5 Exercises to Help You Conquer the Pull-Up

Conquer the pull-up once and for all!

Some exercises are complicated, but once you get them down they’re relatively easy to do. Others are simple, yet extremely difficult to pull off. The pull-up definitely falls into the latter category. In fact, if we had to pick the most difficult exercise for women to accomplish, it would probably be the pull-up. It’s challenging, so you can’t just perform random exercises and expect results. You actually need to perform specific exercises to help you conquer the pull-up! Even though this move can be extremely hard to achieve, it’s actually quite simple to set up. The moves below will lead to you accomplishing your very first pull-up (or chin-up,) so what are you waiting for?

What are Pull-ups?

Pull-ups are, well, pulling yourself up. The grip for a pull-up is overhand, whereas the grip for a chin-up is underhand. Chin-ups are (slightly) less difficult than pull-ups. These two exercises mainly work your back and biceps, but they also work your shoulders, traps, and chest. Apart from the traditional dead lift, the chin-up and pull-up are two of the best back exercises out there!

Exercises to Help You Conquer the Pull-Up

It’s important to note that it’s not enough to perform these exercises a few times. Chances are that will not get you to your first pull-up. It is recommended that you perform these exercises consistently, 3-4 times per week for a minimum of 8 weeks. If you put in the effort, the results will come!

What you need: a pull-up bar (at home) pull-up bar (at the gym) or monkey bars (at the local playground) / a chair / a smith machine (at the gym) or TRX Suspension Trainer (at home) / a Resistance Band(s)

What to do: Perform each of the following exercises for the designated amount of time or number of reps. You can choose to perform these exercises in circuit style, or complete all sets of one exercise before progressing to the next. Give yourself at least 1-minute of rest between each set, as your body will require time to recuperate.

For a Chin-up Grip (less difficult), keep your palms narrow and towards facing you.

For a Pull-up Grip (more difficult), keep your palms wider and facing outward.

You may want to work on your chin-up first, because it can help you complete a successful pull-up later. We’ve included instructional videos below to help you learn proper form.

1. Straight-Arm Hang

This is the most basic of the 5 exercises, and it requires a pull-up bar, power cage, or monkey bars. Reach your arms up and grab onto the bar. Hold the bar underhand for a chin-up or overhand for a pull-up. Maintain straight arms as you pick your feet up off the ground, holding your body weight in your hands for up to 30 seconds. Complete 5 sets.

2. Flexed-Arm Hang

You’ll take the same grip as the straight-arm hang, but instead of hanging down below the bar, you’ll start with your chin above the bar and your chest at bar level. You’ll need a chair to help you get yourself up to the starting position. Take your feet off the chair and hang for as long as you can. Complete 5 sets.

3. Eccentric Chin-Ups / Pull-Ups

From the flexed-arm hang, you’ll progress into the eccentric chin-up / pull-up. Eccentric is the lowering phase of the exercise. You’ll slowly begin straightening out your elbows and lowering yourself towards the ground. Pay close attention to lowering yourself as slowly as possible. Once you’ve reached the bottom, get back up on the chair and back into the starting position. Perform 5 sets of 5 reps.

4. Inverted Row

The inverted row will take place with your feet on the ground. You’ll want to lower a barbell to about waist height in the smith machine or squat rack. You can also use a TRX if you have one at home. Grab onto the bar and walk your feet forward until your body is at about a 45 degree angle. Pull your torso towards the bar while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Complete 5 sets of 5 reps.

5. Band-Assisted Chin-Up / Pull-Up

This is the exercise that is closest to the real thing! You may require multiple bands to help you out at first. That’s totally fine! Loop the band(s) over the bar. Start in the same position as the straight-arm hang, but pull the band down so that you can rest one or both knees in the loop. Grab onto the bar and pull yourself up. Try to lower yourself as slowly as possible. Complete 5 sets of 1-5 reps.

Instructional Videos

Straight Arm Hang

Flexed Arm Hang

Eccentric Chin-Ups / Pull-Ups

Inverted Row

Band-Assisted Chin-Ups / Pull-Up

For best results, perform these exercises to help you conquer the pull-up several times per week. You may find these exercises difficult at first, and that is totally expected. Just keep working towards it and eventually they’ll start to feel easier and easier. Remember, consistency is the key to success! Getting your first pull-up is an accomplishment that you’ll always remember!

When trying to build strength, it’s imperative that you maintain a healthy, well-rounded diet. Properly fueling for your workouts is extremely important. Check out:

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Erin Miller

Erin is an NASM Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist. She is also a Performance Nutrition Coach, certified through the Clean Health Fitness Institute. Some of Erin’s favorite hobbies include hiking, kayaking, and hanging out at the beach, although weight lifting is her greatest passion. She says, “Weight training is one of the most empowering things a person can do. Not just seeing, but feeling yourself transform… There’s just nothing else like it.”

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