“How can I do my first pull up?”
It’s an all too frequent question from my clients and readers (especially women).The path to the pull up can be a long one for many, but here are a few secrets to put you in the fast lane.
1. Remember we’re talking about a strength move.
And by “strength move” I mean moving as much weight as possible for one repetition. If you can’t do one complete pull up, then what we are really working toward is increasing your one rep max in this exercise.
So train accordingly. Quit sitting on the lat pull down machine and banging the weight stack up and down with light-ass weight for 12 reps each set. Instead, work with as much resistance as possible in sets of 5 reps or less and take long breaks between each set. How long? Well private clients in my experience get antsy if I ask them to wait much more than 2 minutes.
But if you can stand it, as much as a 5 minute rest between sets can be beneficial when working in the strength protocol. This goes for all of your major lifts such as the deadlift, squat, shoulder press and bench press.
2. Reproduce the movement as closely as possible.
That means stay off of the damn lat pull down machine if you can. My preferred method of reducing the resistance in the movement is to use a band such as the ones that can be found at Performax (run by my buddy Dave Schmitz)
Loop one end of the band around the pull up bar. Now put one foot through the other end so that you are standing on the band (in the video above they use the knee). The band will now assist you through the full range of motion of the pull up. Another good option is to have a training partner help you through the motion by pushing up at the bottom of your foot. Just make sure they give you no more assistance than is needed to get that chin above the bar.
Many of the big gyms will have a machine with a weight stack that will assist you through the range of motion; I don’t like these as much as the bands or partner assist but they are still better than the lat pull down machine. And finally, if you must, you can use a lat pull down machine.
3. Work through the full range of motion – almost all of the time
The majority of your time training for the pull up should be spent working through the full range of motion. That means arms completely extended at the bottom and chin above the bar at the top.
Use what ever means of assistance you need to get you through that full extension and contraction (bands, partner, or machine assist), but work completely from the top to the bottom. With two exceptions.
First, once per week try your damnedest to to one full real deal pull up with no assistance. That means start at a complete dead hang and PULLLLLL! Fight for every fraction of an inch. Second, start at the top of the motion (chin above the bar; stand on a chair or other sturdy object to get you up there) and lower yourself as far down as you can and still maintain the ability to pull yourself back up to the top. This might be only a few inches your first attempt.
But do this drill once per week and watch your range of motion grow slowly but surely with each attempt.
4. Lose some weight
If you lose weight you will have less resistance in the movement and your path to the pull up will be that much faster. Depending on your current body composition, this could be THE most important factor in getting your first pull up.
So if you’re carrying around a few extra pounds, watching your diet is likely more important than cranking out a bunch of assisted pull ups.
The pull up is one of my personal favorite exercises – I do them at least once each week. There is no better upper body movement to develop a muscular back and big biceps. Getting that first pull up might take some effort and discipline, but it is time and effort well spent.
I wanna know how many pullups you can do. Or if you’re struggling to do one still, what questions do you have? Leave me a comment a below and I’ll answer your questions…
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