Growing up, I was that girl in PE that couldn’t do a pull-up. I just assumed that I’d never be able to. And of course in PE they don’t really teach you HOW to do a pull-up or even give you a progression to getting to a pull-up. They just stand you in front of a bar and say “have at it!” and either you can do one or your can’t.
Fast forward 24 years and BAM! I finally did my very first unassisted pull-up. I was so damn proud of myself. And now I can do many unassisted pull-ups. I don’t know about you, but learning to do something you just always assumed you couldn’t feels pretty good. Quite empowering, even.
So for all of you that may think you could never do one, or have it on your goal to-do list, here’s how I learned how to do pull-ups.
First, it takes time. But stay at it, practice daily, and within a short while, you’ll get a pull-up. And if you keep working at it, and exercising your upper body regulary, you’ll be able to do more and more.
To do a pull-up your not simply going to go to a bar and practice lots. First, you’re going to work on Inverted Body Weight Rows.
If you have access to a smith machine, you can use the bar for this, but since all the gyms are closed due to the current pandemic, find a sturdy four leg table or other sturdy bar that is about thigh high.
Gripping the bar or the edge of the table, lower your body until your arms are straight, but don’t lock your elbows.
Now clench your butt, keep your abs tight and your body straight and pull your shoulder blades down and back towards each other. Really concentrate on pulling with your arms and back until your chest comes close to the table or touches the bar. It should be your CHEST, not your neck.
Do 3 sets to failure (meaning go until you can’t go any more).
If this is too challenging, you can bend your knees and put your feet flat on the ground.
Do this 3-4 days a week. Once you can get 3 sets of 10 reps down pat, it’s time to move on to the next step – Assisted Pull-Ups.
For assisted pull-ups you need a pull up bar, or other sturdy bar that is above head height. You will need another person or a pull-up band – there are multiple weights for pull-up bands. For beginners that don’t workout a lot, I would recommend the 80-125 pound band. For intermediate, go with the 50-80 pound band.
Attach the band to the bar. Grip the bar and place one foot into the band. Just like with the inverted rows, keep your butt clenched and your abs tight and don’t let your body swing. Pulling with your arms, keep your shoulder blades pinched together.
If you’re having a partner assist you, hang on the bar and cross your ankles. Your partner will hold your feet and you can push against their hands when you start to struggle so that you can complete the pull-up.
As soon as you can get 3 sets of 10 assisted pull-ups, you can move on to the next step.
You know what the next step is… A FULL BODY WEIGHT PULL-UP! Try to do 1 by yourself. Each time try for 1 more. Celebrate the fact that you can do 1!
If you’re committed to being able to do more, then you’ll want to continue to work all of your back muscles. Each workout begin or end with pull-ups. We like to start with assisted pull-ups, doing 3 sets of 10-15 and then on the 4th set we do body weight to failure.
We built a pull-up bar in the garage for Mason, who has a goal of doing pull-ups unassisted. Here’s how we did it:
DIY PULL UP BAR
3/4″ Steel Rods – 1 4-6′ bar, 2 8-12″ bars
2 3/4″ elbows
2 3/4″ flanges
8 14 x 4″ wood screws
Screw the long steel bar into the two elbows.
Attach the smaller bars to each elbow.
Spray paint the entire thing, if so desired.
Initially we had planned to hang this from the ceiling, but couldn’t make it work with our studs, so we ended up screwing it to the wood beam that runs across our garage.
Now Mason has the perfect spot to practice his pull-ups!
Looking for more fitness inspiration? Check out our other Fitness posts!
Prefer to buy a bar that can go in a doorway? Here’s one that I use to own. I’m also sharing the bands we use and the outfit that I’m wearing above!