How to Get Your First Pull-Up and Beyond

 

Want a smaller waist?  Without dieting?  Focusing on building your back and shoulders is the way to go.  The wider your upper body, the smaller your waist will appear.

This look, also known as a V-taper, is much sought after among bodybuilders and average Joes alike.

If you want the illusion of a smaller waist, it’s time to step up your back game.  Incorporating pull-ups into your routine is the perfect way to kick it up a notch.

Number 1

When I first tried to do a pull-up, I thought, “Ah, this going to be easy.”

I stepped up to the pull-up bar, grabbed the metal in my palms, sucked in a breath, and pulled up as hard as I could.

Nothing.

Didn’t budge.

Not one bit.

mj-laugh

Wow, what a humbling experience.  It was then I made it my mission to learn how to do a pull-up.  I just wanted to do one.  If you want to learn how to get your first pull-up, take a look at how I did it:

NEGATIVES

After tons of reading I found a few things that helped me get my first pull-up.  The first method being negatives.  The name sounds contrary to what we’re trying to accomplish here, but it’s actually quite positive.

Named for the part of the pull-up that’s emphasized–the negative portion (eccentric)–this movement will allow you to start strengthening the muscles needed for a full pull-up.

How to:

The biggest obstacle in successfully performing a pull-up is the initial pull.  In this first exercise we will bypass that initial pull, and begin at the top of the pull-up, already in the concentric (fully flexed) position.  How, you ask?

Take a chair or an aerobics step and place it underneath the pull-up bar you will be using.  Climb on the chair or step and use it to jump up into the top position of the pull-up.

Now, at the top of the movement, make sure your legs are bent so you do not touch the chair with your feet, and slowly lower yourself down until you feel a full stretch in the lats.  Finally, place your feet back on the chair and stand up.  Repeat.

BAND-ASSISTED PULL-UPS

The next tool in your quest for that first pull-up is the resistance band.  Not a standard resistance band, but a thicker, more heavy-duty one.

How to:

Take the band and loop it around the pull-up bar.  Place your knees or one foot into the large part of the loop.

Get a good hold on the bar and pull yourself up.  The band will make it easier to start the movement, but you will notice it’s a little harder at the top because, as the band shortens, it is no longer supporting as much of your body weight.

Obviously, this is from the perspective of the home gym user, but it can be done in a commercial gym as well, assuming they have the bands.  Or you could always bring your own.

One perk of going to the gym is the Assisted Pull-Up machine.  USE IT!  Take advantage of it.  In the event the machine is occupied, it’s good to have a band handy.

CABLE PULL-DOWNS

Also utilize the cable pull-down (a.k.a. lat pull-down) machine if you have access to one.  The pull-down movement mimics the action of a pull-up, hitting the same muscles.

Implement all of these methods to increase your strength and finally get that first pull-up.  After you’ve gotten some training time under your belt, attempt an unassisted pull-up.  You won’t know if you can do one until you try.  Always challenge yourself.

Beyond 1

Let’s jet into the future a bit and say you’ve gotten your first pull-up.  Yay!  Just as it took a lot of work to get that one pull-up, it’s going take hard work to progress from there.  Now that you are able to lift your body weight unassisted, the progress might go a little faster, though.

You should still utilize the methods mentioned above.  But at this point, incorporate your new ability to do a pull-up.

How to:

Workout #1:

  • Start your workout with at least 5 sets of 1 rep of unassisted pull-ups.
  • Use any or all of the above-mentioned assisted pull-ups as accessories–after your main pull-up sets–within the same workout to increase your strength.

Workout #2:

  • In this workout you will use your first set of unassisted pull-ups to see how many you can do now.  You might be able to do 2, but it’s more than okay if you’re still at one, and highly likely.
  • After the first set, perform 4 sets of one rep.
  • Utilize the assisted methods again in this workout as you see fit.

Workout #3:

  • Again, start this workout by dedicating your first set to seeing how many unassisted pull-ups you are able to perform, and go from there.  If you get more than one, try to do that amount again on your next set.
  • Do this until you complete your 5 sets.
  • Finish up by using those assisted pulls.

The name of the game here is increasing your load/reps.  Utilizing Progressive Overload will result in strength gains.  Strength gains will result in more pull-ups.  So continue to increase your reps whenever possible.  If your numbers are not increasing as fast as you’d like, be patient.  This strength-gaining thing takes time.

It is worth noting, if you want to keep your numbers up, you have to keep pull-ups in the rotation.  If you take them out of your routine for a month or so, don’t expect to be able to pick up right where you left off.

Same goes for trying to build up your reps when first starting out.  If you work on it for one or two workouts and forget about it for a while, you’ll never get anywhere.  You either use it or you lose it.

Use these methods in tandem with your other lifts and you’ll surely get your first pull-up and soon see that coveted V-taper emerge.

5 thoughts on “How to Get Your First Pull-Up and Beyond

    1. Thank you. I tend to write from the perspective of an absolute beginner. I was there once and have trudged through tons of information. My aim is to put all that knowledge gathered over the years here, in this blog. Thanks, JR!

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