How To Do Your First Ever Pull Up
As one of the greatest indicators of relative strength, pull ups are among the best upper body exercises in existence.
They are used by the military as part of fitness testing, by bodybuilders to add size to the back, and also form the cornerstone of most gymnastic programmes.
But for some, the effort and strength required to get even a single rep out is a bit overwhelming. This sees many gym goers sticking with the weight-adjustable lat pulldown instead of attempting to vertically shift 100% of their body weight as is required for a successful pull up.
But this is not a ‘one or the other’ situation – you can get the best out of both movements, even if you’ve struggled in the past to progress or have been too afraid to try the movement.
There is hope for everyone with a little patience, planning and persistence.
Get a grip
There are three main grips to choose from. Each one subtly different but essentially doing the same thing – training your back and biceps.
Supinated: Palms facing toward you. Also known as a chin up and can be performed on a standard bar. Hands should be shoulder-width apart. Lots of bicep involvement here.
Pronated: Palms facing away from you. Considered the classic pull up grip and can be performed on a standard bar. Hands can be positioned anywhere from shoulder-width to super-wide. The wider the grip, the more difficult the movement (for most).
Semi-pronated: Palms facing inwards. You’ll need a station with handles that allow for this position. For many, this is a good starting grip as the wrists are in a strong position and you’ll feel nice and compact.
Practice Little And Often
Frequent repetition is important to allow your muscle to ‘learn’ the movement pattern so aim to train pull ups 2-4 times per week.
Start with the basics of grip, core and general pulling strength before moving on to the more demanding task of supporting (and hopefully pulling) your body in vertical alignment.
Let’s Hang Out
Grip strength is vitally important - especially if you’re new to the movement.
Hanging is a simple way to increase your grip strength and prepare your muscles and joints for what lies ahead. You can’t expect to perform a set of 10 pull ups if you can’t hold on to the bar for the equivalent amount of time.
Grab the bar with your chosen grip and simply hang, letting go just a few seconds before you’d lose your grip.
Your abs should be tight, chest up a little, and shoulder blades pulling towards the ground. This should stop your arms feeling like they are being pulled from their sockets.
Repeat this exercise 4-6 times allowing 60 seconds of recovery in between.
Keep a nice tight frame, avoid swinging and build up to a 30 second hang.
Strengthen Your Core
The full extension plank is perfect for developing the core strength needed to keep your body tight and stop you from swinging your legs during your pull ups.
It is important to keep the core stable through all phases of the movement, but especially the initial pull.
Position yourself on the floor at the top of the standard push up position, with hands placed directly under the shoulders.
Keep your abs locked tight and hold until you feel your form is being compromised.
Rest for 1 minute and repeat 2-3 times.
This horizontal pulling movement works your back and allows you to become familiar with managing your body weight.
Use a pronated grip to encourage more lat and trap involvement than bicep which may come in handy later on.
Lay on your back under a fixed horizontal bar (smith machine is good for this) positioned just over an arms-length away.
With heels on the floor, and your body in a straight line, grip the bar, bring your shoulder blades together and pull your chest towards the bar by flexing at the elbow joint.
Build up to 3 sets of 8 repetitions with a minute of rest in between. Placing your feet on a raised platform will increase the difficulty.
Performing the lowering, or negative, part of the pull up will help you to hold all of your bodyweight in vertical alignment.
This can increase your confidence and help develop the strength required for full-range movements.
Standing on a suitable platform with your chin over the bar, grip the bar with elbows flexed and slowly lower yourself down until your elbows are almost locked.
Release and rest for 30 seconds. Complete 6-8 times or until fatigue sees you dropping too fast.
Half Rep Harry
There’s no shame at all in doing half – or even quarter reps if they are a means to developing full-range movement.
Once you feel comfortable lowering yourself with good control, try dropping a quarter of the way down and pulling yourself back up.
As time goes on and you get stronger, drop a little further and then a little further. Before you know it you’ll be doing full-range pull ups with ease.
Once you are able to complete 1 full-range unassisted pull up then it’s all about increasing your weekly numbers.
Aim for a total number of pull ups during a workout rather than the number of repetitions per set.
You could do these in sets of one, two, three – it really doesn’t matter. Just note down your total reps for the session and build on that number over the coming weeks and months.
Quality trumps quantity so ensure your technique is good and rest periods are long and plentiful.