Fitness Articles

You Can Progress to a Pull Up

Reach Your Fitness Goals!

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Make your fitness dreams come true once and for all, starting with the classic pull up!

Pull ups are one way to showcase ultimate strength and conditioning, and they're no easy feat for the beginner. But both men and women can achieve pull-up status with the right training. Keep in mind that the terms pull ups and chin ups are often used interchangeably. Feel free to work on using an overhand (palms facing away) grip, which relies heavily on back strength, or an underhand grip (palms facing you) grip, which puts intense focus on the biceps. The following exercise progressions will help strengthen the major muscles involved in pull ups until you're strong enough to do them on your own.

Time Involved: Two 10-minute sessions a week, for several weeks
Muscles Worked: Back and Biceps

How to Train at the Gym
Using the strength training machines at the gym is probably the best way to train for pull ups.
  • Phase 1: Start your training on the seated lat pulldown machine. Start lifting about 25% of your weight until you can perform 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions in good form. Then move to Phase 2.
  • Phase 2: Continue on the lat pull down machine, but perform the exercise while standing up instead of sitting (a cable cross machine will also work in this phase, if you're familiar with using it). Increase your resistance over time until you can lift 50% of your body weight as resistance for 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions in good form. Then you're ready for Phase 3.
  • Phase 3: Continue performing the standing lat pulldowns (or, if your gym has it, move on to the assisted pull up machine). Increase your resistance over time until you can lift 80% of your body weight as resistance for 2-3 sets of 12-15 repetitions with good form. Once you can do this, you're ready for the real thing!
  • Phase 4: Pull ups! Once you've mastered Phase 3, you should be able to perform about 2-5 pull ups without assistance. Congratulations!
How to Train without Equipment
If you do not have access to gym equipment, that is OK. If you have access to a pull up bar (or even some monkey bars at a playground!), then grab a friend for some help. Be sure to use good form (grab the bar at about shoulder-width, crossing your feet and ankles, and bending your knees so that your feet are off the ground, as if kneeling). Your friend can assist you by grabbing your feet and legs to assist you as you lift to the top position. Try to lower yourself back down each time on your own, without assistance. Over time, have your friend give you less and less assistance as you get strong enough to lift more of your weight on your own.
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About The Author

Jason Anderson Jason Anderson
Jason loves to see people realize the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle. He is a certified personal trainer and enjoys running races--from 5Ks to 50K ultramarathons. See all of Jason's articles.

Member Comments

  • I know of two other ways to build up to a full pull up, which are used in my CrossFit gym.

    1. Use a giant elastic band to assist with the up portion of the movement.
    This is more advanced than option #2, but so much fun. the band should be looped around the pullup bar and extend to the level or your knee or so. Stretch the band and place one foot in the bottom end. Let your body hang from the bar, supported by the band. You're now ready to try an assisted pullup. If you have the band strength right, your muscles plus the pull of the elastic will allow you to do it exactly as if you had the strength to do it on your own.

    2. Ring rows are an easier option. This also work for people with at-home bars for their doorway. Some gyms have rings hanging from the ceiling. They should be adjusted to about shoulder height. At home, attach a sheet, towel, or strapping to your pullup bar, or trap a knotted sheet above a closed door. Grasp the rings/sheet/towel
    /straps near the level of your armpits, lean back, and then pull up (using your back and shoulders only). Make it easier: step back. Make it harder: step forward.

    Ring rows are also excellent training for progression to full pullup - 10/27/2013 1:02:22 PM
  • i've had unassisted chinup/pullup on my bucket list for years. it's time to scratch it off! thanks for this article! - 9/2/2013 7:27:08 PM
  • I think it will take months not weeks for me. I started with negative chin ups (b/c it is easier) and am working on negative pull ups after a month. My goal is to do a pull-up on my own for Christmas. - 8/26/2013 11:55:53 AM
  • This sounds like my next big goal. - 6/28/2013 10:42:02 PM
  • My hnand I got a pull up bar for Christmas and I, having never been able to do a pull up EVER, I am going to do it :) - 1/2/2013 4:06:37 PM
  • I can do this!

    Spark Cheers
    - 10/11/2012 7:36:06 AM
  • This almost sounds like I could work at doing it! LOL--maybe I will!! - 3/16/2012 6:28:50 PM
  • I have one of those over the door frame bars, but I wasn't able to do a single pullup so I put it aside. I had never thought of the Negative technique. Thanks Jason. I"m going to start working on that tonight! - 3/16/2012 1:38:07 PM
  • MXVPE92
    step by step bring it on!!! - 1/16/2012 9:57:54 AM
  • I dont hsve easy access to either - is there a way to develop this with free weights? - 3/13/2011 2:47:10 PM
  • I like that this has gym and non gym options. I am comfortable in the gym but not when trying a pull-up. I can't wait to try it at home. - 2/17/2010 8:36:33 AM
  • DILET2E
    Just what I needed! I've been learning parkour, but I can't do a single pull-up... which is a basic parkour warmup! - 12/31/2009 9:23:46 AM
  • I'm working on pull ups now as my next goal after losing 100 lbs in one year. I can get 1/2 up on my own after 2 months of my trainer using the "negative" technique as described in this article. We work out in my home. We initially began with a wide resistance band to give me momentum to get up and then did a very slow count down. I have now "graduated" to no band at all with the trainer helping me. I consider this a major opportunity of accomplishment and hope to give myself this as a Christmas present. - 9/12/2009 8:31:46 AM
  • I've never been able to do a proper pull-up and look forward to getting to that point. - 5/15/2008 6:00:56 PM
  • Great article. Dr. Oz says we should be able to do 20 chin-ups in order to be fit. I'm sure my arms would break off. (LOL) - 4/27/2008 2:45:38 AM
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