How To Do A Pull Up For Beginners
So you’re interested in performing pull ups but cannot perform a single one? Or you can crank out couple repetitions but you’re hungry for more?
Pull ups are one of the best upper body movements to do for building muscle and strength to your whole upper body so you’ve picked out a really amazing exercise to perform.
I’ll tell you exactly how to do a pull up if you’re a beginner or have been lifting for a while but haven’t made the progress you’ve been after.
Despite what you’ve been told, you absolutely can and WILL do a pull up if you put in the work. You just have to have a clue what you have to do and walk the walk, fairly simple but requires commitment.
I remember my first time when I tried pull ups. I could do about 6 repetitions with my bodyweight. After training for a while I worked up to:
- 6 repetitions with 25kg extra weight with hammer grip @ 80kg
- 8 repetitions with 20kg extra weight with palms facing away from me @ 80kg
- 30 repetitions bodyweight with hammer grip in a row @ 80kg
Quite poor strength levels when comparing to real pull up specialists, but for an average guy who just likes to workout, they’re decent numbers (in my opinion).
But this article is not about me, it’s about YOU and how I can help YOU to get better at pull ups!
So get into right mindset right now and embrace the fact that there is a lot of work to do but you’ll not give up no matter what.
You’ll find all the tools in here that you need in order to raise your chin over the bar for the first time in the fastest time possible.
So onwards we go…
What Muscles Do Pull Ups Work?
Pull ups are one of the best movements for your general upper body development. Your back muscles do the most of the work when you’re performing pull ups. The muscles that do work in a pull up:
- Mid Back
- Upper Back
- Core / Abs
Depending on which grip you’ll use the percentages of each muscle worked varies a bit. But no matter which grip you’ll use the main stress will be on your whole back, as long as you’re using the correct technique.
Proper Pull Up Form
Compared to multi-joint movements such as squat and deadlift, pull ups are generally a bit easier to be performed in a way that does not injure you and quarantee that you’ll stay getting stronger and bigger while also decreasing your injury risk.
So let’s look at the most important cues to remember when doing pull ups:
- Keep your shoulder blades retracted on your back. This prevents your shoulders from collapsing and keeps them in a safe position. A good way to accomplish this is to pull your shoulders down and back and stick your chest out. Also working this way you will use more of your back to pull instead of arms.
- Perform the pull ups without kipping or momentum from your legs to get the best results possible. A slight cheat with your body is acceptable on last 1-2 reps when aiming for progressive overload.
- Use full range of motion. Although there are Chin ups and Pull ups both of them require your chin go over the bar. When you lower yourself you don’t want to fully extend your arms and let your body go limp. Instead, stop a bit before full extension of the arms and keep your whole body tense for the full range of motion. Doing “half-reps” will greatly diminish the purpose of pull ups.
- Think of pulling yourself with your elbows rather than hands. This mental cue will usually get you pulling more with your back and less with your arms.
- Keep your whole body tight and don’t let it fly all over the place. Everything from your feet to neck needs to be tense.
By following these general guidelines you will be well on your way to performing effective and safe pull ups!
Here is a good brief video for proper form:
Two Key Factors To Perform Your First Pull Up
There are two main components standing between you and your first pull up which are:
- Back Strength
- Your current body weight / Body fat percentage
If you’re really over weight, I encourage you to spend your time building muscle & strength and dropping body fat down to get you started on your journey towards your first pull up.
As a beginner you’re quite privileged since you can build strength and muscle while still shedding off excess fat on your body. As you keep lifting weights and build muscle, this will get more difficult.
But that being said, your training experience is not the only thing that affects this issue. You can build muscle while staying in calorie deficit (dieting) if your bodyfat % is a bit higher. There is not universal number that will affect everyone since everyone of us have different genetics, but for most of the cases as long as you’re male over 15% body fat you will be able to gain muscle while dieting even if you’re experience lifter. Once you get around 10% it starts to get really difficult.
So now that you know the key factors to succeed, let’s look into the practical application that you must do.
How To Lose Weight For Pull Ups
If you’re quite overweight, males 20-25% body fat and up and females 30-35% body fat and up, you should consider to start dieting your body fat down since this will make a HUGE difference in your ability to do pull ups.
This will be a whole another article if I start to give you a good base for dieting plan so check out this article to get you on your way to shedding that excess fat!
How To Build Stronger Back For Pull Ups
Ok so I’m going to assume you cannot do one pull up or you can barely crank out 1 or 2. So based on that this is what you should do to build stronger back:
- Negative Pull Ups with different grips
- Pull Downs
- Bicep Curls (optional)
- Hangs (optional)
- Abs / Core
Negative Pull Ups – As you are focused on doing pull ups, you should put the most emphasize on the movement itself. That is why you will start your workout with negative pull ups with different grips. Negative pull ups are sometimes called Jumping Pull ups. These are done by jumping up to the pull up bar so that your chin is over the bar and then you’ll lower yourself down by resisting the gravity. Each repetition should take around 2-4 seconds.
Rows – Excellent back builders. Any kind of rows will do. Barbell Rows, One-Arm Dumbbell Rows or Smith Machine Inverted Rows (bodyweight). Basically any horizontal pulling movement will work just fine.
Pull Downs – Great for developing your back before you have the strength to do pull ups. The movement is quite the same as with pull ups so it’s a great exercise to develop your back to simulate the pull up. Again incorporate different grips.
Bicep Curls – Biceps are heavily stimulated when doing pull ups. Although your biceps will do a LOT of work with all the rows and pull downs, you can still throw in some bicep isolation if you feel the need to do so.
Hangs – Just hanging from the bar. This will develop your hands and forearms even further. As the bicep curls these are a bit optional since you’re getting alot of forearm & hand work from all the previous exercises.
Abs / Core – Your core is heavily stimulated while doing pull ups since if you do not engage your core into the movement you will not be able to keep yourself still while performing the pull ups. And if you’re swinging around it will be much harder to perform the pull ups. Planks are really great for ab & core development!
Performing all these exercises with proper form is absolutely vital. Follow the same rules as I outlied in the Proper Form section. Keep your shoulder blades retracted and core tight and focus on pulling with your elbows rather than hands.
Perform the routine like this 3 times a week and do not perform these workouts in consecutive days, always leave 1 or 2 days between workouts:
- Negative Pull Ups – 3-5 sets of max repetitions
- Rows – 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions
- Pull Downs – 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions
- Bicep Curls – 2 sets of 8-12 repetitions
- Hangs – 3 sets of max effort
- Abs / Core – 3 sets of max time under plank
Focus on progressive overload in your weight training routine. Try to always do a bit more than you did last time. If you cannot add weight, add repetitions. Eventhough you’ll be working in 8-12 rep range don’t be scared to go even higher. But generally if you can perform 3 sets of 12 repetitions you are strong enough to add weight. Then you could do just 3-4 sets with 8 repetitions and next time 9 etc. you get the picture.
Rubber Bands For Pull Ups?
Utilizing rubber bands is a bit controversial subject. In my opinion they can be used but you should not use them with every workout. I’d still encourage you to always do the negative pull ups first and then if you want to do some band work replace the pull downs with rubber band pull ups.
Start with the heaviest band that will give you the most assistance and then work your way to lighter ones. But keep the priority on the negative pull ups!
Here is an example video for performing band pull ups:
Conclusion On How To Do A Pull Up For Beginners
When it all comes down to it, performing your first pull up or getting to 10 pull ups per set, everything you need is hard work and commitment. This is not something that you can just study and not implement.
You can be sure that with the guidelines outlined in this guide, you will definately reach your goal. How fast, that depends your current fitness level and how serious you are about this whole thing.
That is all I have for you guys and girls! Did you find this article helpful? Am I missing some techniques that you’ve used but aren’t listed here? I’d love to hear what you think! Chime in down below and share your ideas with me.
Remember to train hard and train SMART!