Deciding to learn how to do a pull-up is easy. Actually learning how to do a pull-up, on the other hand, can straight up suck. Those fitness influencers on Instagram can sure as hell make pull-ups look easy, but alas, true to form, reality is a far cry from #Instagood and we seldom crush our fitness goals in a matter of days. It can take anywhere from weeks to years (yes, years) to learn to do a pull-up, depending on your current fitness level.
This said, learning how to do a pull-up is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and fitness.
The Benefits of Learning How to Do a Pull-Up
Pull-ups work a variety of muscles, including most of the muscles in your upper body. We're talking back muscles, arms, chest, shoulders and core. That's a lot of muscle activation from one move.
And the benefits of learning to do a pull-up don't end there. As far as functional movements go, it doesn't get much better than pull-ups. Learning to do pull-ups strengthens the muscles required to help us pull ourselves up if we fall, lift and support our own body weight, and notably, improve our grip strength—and grip strength has been linked to better overall health and fitness.
Chin Up vs. Pull-Up
Pull-ups can be interchangeably called chin-ups, BUT strictly speaking, they’re not the same things.
A pull-up uses an overhand grip and wide hand stance whereas a chin-up uses an underhand grip and a narrower stance. Because chin-ups recruit more muscles (notably, biceps as well as back and shoulders), they are usually easier for people to do.
This guide to learning how to do a pull-up is going to teach you how to do pull-ups and chin-ups.
Let's get started.
6 Steps to Learning How to Do a Pull-Up (and Chin-Up)
Step 1: Strengthen Your Back
Since your back does the brunt of the work during pull-ups and chin-ups, your exercise progression should involve strengthening your back.
The best move for strengthening your back pre-pull-up is the bent-over dumbbell row.
You want to lift heavy, while still maintaining form. How heavy?
You shouldn't be able to do more than 8 reps for 3 sets. If by the final set you can only do 5, that's cool: you're at a solid weight.
You're aiming to lift your entire bodyweight, remember? So, if you can smash out 10-12 reps, that's not getting you closer to the ultimate goal of pulling-up your entire heft.
Include bent-over dumbbell rows in your workouts 3 times a week with at least 24 hours in between days for rest. Also, be sure to keep increasing the weight as 8 reps becomes easy.
Once you can comfortably lift 25lbs or more, move on to the next step.
Step 2: Inverted Bodyweight Rows
Now you're going to start training with your own bodyweight. This is where having a set of Challenger Bars will come in handy. Safe and stable, these parallel bars can be used together or by themselves to help you crush your pull-up goals.
Option 1 (Easier): Bent Leg Challenger Bar Pull-Up/Chin-Up
Option 2 (More Challenging): Straight Leg Challenger Bar Pull-Up/Chin-Up
Do 8 reps for 3 sets. Again, fit this move in three times a week, and alternate between using an overhand and underhand grip each time. This will help you alternately build your back and bicep strength for what's to come.
Once this 8 rep range becomes comfortable, move on to the next step.
Step 3: Resistance Band Pull-Ups/Chin-Up
It's time to do a full pull-up—with a little help. The resistance band is going to relieve some of the effort, but not all of it. You're still going to get a feel of what it is like to do a complete pull-up.
We recommend The Pink Thing, which has 8 loops you can easily slip your foot through to make assisted pull-ups easier. Of course, you're going to need a pull-up bar to do this move, so either use the one at your gym or a home pull-up bar.
If you don't have bands, or if resistance band pull-ups are still too challenging, try chair or box pull-ups.
In this move, you're going to place one or both feet on a chair or box and pull up. Your lower body should not do any (or precious little) of the work. Your feet are there for support only! Use your upper body as much as possible.
Again, alternate grips between underhand and overhand grip every time you train, and go for 3 sets of 8 reps, max, 3 times a week.
Step 4: Negative Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups
Negative pull-ups involve using a box or chair to help yourself jump up so the top of your chest is level with the bar, and then you slowly lower yourself down.
Repeat for 8 reps max, 3 sets or until failure. Do this once a week, along with the assisted pull-ups once a week and the bent-over rows once a week.
Step 5: Full Pull-Ups/Chin-Ups
As we mentioned earlier, chin-ups are often easier than pull-ups. So, start with that.
- Grab the bar with an underhand grip, a smidge wider than shoulder-width apart.
- Allow your body to hang.
- Activating your shoulders, pull them down so your shoulder blades pinch toward the midline of your back.
- Draw on your biceps to help fuel the movement!
- Engage your core and keep pulling until the top of your chest is at the bar level.
- Pause for a split-second and then lower yourself back down all the way.
For pull-ups, you're going to follow almost exactly the same course of action, except your grip will be overhand, and about two hand lengths wider than shoulder-width apart.
You may only be able to do one pull-up at first, and that's GREAT! That's a start. Do that one pull-up, and then keep up with your chin-ups and inverted bodyweight rows for 3 sets of max reps the other two days a week (for that grand total of three days per week).
If you want more ways to incorporate pull-ups and chin-ups into your workouts, check out our Pull-Up Playlist on Sweatflix. All these workouts have pull-ups and/or chin-ups and will help you build a stronger, leaner body.
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