In this guide, I’m going to show you how to do pull-ups for beginners so you can get to that first pull up repetition and beyond in no time!
I remember when I started training I couldn’t do a single pull up. Not even close. I got in the gym and tried pulling myself up but the strength just wasn’t there. I was really weak at the time and thought it would be months before I got even one rep. They felt that hard!
Well, after 5 weeks of consistent training I got my first rep and I just remember feeling super surprised because it just felt so effortless then. Needless to say, I was really happy with the surprise! All of my hard work had paid off and that was the first time I really got a taste of what progression looks and feels like.
The problem with most of the beginner pull up tutorials online is that most of them are really not that great… They tend to prescribe a lot of different exercises like rows, band assisted pull ups, lat pull downs and even seal rows.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need all of these different accessory exercises and that some of them are just totally useless.
For example, some tutorials out there recommend you do lat pulldowns which is a TOTAL waste of time if your goal is to do your first pull up, simply because it doesn’t carry over to the type of strength you need to be able to correctly perform a pull-up, at least not effectively.
As a beginner, it can be difficult not to feel overwhelmed by all the information out there in the fitness industry and by all of these different people telling you to do a bunch of different exercises. And most of it is complete rubbish.
The truth is if you want to do pull ups, you need to train pull-ups. It’s literally that simple.
This is what we call the specificity principle.
That’s why you don’t need a million different accessory exercises to build the strength necessary to do a pull-up. You really just need two: scapula pulls and pull up negatives.
But before we get into the exercises, let’s take a lot at how to do a proper pull-up.
How To Do Pull Ups For Beginners
How To Do A Proper Pull-Up
The Pull up is one of the best upper body exercises but not many people know how to perform the exercise correctly. It’s very common to see people doing pull-ups with very bad form. I regularly see people doing kipping pull-ups, and half repping and so on. Why? Because pull-ups are a really hard exercise. But we don’t want you following in these people’s footsteps, so I’m going to show you how to do a proper pull-up – this means proper form and a full range of motion.
So, what you want to do is:
- Grab the bar about shoulder width apart – everyone’s different, find what feels the most comfortable for your specific body anatomy;
- Engage the scapula, also called an active hang;
- Pull up until your chin clears bar level – think of driving your elbows down and behind you;
- Lower down until elbows are extended straight – don’t drop into a dead hang!
- Keep tension in your glutes and abs throughout the exercise.
As a beginner, it is common to think that the arms do all the work during a pull-up but that isn’t the case. In reality, the back muscles should be the ones doing most of the work to get the greatest muscle recruitment possible and the greatest strength and size gains out of the exercise.
Now, to be able to correctly perform the pull-up and be able to pull ourselves up, we’ll want to first get into an active hang, bringing our shoulders down and back, and then pull up thinking of driving our elbows down and back behind us. Once our chin clears bar level, we’ll want to lower down in a controlled manner and lock out our elbows before repeating for reps.
And that’s how you do a proper pull-up!
Exercise #1: The Scap(ular) Pull or Active Hang
I’ve written about how important it is to develop scapular strength and how it is a really effective way to increase your pull up reps before but it is obviously even more important when you’re just starting out and looking for that first repetition.
Scapula stability is vital for overhead pulling strength and if you can’t do a single pull up, you’ll want to address this weak link.
The way we do this is by doing Scap Pulls, also known as Active Hang.
To do the Scap Pull:
- Get into a dead hang;
- Pull your shoulder blades down and backward (imagine pinching them together) while keeping your elbows straight;
- You can hold for time or repeat for repetitions.
Here’s a great video from FitnessFAQs where he goes in depth into the exercise and gives great clear instructions on how to do it. He even goes so far as to call it the best exercise to improve your pull-ups, so you can be sure it is a crucial exercise to work with to get your pull-ups going.
Exercise #2: Pull Up Negatives or Eccentrics
Pull up negatives or eccentrics are the single best exercise to develop the strength necessary to do a pull-up. Why? Because it works the exact movement pattern you’re trying to get stronger at – only in reverse. Plus, research has shown that we are up to 1.75 times stronger during the eccentric part of an exercise than in the concentric part.
If we take the pull up as an example, the eccentric part would be the part when your chin is above bar level and you’re lowering down into the bottom part of the pull-ups, whereas the concentric part would be when you pull up.
Most people don’t realize how powerful eccentric training is for achieving a skill or a movement pattern we can’t yet perform and fewer people understand how to do them correctly. Some people do them too fast, not reaping the greatest benefits from them.
Negative reps, or eccentrics, should be done as slowly and as controlled as possible. Here’s how:
- Jump the top position of the pull up;
- Lower as slowly as possible to the bottom position;
- Repeat for reps;
Aim for anywhere from 10 seconds to 30 seconds total duration per repetition and aim for 5-12 repetitions for 3-4 sets.
At first, negatives will be brutal on your body – you’ll be sore for days, trust me on that. But they’ll get easier as you get stronger, and when you’re a little bit more comfortable with the exercise, what you’ll want to do is to try to pull up once you begin lowering yourself and get below the bar. Go by feel here. You could just begin lowering a bit and immediately pull back up and finish your repetition, or you could lower until midway and then pull back up, and then complete the repetition.
This is a great little tweak that will make the exercise that much effective as you get stronger and help you get that first pull up that much faster.
Progression Is Key
Now, with all things fitness, to get strong you need to progress. What does this mean? That you need to try to outdo yourself every single time. This is called progressive overload and is the single number 1 factor determining whether you make gains or not.
Imagine you can do 5 reps with a 10-second duration, for 3 sets in your first workout. Next training day, you’d want to aim for at least 6 reps with the same tempo (10 seconds) for 3 sets again. And you’ll want to keep pushing the envelope every time, either with more reps, more sets or more time under tension (tempo).
How To Program It
So, the training program I’d personally recommend consists of 3 sessions per week.
Do the first exercise, scap pulls, anywhere from 5-12 reps for 3-4 sets, 2-3 mins rest.
Do the second exercise, pull up negatives, anywhere from 5-12 reps for 3-4, 10-30 second tempo, 2-3 mins rest.
I’d recommend you integrate this into a full body routine. Full body routines are a great way for beginners to build the initial basic strength foundation to progress onto harder exercises in the future.
If you’re currently looking for a beginner’s workout program using only your bodyweight, you can read my previous article where I share an awesome full body beginner’s routine to build strength and size.
Your First Pull Up Is Just Around The Corner
This is how I personally got my first pull up so you can be sure that these exercises are effective and that they do build the strength necessary for the movement.
Stay consistent, train hard and keep a good diet and I can almost guarantee that you’ll get your first pull up in just 4-6 short weeks. Now, everyone’s different and this isn’t a race. Work at your pace and don’t compare yourself to others. Focus on yourself and watch the gains coming!
I truly hope you can take something valuable away from this tutorial and that you put into action what you’ve learned.
If you can already do some pull-ups and you’re looking to increase those reps, I recommend you check my article on [add internal link].
Leave a comment in the comment section below about when was your first pull up and how many you can do now, I’d love to hear about it.