We have extensively covered the benefits of pull-ups for building back strength, size, and muscle hypertrophy. Often, for beginner strength, power, and fitness athletes (and general fitness goers alike) the pull-up is often one of the most challenging bodyweight movements to master. The upper body strength necessary for the pull-up (strict) is highly demanding; and often requires a systematic approach to maximize pull-up performance in beginners.
Pull-Up Training Program
In the below sections we will lay out everything you need to know to master your first pull up and/or maximize your current pull-up strength and performance. This guide is jam packed with:
- 3-Day Pull-Up Training Program for Beginners
- Mastering the Perfect Pull-Up (Video Demo)
- Pull-Up Assistance Exercises and Scaling Options
- Female Pull-Up Training Guide/Program
5 Simple Steps to do a correct pull-up
Follow these for a correct formed pull-up from start to finish.
- Grip the bar with both hands slightly wider than shoulder width with palms facing away from you.
- Hang with arms and elbows fully locked out.
- Contract the back and core, and pull your chin over the bar.
- Stabilize and Hold for a 1 count.
- Slowly lower yourself in controlled manner until your arms are fully extended.
In the below video the pull-up (strict) is demonstrated. Note, that grip-width, palm orientation (supinated, pronated, or neutral), and even thumbs wrapped or unwrapped can have an impact on pull-up efficiency.
How to do a Pull-Up if You Can’t Do One
If you find yourself failing to perform a perfect strict pull-up, you can swap this movement for them instead. Note, that if your goal is to master a strict pull-up, doing these within a timed WOD may not be the best option, as you should focus on building strength and skill for this movement without high amounts of total body fatigue. If this is the case (that you are trying to get better at pull-ups by doing variations in WODs) I suggest you do some additional accessory exercises (or the program below) to truly increase back strength and muscle mass.
The band assisted pull-up is a great option if you cannot perform a strict pull-up, however it is often done incorrectly. Common faults, such as body swinging (lack of body tension), sloppy repetitions, and lack of muscular control with the lats at the top and throughout the movement can all lead to stalled results. Additionally, too many beginner lifters use too much band assistance and never force themselves to struggle to pull themselves up for sets of 2-3 reps (which actually will build strength necessary to pull your bodyweight up, rather than higher reps of 10+).
Exercises to Help with Pull-Ups
In the below program we incorporate a wide array of pull-up variations and alternatives to help you build a stronger foundation for back strength and muscle mass. Below, we will discuss a few of those pull-up accessory exercise.
How to Do A Chin-Up
Many lifters will be able to nail a chin-up before they can do a pull-up, primary due to the arms being involved to a higher degree (biceps and anterior shoulder). While the chin-up can be a great movement for building serious upper body pulling strength, it is important to (1) do it correctly, (2) not overuse it, and (3) not neglect pull-ups.
Tempo Banded Pull-Ups
Banded pull-ups, as discussed above, are a good pull-up option for beginners. That said, adding in tempos (similar to tempo pull-ups) can truly maximize muscle growth and strength to help beginners establish greater muscles coordination, activation, and growth.
Machine training for beginners (and more advanced athletes) allows us to isolate the specific muscles groups needed to perform a pull-up. While many band pull-up variations and isometrics are key, machine based training will allow a beginner lifter to add more loading to stress the muscle fibers enough to greater muscular damage without being limited by grip strength, body control, and/or general total body fatigue.
Isometric Pull-Up Holds
Isometrics can be a great way to increase muscular strength necessary for a pull-up. Many beginners will benefit (advanced lifters will benefit as well) from doing these, which are included in the 3-day pull-up program for beginners below.
How to Do a Pull-Up in a Month: 3-Day Pull-Up Program for Beginners
In the program below we have outlined a 3-day pull-up program to help beginners achieve their first pull-up in under one month. While this program is geared to help beginners maximize their pull-up abilities, it can also be used to kickstart stalled progress in non-beginners or as an accessory back training program for strength, power, and fitness athletes.
Perform each of the three workouts below every week, for four weeks. Each workout consists of 3-4 exercises, totalling about 30 minutes per workout. Progressions can be done using heavier loads, as this is geared to build strength and muscle. Challenge yourself to add weight each week, yet still be able to FEEL the back muscles working.
- Dead Hang: 4 sets of 30 seconds, resting 45-60 seconds in between sets (Add weight if can, using a belt and weight around hips)
- Isometric Pull-Up Hold: 4 sets of 10 seconds, resting 60-90 seconds between sets (Perform 10 second hold at top of the pull-up, chin over bar, elbows down towards butt)
- Inverted Barbell Row: 4 sets of 5 reps, resting 60-90 seconds between sets (Use a pronated grip, slightly wider than shoulders. Add weight and go heavy)
- Lat Pulldown: 4 sets of 6-8 reps, resting 60-90 seconds between sets (Add weight and go heavy, perform controlled eccentric and get a full lat stretch between reps by elongating the arms at top)
- Towel-Grip Dead Hang: 4 sets of 30 seconds, resting 45-60 seconds between sets (Add weight if can, using a belt and weight around hips)
- Eccentric Pull-Up: 4 sets of 5 reps (each rep is 3-5 seconds negative), resting 60-90 seconds between sets (Start at top of barbell with chin over bar, and perform a three-five second negative, focusing on feeling the back muscles stretch and lengthen smoothly as you descend by allowing the elbows to straighten)
- Band Assisted Pull-Up: 4 sets of 5 reps, resting 60-90 seconds between sets (Use a pronated grip, slightly wider than shoulders. Choose a band that will make you struggle for your last rep, yet still maintain good form. Be sure to perform a slight one second pause at the top and bottom of every rep)
- Supinated-Grip Dumbbell Bench Supported Row: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 60-90 seconds between sets (Be sure to have palms facing away from you as you row, with your shoulder blades down the back and your elbows going towards your hips BEFORE the go up. This motion is not a straight up pulling row, more like a back and up motion)
- Fat-Grip Dead Hang: 4 sets of 30 seconds, resting 45-60 seconds in between sets (Add weight if can, using a belt and weight around hips)
- Band Assisted 1 ½ Pull-Ups: 4 sets of 3-5 reps, resting 60-90 seconds between sets (Start at the bottom of the pull-up. Pull your chin over the bar, and perform a slight pause to engage the back muscles. Go down about halfway, so that your elbows are in line with your eye, which is about 4-6 inches from the top. From here, go back up to the bar so that you chin is over it again. That is a 1 ½ pull-up. Repeat for 3-5 total reps; so perform three-five, 1 ½ pull-ups)
- Lat Pulldown: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 60-90 seconds between sets (Add weight and go heavy, perform controlled eccentric and get stretch between reps by elongating the arms at top)
- Seal Row: 4 sets of 8-10 reps, resting 60-90 seconds between sets (Make sure your shoulder blades stay down the back and your elbows go back towards your hips BEFORE the go up. This motion is not a straight up pulling row, more like a back and up motion)
Female Pull-Up Program
In a previous article we covered the foundational movements female lifters need to master (and males too) to develop a stronger basis for pull-up training. With the help of some strength athletes, like Stefi Cohen, we were able to uncover some great exercises females can do to build grip and back strength. Be sure to take a look “A Ladies’ Guide to Your First Pull-Up” to get maximize your pull-up performance.
Let Us Know How It Goes!
Ready to nail you first pull-up? Be sure to comment below with any questions you may have throughout the month program, and be sure to tag @BarBend in your pull-up posts!
Featured Image: @luis.lopez.photo on Instagram