Your First Pull-up: Simple, Not Easy

Your First Pull-up: Simple, Not Easy

I love pull-ups. All types of pull-ups. The pull-up is a wonderful drill to improve the strength of your vertical pulling pattern (back & biceps for those who still speak the lingo of Frankenstein training), but having the strength to do pull-ups is also indicative of a favorable strength-to-bodyweight
ratio in the athlete. But what if you can’t do a pull-up yet? Should you do crappy half-reps in the hopes that you’ll one day magically hit a full rep? Nope. You should use progressive overload. Here’s how:

Fundamental Concepts

  • Never train to failure. All of your reps should look as good as the reps I’m doing in the videos. This is both for safety and to make sure that you effectively training the neurological “groove” of the movement. You DO NOT need to train to failure to get stronger.
  • Train 2-3 times per week, with 1 rest day in between. You can add these drills into whatever day you’re working upper body pulling in your training plan. You do have a training plan, right?
  • Don’t forget to do pushing exercises as well (we’ll cover this in the future)—don’t just train one side of the body!

TRX Row (Bent Knee)

This is where we start everyone for bodyweight pulling exercises. The angle is different than the pullup, but you’ll be able to work your pulling muscles with enough volume (reps) to make progress.

  • Start with 3 sets of 5-10 reps.
  • Add a 4th set the next training session.
  • Add a 5th set the training session after that.
  • Then go back to 3 sets, and see if you can do more quality reps than before (spoiler: you probably will).
  • Carry on with this cycle—3 sets, 4 sets, 5 sets—until you can reliably do 5 x 10. Then repeat the same process with your legs.

Watch Video: TRX Row - Bent Knee

TRX Row (Feet Elevated)

Same story, just elevate your feet on a plyo box (not a bench — they’re expensive).

  • Start with 3 sets of 5-10 reps.
  • Add a 4th set the next training session.
  • Add a 5th set the training session after that.
  • Then go back to 3 sets, and see if you can do more quality reps than before.
  • Carry on with this cycle—3 sets, 4 sets, 5 sets — until you can reliably do 5 x 10. Then progress to the next level.

Watch Video: TRX Row - Feet Elevated

Negative Chin-up

Time to hit up the bar! Do not skip to this step until you’ve completed the requirements for the previous level. At this point you should start alternating sessions of Negative Chin-ups with sessions of TRX Rows. Don’t stop doing the rows!

  • Make sure to use a chin-up grip (palms facing you)—it’s easier on the elbows.
  • Start with 3 sets of 1-5 reps.
  • Add a 4th set the next training session.
  • Add a 5th set the training session after that.
  • Then go back to 3 sets, and see if you can do more quality reps than before.
  • Carry on with this cycle—3 sets, 4 sets, 5 sets —until you can reliably do 5 x 5. Then progress to the next level.

Watch Video: Negative Chinup

Negative Partial Chin-up

Same as negative chinup, but once you’ve lowered a little, pull yourself back up. The distance you’ll be able to lower before pulling back up will be different for everyone; find yours. Keep alternating sessions of Negative Chin-ups with sessions of TRX Rows.

  • DO NOT let your shoulders come out of the socket at the bottom of the rep.
  • Start with 3 sets of 1-5 reps.
  • Add a 4th set the next training session.
  • Add a 5th set the training session after that.
  • Then go back to 3 sets, and see if you can do more quality reps than before.
  • Carry on with this cycle—3 sets, 4 sets, 5 sets—until you can reliably do 5 x 5. Then progress to the next level.

Watch Video: Negative Partial Chinup

Negative Partial Chin-up (Extended Range of Motion)

Same as the previous drill. Increase the range of motion a little at a time. Keep the reps clean.

  • Start with 3 sets of 1-5 reps.
  • Add a 4th set the next training session.
  • Add a 5th set the training session after that.
  • Then go back to 3 sets, and see if you can do more quality reps than before.
  • Carry on with this cycle—3 sets, 4 sets, 5 sets—until you can reliably do 5 x 5. Then progress to the next level.

Watch Video: Negative Partial Chinup Extended ROM

Chin-up (palms facing you) or Pull-up (palms facing away from you)

  • Finally! Once you get your first pull-up, it’s time to start “greasing the groove.”
  • Do 1 pull-up in between every set of every exercise you do. Just 1!
  • If you have a pull-up bar at home, do 1 pull-up every time you walk by.
  • When 1 feels pretty easy, try doing 2.
  • Repeat until you can do 5 reps.

Watch Video: Pullup

Assistance Exercises

Do these at the end of the session to practice the proper body position and core strength necessary to do a proper pull-up.

Hollow Hold: this is the same body position held during the pull-up. Build up to 30 second holds. Keep your shoulder blades off the ground and drive your low.

Watch Video: Hollow Hold

 

Hollow Hang: same as hollow rock, but hanging from a bar. Build up to 30 second holds. Keep your shoulders DOWN.

Watch Video: Hollow Hang

 

The above progression might take awhile to get through. It might be boring—that’s fine. Training is not here for your entertainment. It’s here to make you stronger. If you want entertainment, check out The Mandalorian (after your training session). Update me on your progress in the comments! Email [email protected] with any questions (really, I like to talk about this stuff).

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