• Jonny

How to do your first pull up - Exercise Series

Remember when you were young and climbing up things was so goddamn easy? Not so easy now is it!

When I think back to the days of climbing up washing line poles and onto my parents old ground floor roof every time I forgot my key (which seemed to be a lot when I was young!), I really took that power to weight ratio for granted! Now of course I am a lot stronger than when I was a kid, and I would like to think you guys are too, so why is that all elusive pull up so bloody difficult?!

Well it’s because not only did we get stronger, but we got heavier (some of us may have got a little too heavy right… me included). However, even after losing a lot of my fat, pull ups still don’t come easy… but I can at least do them now!

Unfortunately ladies, men generally have a better power to weight ratio than women (due to genetics, men can generally lift more weight vs their body weight than women… this is on an average untrained person, obviously there are exceptions). That just means ladies, you may have to put more effort in to get your first pull up, surely that makes it more of an achievement when you do it though! There are plenty of examples of women doing pull-ups… look at Instagram or youtube if you want some inspiration. However, the aim is to get YOU there, whatever your gender and age. It takes following a process and a bit of hard work, but there are tips and tricks to get you there… as I have helpfully detailed below.

Do eccentric pull ups

This is a great one for you to get used to your own bodyweight. The idea is that you jump, use a stool or get someone to help you up to the contracted position of a pull up (with your body up the top). Then the idea is let yourself down as slowly as you can, concentrating on trying to keep the muscle contracted. This will give you an idea of the weight load, as well as increase the muscles used in the pull up! If you do a few reps of these, over time you should find you can lower yourself slower and slower. That’s an indication of you getting stronger, and closer to your goal of a pull up.

Do assisted pull ups

This is a great one if you have the equipment or a friend (a friend you don’t mind helping to lift you up).

Some gyms have a handy little machine where you can choose how much weight to take off of your bodyweight. It uses a counterbalance to reduce the weight of your body. So, unlike most machines in the gym, the way to make this one is to lower the weight, not increase it! You set the weight, then climb up some stair type things and hold the chin up bars, step onto something that looks like a lever, and then lower yourself down and do a pull up assisted. Each week you can then reduce the amount of weight which is acting as a counterbalance, eventually getting to no assistance at all. The machine looks like this:

Some machines you stand on the lever, others you kneel.

The other way is to get someone to help you. You put your hand on the pull up bar, arms extended, then try and do a pull-up. Your friend should stand behind you and help you do that pull up by lifting you around your waist, or pushing up your bum… depending on how close you and your friend are.

With each of these you should aim to do it at least once a week, for a minimum of 5 sets of 5 reps. Over time you will get stronger and be able to do a pull up. Remember to reduce the weight as you progress.

Train your upper back more often

The main muscles used in a pull up are your lats, traps and rhomboids and a little bit of bicep. Training your upper and mid back more often will strengthen the muscles needed for a pull up. Some good exercises to do are lat pull downs, bent over rows, reverse flys, wide grip military presses and seated rows.

The back is one muscle groups most people neglect, but is the one which will get you the pull up.

Try using a different grip

You may have seen people do a wide overhand grip pull-up (palms facing away from your body). This is usually the hardest grip, but referred to as a “true pull-up”. The one I find easiest is an underhand narrower grip (often referred to as the classic chin-up), which uses your bicep too to help you up.

You can use hammer grip (so the palms of your hands are facing each other) which is kind of a mixture of both worlds, engaging the back and biceps, it’s a little easier than a palms facing away pull-up, but harder than a palms facing toward you chin-up.

Do core work

You may not think of the core as one you need to use for chin-ups, as your body just needs to hang there right? Wrong. Having a strong core will mean you aren’t swinging about wildly. Engaging the abs will allow you to position your body as you perform the pull-up to make it easier. It keeps the centre of gravity well… central. A weak core will likely mean you end up swinging around, moving the weight distribution and potentially failing the pull up.

Therefore make sure you do core work. Having a strong core will not only assist with your pull-ups, but it will help with all exercises. There are very few exercises which can’t be improved by having a strong core.

Lose some fat

I’ve put this one last because you should only lose fat on your quest to doing a pull-up if you have EXCESS fat to lose. Do not go starving yourself to do a pull up. This won’t help you do a pull-up as you will be weaker. However, if you have excess fat to lose, then one of the easiest ways to manage a pull up, is to lose the weight. You then have less weight you need to lift! I always find it easier when I’m a bit trimmer to do a pull-up.


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