Fitness Articles

You Can Progress to a Pull Up

Reach Your Fitness Goals!

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.

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