How to Get Your First Pull-up (Step By Step Progression)

  • 6 min read

How to Get Your First Pull-up (Step By Step Progression)

Are you struggling to get your first pull-up? Maybe you're new at the gym, and see all these people doing pull-ups and it looks cool so you hop up there thinking I can do this...but you just can't do it. THAT'S OK! I was there too. We all have been there.

So today, what I have for you is a progression to doing your first pull-up. It is going to be different exercises to get you stronger so that you will be able to get your chin above that bar!

In this video, I will show you, step by step, how to get your first pull-up! Mastering how to get your first pull is a significant achievement. For many, it can take months and even years to build up enough strength to do pull-ups without assistance. Just remember to stay consistent and positive because it will not happen overnight!

What is a pull-up?

Pull-ups are extremely hard to master and, in time, after working towards building up strength they will get easier. There are many benefits to pull-ups and how they affect the body. They strengthen the back, arms, chest, shoulders, and core as well as your wrist and hand grip. When using a pull-up bar, be sure it is stable and secure to prevent injury. Someone who cannot lift a lot of weight will need to start slow and continue to raise the amount of weight. 

Progressions 1 through 3

All right, progression 1, so let's say you get a workout and the first thing that's on there says pull-ups and you can't do a pull-up yet! Well, your option, to get you stronger we are going to do an Inverted Row. I am just doing it in between a squat rack with a bar in it. Now the only thing is, obviously a pull-up is a vertical pull, so an inverted row is a horizontal pull. You are working the same muscles but this will just help you to get stronger and will work your back and your lats until we can get up on that bar to do vertical pulls. 

The higher the bar is, the easier it will be but the lower the bar is, the more difficult it will be. You will get on the ground under the bar and your legs should be straight out. Pull your body/chest horizontally or in other words, pull yourself towards the ceiling. Make sure you have an overhand grip and work towards mastering 3 sets of 8 to ten reps you then can move on to the next progression. 

The next progression is called a Dead Hang, you are literally going to just be hanging there. I like to focus on grip strength, and I want you to contract just your scapulas. Instead of having your arms close to your ears you want to contract your shoulder blades down. This is a little bit easier because it takes some weight off of your grip.

This is something that does not need to be done every day but maybe every other workout start with a dead hang, get your grip strength up. Do 3 sets, max out your seconds, time yourself and each time try to beat that time. After reaching 30+ seconds you will be able to move on to the third progression.

My next progression on my list would then be to go to an Assisted Pull-up. If your gym has an assisted machine or just a very simple variety of band sizes. The widest band is going to be the easiest to use and will take most of the weight off of you. Loop the band around the bar and pull it through the middle, the best part about it is that you will understand the movement of the pull-up but the problem is that it will give you the most help at the hardest part. 

You can put both feet on the band or use one foot and make sure your grip is outside of your shoulders. You can either cross your feet or put one foot on the other so your foot doesn't slip. Try to perform this at least 3x a week and once you master 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps then move on to the next band.

Progressions 4 through 6

It is now time to use our own body weight! In this segment, we will be doing Eccentric Pull-ups. Eccentric means negative, so because we are not quite ready to do a full pull-up through negative we are going to be doing Jumping Eccentric Pull-ups. But before we do that, there is one thing I want you guys to work on which is going to help all of your pull-ups.

Most people, when they get up on the bar, they don't know what to do with their legs. They might think do I put them behind me? Do I cross them? But what I want you to be doing is actually a Hollow Body. So we are going to practice this before we do the negatives. When you are doing a pull up you want to keep your body stiff because the more movement there is in your legs, the harder it makes the pull-up.

So a hollow body is hands above your head, your feet come off the ground, and your upper body comes off the ground. The only thing on the ground is your butt and lower back. Now, mimic doing a pull-up as if you have a bar in your hands. This will help tighten up your core so that you're not moving all over the place. 

Then, proceed to do your Jumping Negative, using a bench to give you the ability to reach the bar. Because we can't do a pull-up yet you are allowed to jump up with your head above the bar and SLOWLY lower yourself and then jump back up. The goal here is to get to 5 seconds and if you can only do 2 or 3 seconds that's a good start! Do around 3 sets, 5 to 8 reps, and each one of those will have a 3-second lower. Stay consistent!

Alright, now that we have mastered our jumping negatives we are going to take it up a notch and do a Flexed Hang. That means you are above the bar and the goal is to try to get a 20-second hang. Since we are not ready to pull up you can jump up from a bench and get yourself above the bar and hold it there.

Again, these are isometric contractions so even though you are not going down and up you are still contracting that muscle. You are completely contracted and this is the one where I want you to really push yourself. Don't stop just because you start to shake, those shakes are a good thing, and hold it for as long as you possibly can. While at the top in holding position, keep a hollow body, this is going to really come into play here because if your legs are back behind you it will make it a lot harder. 

We are getting close to doing a full pull-up so now we are going to break it up into parts. So, we are going to start with Bottom Partials and do 3 sets and 5 to 8 reps. The bottom of the pull is just pulling ourselves up halfway so your chin is not going above the bar it will stay forehead level. Work the bottom half focusing on your core, hollow body, and keeping your scapula down. Conquer that, do it a couple of times a week, then, practice Top Partials. Your head will be positioned above the bar and you come down halfway but do not straighten your arms. 

Ready, Set, Go!

So once you have mastered both the bottom and top partial, guess what happens next? You are now going to try your very first full pull-up! Jump up, engage your lats and pull down your scapulas, focus on pulling with lats, not your shoulders. Keep your core and legs tight. Your feet should be out in front of you and will help lift your body. 

Try using some of these stepping stones, you do not have to go directly in this order but, they will help get you up to doing your first unassisted full pull-up!

If you're looking for that extra push during your workouts, make sure to try out PURPOSE. This pre-workout formula is designed to push you to the next level. It has 2 different types of caffeine (200mg) so you do not "crash" after your workouts. 

Follow Dana on Instagram @danalinnbailey or Youtube DanaLinnBailey for more videos and tips!