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How to Get your First Pull-Up

A pull up remains a goal for many of us - or labelled as impossible for many of us! Why is it such a common goal? There's something very powerful in being able to pull yourself up to that bar; it certainly re-wrote some of the things I thought about myself.


If you didn't know, pull ups are my 'thing'. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I can just naturally do them or that they come easily to me: I trained INTENSELY to get my first pull up, and now I maintain my pull up strength with about 100 pull up reps every week. It's important to put that in context because they might look magically effortless but they're not - I just do a lot of them!


Start with working those lats regularly (2+ times a week):

- bent over rows

- inverted or horizontal rows

- assisted pull ups (use a machine or band(s))


Taking your own body weight on the bar as soon as you are able to is crucial. You're not going to get good at pull ups if you never attempt lifting your own weight. There is a time to step away from the assisted pull up machine or bands!


Now try your own body weight:

- hang off the bar and take your own weight (you could even build up to adding another exercise like a hanging knee raise while you're hanging there)

- try some scapular pulls (these can also be assisted with a seat or band)

- jump up to the 'top' of the movement (chin over bar) and hold yourself at the top


So, now - it's time for the eccentric pull up.


BEST WAY to build some serious strength is with these. When you can slowly lower from the top of the move, all the way to straight arms, you're generally read for a half-decent attempt at a full pull up. They are intense, and they can make you really sore, but they are also so effective.


Don't forget to mix and match these reps! A set might comprise of a chin up, 3x eccentric chin ups and then perhaps however many lat pulldowns you can manage after that. Layering the variations can help you continue to increase volume, even if you can't do that many pull ups yet.


Mechanical advantage:

Did you know there's a difference between a chin up and a pull up? They are two entirely different hand positions, which completely change the emphasis of the move.


Chin up: Take a grip on the bar about a shoulder width apart, with your palms facing inwards (this is called a supinated grip or underhand grip). This increases the emphasis on your biceps, and is generally an easier move to master.


Pull up: Now to make things trickier, start to send your grip wider, and take an overhand grip. This is a pull up. The wider your hands go, the harder it is as the more emphasis is on your lats.


Once you can pull yourself up to the bar, it's time to start training range of motion too - many people start from a bent arm, which makes things easier. Try starting from a 'dead hang' position, which is where your arms are completely straight to begin with. (The final step might be adding weight around your middle - the weighted pull up!)


What else would you like to know about getting your first pull up?


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