All posts by Jen

How to get your first pull up and beyond.

Go from zero to hero!

A progressive approach to pull-ups for beginners to intermediate.4


Being a badass doesn’t just happen.

You don’t just wake up and be great at something just because you have a gift.

When people see me smash out strict pull ups I get varying reactions.

Some think I’m a freak.

Others think it’s something that comes naturally to me because I have a certain body type.

There are a few who say things like “I could never do that.” Or “I can’t even do one.”

I’m sure there are those who think it takes some kind of genetic super power to do a pull up.
If that’s the case I’m here to share my super powers and take you from zero to hero….at least when it comes to pull up strength!

My first attempt at a pull up was a dismal failure.
I couldn’t even do one. It was a little embarrassing in a gym full of people I assumed were looking at me and laughing at my ridiculous attempts. My ego was shattered.

I had all of these muscles but they were useless to me. Just beach muscles.
Being a little dogmatic, and more than a little competitive I decided that just wouldn’t do.
So I practiced. A lot!

Don’t tell those science Nazi coaches, but I didn’t follow a very balanced program for a while. Every training day became pull up practice day. I never neglected the rest of my body. I just added whichever progression I was at, to build on my pull up strength.

To start with, I used a smith machine to do inverted rows.
Although working the back on a different angle inverted rows still build back strength by pulling body weight. I tried different angles and I believe this helped with my grip as well as mind to muscle awareness when it came to my mid and upper back.

I learned not to rely on just arm strength and to concentrate on what my shoulder blades and back muscles were doing.

From there I tried eccentric only and isometric holds.
With this method I’d get myself into the top phase of the pull up using a jump (cheating) or by climbing.
From the top of the lift I’d slowly lower myself (about 8 counts) down.

Sometimes I’d challenge myself by finding my “sticking” point (the point of failure on the up phase) and hold there in an isometric contraction or short ROM pulse up and down then slowly lower.

The options to progress from there are usually dependent on the tools available.

I had an assisted chin/dip machine at the gym I trained at, so that’s how I progressed to unassisted.

Assisted chin ups can be performed using a partner (your partner needs to be strong enough to help lift you). Another alternative is a power band or using an assisted chin/dip machine. You can also do self-assisted by keeping a foot or both on the ground or platform to take some of your weight.

This method works by not lifting your full body weight to get to the top of the lift but taking some of your weight through your legs.

Progressively you either use lighter bands or adjust the weight till eventually you’re lifting full body weight.

Another way to progress is with hand grip.

Starting out with a reverse/supine or a neutral grip is easier for most.
However, if you really want to target the big latissimus dorsi muscles, a wide overhand/prone grip is best.
These are usually much more difficult, especially for women do to our body composition.

I suggest when starting out with a prone grip to take the hands narrower. Progressively take them wider as you build the strength. Avoid bringing the shoulders forward (hunching) and keep your chest open. Imagine your shoulder blades coming down staying flat and meeting in the middle. Exaggerate pulling your chest to the bar.
Again work on the eccentric (down) phase being slower.

Eventually you should be able to perform strict prone wide grip pull-ups with regular practice.

To challenge yourself with body weight only, try altering the time under tension.
Think power in the lift phase and slow control in the lowering phase. Or do a slow lift all the way through.

You can use a rope or towel to increase the degree of difficulty and help with grip strength. This can be done as a wide or a close grip.
There are lots of ways to vary and create more of a challenge with body weight exercise without adding extra weight.

Once you can do 8-15 body weight pull ups relatively easily it’s time to add extra weight.

Remember to increase superhuman strength, lower reps are optimal.

You can use a weighted soft shell ball or sand bell between your knees.
Hold a dumb bell between your feet (this takes talent).
A kettle bell hooked on to your foot, a weight belt or vest is a great way to increase resistance if you have access to them.
Like anything you want to see improvement in, you need to put the time in and work up to it. 2-3 times consistently per week will see quicker results than a once a week focus.

Challenge yourself by progressively getting heavier as you would with any other lift.

Before you know it you will be so bad-ass at pull-ups that you will be mistaken for having some kind of freakish genetic superpowers too.


Follow this link for a video demonstration with a few of my favorite progressions: