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Building Pull-ups The Right Way

December 08, 2018 3 min read

Pull-ups. This classic upper body exercise is usually either your favorite thing in the gym or your worst enemy. Some people love them, some people dread them and have trouble even getting a few good reps. Training your traps, delts, biceps, lats, obliques, pecs, and forearms all in one go, pull-ups deliver a comprehensive workout in each set. Most of us would like to increase the number of pull-ups we can do, but this takes time and a lot of work. Here’s my basic formula of how to get there.

Showing up. Yes, the number one most important part of getting better at pull-ups is simply showing up to practice. Pick a regular time when you know you’ll be free from work or school, 3 times a week. You can get away with less, but your progress will be slower. The important part is committing, and then being an active participant in your own life. Use the gym, or a home pull-up rack installed in a door frame. Lacing up your gym shoes and sticking to your schedule is a great way to learn discipline and self-respect.


Setting a goal. A lot of guys go wrong in one of two ways at the gym. Either they don’t make any plans at all, and just jump from one workout regimen to another, never focusing on a specific goal, or they set very specific but unrealistic goals. You want to fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. So, if you’ve never been able to do more than 5 pull-ups in a row, don’t set a goal of 100 pull-ups per workout within 2 weeks. But you need a plan, relative to where you’re at right now. Pick how many pull-ups you’d like to be able to do, broken into sets of three, within a month of regular training. You can always revise this number – make it challenging but not impossible.

Technique. Don’t just fling your body up to the bar. Thoughtfully consider your posture, and visualize the muscle groups you want to work. Then, start with the basics. Jump up to the bar and grab it with arms just wider than your shoulders. You can use an underhand grip (“chin-up”) or overhand grip (“pull-up”), which comes naturally. Then, focusing on your back, hoist up your body till your chin meets the bar, then lower all the way back down to a dead hang. Lift again from here.


Attitude. If you can only do a single pull-up at first, that’s fine. But attack that single pull-up with all you’ve got. Maintain excellent form and go slowly. Try another one, see if you can get up to that bar. If not, drop to the floor, wait 60-120 seconds, then start your second set. Shoot for 3-5 sets, 3 times a week. Maintaining focus and a regular schedule is more important than the number of reps you hit. If you need to use a resistance band around your knee to assist you up, do it, but challenge yourself to make it as hard as you can handle – that’s how your muscles will grow.

Endurance. You need two kinds of endurance to master pull-ups. The first comes from your lungs. As your routine develops and you start getting into higher rep ranges, you’ll need to be powered full-blast by your lungs and circulatory system to fire off those pull-ups. You can condition those systems by adding an O2 Trainer into the mix. Are 10 pull-ups easy for you? Great, now try it with an O2 Trainer to push yourself to maximum fitness, blasting out CO2, reducing fatigue, and working out your ventilatory muscles right alongside your biceps. The other kind of endurance is mental. We call that patience. You won’t double your pull-ups overnight, but by showing up and challenging yourself to give it your all, you’ll be amazed how fast your muscle output soars. Then you’ll wake up one morning and realize you’re one of those people who LOVE doing pull-ups!