Building Up to Your First Pull Up

Pull ups are probably the single best thing you can do to get stronger and build muscle, especially in your upper body. The problem is that a lot of people can’t do them – not even a single one. But that doesn’t mean that this great exercise is out of your league. In this article, we’ll uncover a fantastic progression that will allow anyone – man, woman or child – to work up to their first perfect pull up.

What’s So Good About Pull Ups, Anyway?

Not sure whether you should invest the time and energy into perfecting your pull up? Here are six reasons why doing so makes sense:

Pull ups

  • Convenience – you can do pull ups anywhere that you can find an overhead beam, making them one of the most convenient of all compound exercises.
  • Compound exercise – just like the squat and the deadlift, the pull up is a compound movement which works virtually every muscle of your upper body. The effort required from so many muscle groups also releases human growth hormone and testosterone. That makes the pull up probably the single best thing you can do for the upper body.
  • Progressive – Unlike ouh ups, it’s relatively easy to progressively increase the resistance on pull ups. All you have to do is to strap a weight plate around your waist. And don’t worry of you can’t yet do a pull up – this article will show you how!
  • Variation – By simply changing your grip on the pull up bar, you are able to instantly change the focus of the exercise, enabling you to target specific muscle groups.
  • Grip strength – Pull ups are one of the best ways to increase your grip strength. Doing so will benefit all of your weight training exercises. On such moves as deadlifts, the grip is usually what gives way before the working muscles. Performing pull ups will greatly improve your grip.
  • Fat Loss – Pull ups will get your heart pumping and will burn calories, making them an effective fat burner.

Exercises to Graduate Towards Pull Ups

Dumbbell Holds

Dumbbell holds will help you to develop grip strength, which is often a limiting factor in the pull up. Simply grab hold of pair of heavy dumbbells (a little heavier than you would use for the dumbbell bench press) and hold them at your sides for 30 seconds. Do 3 sets of 30 second holds.

Timed Hangs

Hang from a pull up bar with your hands hanging straight down and your feet together and just a few inches off the ground. Hold for ten seconds, and then slowly work up to 30 second holds. As you hang focus on internally rotating your shoulders.

Kettlebell Bottom Up Press

Kettlebell Bottom Up Press

Hold a kettlebell upside down by the handle in one hand with a bent elbow and at shoulder level. Now press the bell directy up overhead. Do 15 reps on each arm for 3 sets.

Inverted Row

Lie underneath power rack with a barbell loaded racked at arms length. Reach up and grab a hold of the bar at shoulder width distance. Keeping your legs straight as you pull your body up to the bar. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and your elbows in close as you smoothly go up and down. Do 3 sets of 12 reps.

2 Ways to Your First Unassisted Pull Up

​Bodyweight Progressions

(1) The Isometric Hold

The Isometric Hold

Using a bench to get you up to the level of the bar, take an underhand chin up hold on the bar with your palms facing forward. Packing your shoulders and bracing your core, place your chin over the bar. And step off the bench so that you are supporting yourself in mid-air. Hold this position with your chin above the bar for as long as you can. As soon as your chin drops below the bar, the set is over. Rest for a full two minutes between sets.

Do two sets. Once you can hold for 30 seconds advance to the next stage of the progression.

(2) Negatives


Use a bench to help you to get to the start position of the pull up with your palms facing toward your body and your chin over the bar. Now step off the bench and slowly lower yourself down to full extension. It should take as long as 10 seconds to lower yourself down. After each rep rest for 15 seconds. Do 2 sets of 3 reps, with a 60 second rest between sets.

(3) Band Assisted Pull Ups

assisted pull up with band

For this one you will have to loop a resistance band around the pull up bar. Place both of your feet onto the other end of the band and grab hold of the bar with n underhand grip. The band will be taking a percentage of your bodyweight, making it easier to perform the reps.

Perform 3 sets of 8 reps on this move.

(4) Single Leg Assisted Pull Ups

Single Leg Assisted Pull Ups

Once you can comfortably perform 3 sets of 8 reps with both feet in the resistance band, then start doing pull ups with just one foot in the band. This will mean that you are taking more of the load of your own bodyweight. Again, you should work up to doing 3 sets of 8 reps on this exercise.

(5) Partner Assisted Pull Ups

Partner Assisted Pull Ups

Remove the band completely but have a training partner ready to assist you to perform your pull ups. Your partner should place a hand on your hip and another under your shins to help you on the way up.

(6) Unassisted Pull Up

Unassisted Pull Up

Perform the pull up without the assistance of bands or a partner. Once you can do 3 reps, begin to practice with an overhand grip (palms facing away).

Resistance Band Progressions

Read our review of Best Resistance Bands available in market.

Resistance Band Progressions

An alternative route to your first unassisted pull up is to use a set of resistance bands. Resistance bands are typically 41 inches long. They are able to stretch to 2.5 times their length. They are constructed of up to 15 layers of continuous heavy-duty rubber.

Each band is color coded and has a different strength rating, width and thickness.

Here is a typical selection . . .

10 to 35 Pounds1/2 ” *4.5mm
30 to 60 Pounds3/4 ” *4.5mm
40 to 80 Pounds1.25 ” *4.5mm
50 to 125 Pounds1.75 ” *4.5mm
65 to 175 Pounds2.5″ *4.5mm

How to Select the Correct Band For You

The thicker the Pull Up band, the more weight it takes off you. This means that the weaker and heavier you are, the thicker your Pull Up band will have to be.

If you are unable to do a single unassisted Pull Up, the chart below will guide you to your starting band.

Your Weight90-120 lbs121-150 lbs151-200 lbs201-250 lbs251-300 lbs
Resistance Band Poundage40-80 lbs50-120 lbs50-120 lbs50-120 lbs60-150 lbs
Band Color

Performing Band Assisted Pull Ups

  1. Toss the Pull Up band over a sturdy Pull Up bar. Pull one end of the band loop through the other end. The band will now be hanging down with a loop by your feet.
  2. Position one of your feet in the hanging end of the loop. Alternatively, you can place both knees in the loop. This will provide you with more assistance.
  3. Reach up to grab the bar with an underhand grip, hands shoulder width apart.
  4. Initiating the movement from the middle of your back and your biceps, start to pull yourself directly up toward the top of the pull up bar. Do not allow your body to swing or use a kipping motion to propel yourself up.
  5. It should take you approximately two seconds to lift your body to the point where your chin is over the bar. Hold this position for for a second.
  6. Lower yourself under control back to the start position. This should take another two seconds.

Once you have worked your way up to being able to perform 10 Pull Ups with your starting band, you should move to the next one. Continue in this pattern advancing to a new band after achieving 10 assisted pull ups. Once you are able to do 10 repetitions with the Purple band, progress to the Black and then the Red band.

When you can perform 10 reps with the red band, you will be ready to tackle unassisted pull ups – good luck!