Tips on how to get to your first pull-up and more.

The pull-up is one of the best and most challenging bodyweight exercises to perform even for seasoned gym-goers. Pull-ups are an upper body exercise that will activate a number of muscles in your arms, back, and shoulders. They are a great way to increase your pulling strength which will in turn benefit your other lifts, not to mention the excellent grip strength that comes with them. The movement is simple in theory, just pull yourself up but, it’s not as easy as it sounds. If you are struggling to perform a pull-up or multiple pull-ups, you’ve come to the right place. This article will take you through a step-by-step guide to mastering the pull-up.

Step 1 – Dead Hang

In order to master the pull-up, you first need to improve your grip strength.#

Practice hanging from a bar and holding yourself until you get fatigued. Once you build up this practice, increase the number of sets you do, as well as the length of time you hang.

After this try to hang from the bar for as long as you can until you can’t hold on anymore not just until you feel tired. Take 60-90 seconds rest and repeat. As time goes on try to shorten the rest period and increase the time you spend hanging.

Don’t use the same grip every time while hanging from the bar. Alter between a standard grip, wide grip, narrow grip, and underhand grips as you build strength.

If you don’t have access to a bar, plate pinching also helps improve grip strength. Take two weights and hold them together with your fingers on one side and your thumb on the other. Once it becomes easy, use a heavier weight.

Standard grip – shoulder width apart

Wide grip – slightly wider than shoulder width

Narrow grip – slightly narrower than shoulder width

Underhand grip – palms facing you

Step 2 – Assisted pull-ups


If you’re struggling with pull-ups, most gyms have a machine to help and it also lets you choose a resistance weight to make it easier or harder as you improve. As you get stronger and have more practice you can start to remove the resistance. Aim for 12-15 reps on a low resistance before moving on.

Resistance bands

Alternatively, you can use resistance bands if a machine is not available.

Place the band over the bar and put your feet inside at the other end. Use the tension of the band to help with the movement. This replicates the resistance given on the machine to a certain extent and provides assistance with the pulling part of the pull-up.

Step 3 -Static elevated hold

This is where it gets a bit harder, it sounds simple but don’t worry if you struggle at first it will get easier.

The static elevated hold is simply holding the top part of the pull-up for as long as you can. Use a step or a bench and jump up into the top position with your arms shoulder-width apart. The hold should be in the same position as when you were using the assisted machine. Keep this hold for as long as you can and try to improve by a couple of seconds each time.

Just try the static hold for 5 seconds at first and work on getting to and surpassing 10 seconds.

Step 4 -Negative pull-up

Negative pull-ups help to increase grip strength and overall strength. It involves only the lowering (eccentric) part of the exercise.

First, start by standing on a box or bench. Just like the static hold, jump on the bar at a shoulder-width grip.

Once you’re on the bar, lower yourself down as slowly as you can. Stretch your lats out and keep your core tight. Try to fight the urge to let go the whole way down.

Once you reach the bottom, let go, step back up on the box or bench and repeat the process.

Step 5 -Chin-ups

Now you’re ready to try a chin-up. Similar to pull-ups, chin-ups utilise more of your biceps muscles and are slightly easier than the traditional pull-up.

Using a supinated grip (your palms are facing you) with your arms shoulder-width apart, hang from the bar in the starting position.

Proceed to pull yourself up to the top of the bar, pausing for a moment, and then lower yourself back down.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind

  • When doing any pull-up you want to pull your shoulder blades back, retracting them, as you complete the movement.
  • Rather than thinking of it as pulling yourself up, imagine you are pulling the bar down towards you.
  • Keep your abs tight and glutes tensed for increased stability
  • Try to get your chin up over the bar but don’t stretch your neck to achieve this.
  • Once you are able to achieve 8-10 reps for 3-4 sets of chin-ups, you can move on to the traditional pull.

Step 6 -The pull-up

Here we are, let’s go.

Take a firm grip on the bar with your palms facing away from you. Have a slightly wider grip than shoulder-width apart and hang with your arms extended. If your feet are touching the ground then cross them over behind you.

Keep your core tight to prevent swinging and retract your shoulder blades.

Now, this is the hard part, drive your elbows down toward the ground and your upper chest towards the bar. Make sure your core is still tight to keep you stable and prevent swinging.

Pull yourself to the bar with your chin above the bar and your chest level with the bar. Then start to lower yourself slowly toward the starting position.

Good luck to everyone! Let’s get the first pull-up!

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