that in my opinion and lots of research and time spent studying the body, the general public (not your college friend with a gymnastic background, or a top CrossFit competitor) is not ready for these types of pull ups, and if they do them long enough the person will see injury. Let’s just say that you suffer the risk of running into lots of potential complications if you choose to employ this type of pull up method, instead of the good old fashioned standard pull up or chin up.

Furthermore – if you can not correctly pull up your own body weight (you can’t even do one regular, dead weight pull up, well then, you have zero right to even try these).

People With Shoulder Injuries Use Rings

Using rings, or other forms of suspension devices will actually help your shoulder and elbows buy allowing the arm to rotate and adjust with its natural range of motion and strength ‘finding their natural grove in the exercise’. There won’t be a fixed grip so you’ll be able to pull yourself up more freely, rotating around the ring with the natural strength of your body. Overall, the ring variation is kinder on the body, especially less tension on the elbows and shoulders.

I would recommend the rings if you are doing pull ups or chin ups frequently, or if you’ve had any sort of elbow and shoulder injuries/ overuse in the past.

7. Change the Grips

When I try to teach women how to pull up their own body weight over a bar, I always emphasize the chin up, and neutral hand grip.

The difference between a pull-up and a chin up is simple; the hand positioning. And the fact that in a chin up you will be able to use more of your biceps in the motion.

Similarly there is also a neutral grip pull up, where the hands are facing each other. This type of grip also allows you the use of your biceps.

when starting out, try one of these grips:

The hands facing you

The hands facing each other

10. Complete Beginner Modification

If you are a complete beginner to exercise, you might not even be ready to hold yourself over the pull up bar.

In this case you can start to build strength a little closer to the ground.

Use any suspension devise (like a TRX or rings) and sit on the ground, bending your feet slightly. Grip the rings of the handles of the TRX and helping yourself by keeping some weight in your feet, slowly begin to pull yourself up.

Once you’ve pulled yourself up, use the same static and negative strength principles as listed in step 2.

Not interested in pull ups?

Here’s three reasons you should be:

Pulling up your own body weight (pulling) is a part of our human DNA. Humans are built with the ability to: push and pull vertically and horizontally, as well as many other motions. It’s a shame if we lose, or never actually develop this God given skill set.

The pull-up does not lie! Once you’ve mastered this motion and included it in your strength workouts if your numbers decrease, you can be sure that you’ve gained some fat, lost some muscle and strength–or both.

Hanging from the pull-up position is great for spinal alignment.

The weight of the lower body pulling down upon the spine creates traction.

If you do this you’ll correctly you’ll also be working your hand grip.

Ladies I’ve talked to a lot if guys, and boys, I know a lot of women and they all think that doing a pull up is super sexy 🙂 and it looks awesome on your Facebook or instagram feed!

Fun Fact:

Military standard for pull ups:

For women a flexed arm hand is required – try to hold over the bar as long as you can.

For men three pull-ups.