So everyone can learn pull-ups – even if you can’t do a single one (yet).
Anyone can learn pull-ups even if you haven’t made a single one yet. Learning pull-ups is a process that can be really fun. You can find out how in this article.
I know “Project Pull-Up” can seem like a mammoth task.
But by cutting the chunk into small pieces, you can also enjoy eating it — bit by bit.
It only gets frustrating when you want everything at once.
This is the point where many give up. Your subconscious then invents some excuse: “Well, I guess I’m just not made for it.”
Which is just as much bullshit as “…women can’t learn pull-ups.” Yeah, right.
With the right tactics, you can learn pull-ups AND enjoy the process.
In this article, you’ll learn a path that will lead you to your first pull-up (and can dramatically improve your technique if you’re an advanced follower).
It’s not about IF you can do it. It’s about HOW you can do it.
In this article, you will gradually get everything you need to hand.
Ready? Then buckle up. We start.
Why should you learn pull-ups?
“Pull-ups are squats for the upper body.”
There is hardly a better way to get to the point than the legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin (who unfortunately died too young).
I have to confess something to you:
I used to hate pull-ups!
So if there was one exercise I wasn’t particularly interested in at first, it was pull-ups.
But today, I love them.
I still find them exhausting. But today, I enjoy the feeling and appreciate it.
I can’t tell you exactly when and why that changed for me. I only know that it is so.
It’s possible that you feel differently. My former training partner André loved pull-ups from day one. Others may first get a taste for it, like me.
Pull-ups are among the best muscle-building exercises in the world.
The Big Six. This means:
- Pull-ups are functional. They form a typical movement pattern by pulling your body up.
- Pull-ups use a lot of muscle mass at the same time. Namely the bulk of your upper body.
- Pull-ups involve multiple joints. Namely, both shoulder and elbow joints.
- Pull-ups require a lot of energy. In other words: They are exhausting, but they make you all the stronger.
Did you know that pull-ups also give you an excellent abdominal workout?
What muscles do pull-ups train?
Pull-ups train (almost) the entire upper body.
Above all, they train all muscles that are used in pulling movements:
- Broad back muscles (latissimus dorsi): Your “lats” originate on the right and left of the shoulder joint and pull your arms from the overhead position frontally towards your torso.
- Trapezius muscles. They pull your shoulder blades together and down.
- Biceps. Your arm flexors also have to work hard when you pull up. Because if you look closely at your arms during the pull-up, you are performing a bicep curl.
- Forearm muscles. They give you the strength to hold your body weight.
- Abs. They stabilize your core as you pull yourself up.
The last point comes as a surprise to many. Pull-ups are among the most effective ab-toning exercises.
To develop a six-pack and an athletic core, you should learn pull-ups.
Tips to learn pull-ups: You should know this before you start training
Here’s what you should know before we start training:
- The heavier you are, the more weight you pull when you pull up. It’s obvious, but it’s often forgotten. This also means that if you lose fat (and stick with your strength training), pulling up with every pound of fat you lose will be easier. Therefore, diet also plays a role in pull-ups.
- Focus on the basic exercises. Some people train all sorts of things – before doing the compound movements at the end of their workout (if there’s time). Then they wonder why they can’t get any closer to the first pull-up despite all the training. All her training plans are all based on (or lead you to) the basic exercises.
- This is ONE way that works. The progressions below are a surefire way that works. There are other ways, too, where the basic principles (e.g. core construction and traction) are identical.
Okay, enough theory. Time for practice!
Learn Pull-ups Part 1 — On the floor
Even with a strong back, you can fail at the pull-up. Namely when your core muscles are still too weak.
A strong back doesn’t make a pull-up.
That’s why special “back exercises” like lat pulldowns or dumbbell rows often feel much easier than pull-ups.
Your abdominal muscles are also under tension during these exercises.
But they are not a limiting factor:
You can only do a pull-up if your core is strong enough.
The secret? You train your body tension so that you can turn your body to stone when you pull up.
Because your shoulder blades are connected to your torso.
By stiffening and stabilizing your core, you create the kinetic chain that runs through your entire body that you need for the pull-up.
So if you’ve had problems with pull-ups in the past – or haven’t been able to pull up a pull-up at all – you should train your core with these exercises.
Exercise 1.1 – Hollow Body Hold (“Shuttle”)
Gymnasts know the exercise under the term “boat”. The English term “Hollow Body Position” or “Hollow Body Hold” is mainly used in the fitness area.
- Lie back on the floor on your left and stretch your arms overhead (biceps at ear level).
- Cross your hands and squeeze your hands and wrists together to build tension.
- Press your lower back to the floor and tighten your abs (as if trying to block a punch in the belly).
- Raise your stretched legs slightly off the floor.
The video below shows a demo of the hollow body hold and how to work towards it.
In our case, however, you cross your arms at the wrists, thereby building up additional tension because it is exactly the tension you need later when you hang on the pull-up bar.
Tip: If the exercise is still too difficult for you, you will find easier variants in the article Learning a handstand in the section “Exercise 1.1“.
Exercise 1.2 – Hollow body pull-ups on the floor
We’ll stick with the hollow body hold but use a broomstick to help.
- Grasp the broomstick slightly wider than shoulder-width, thumbs together, as if gripping a pull-up bar.
- Enter the hollow body hold. Arms are stretched, and the broomstick is above your head (as if it were the pull-up bar).
- Bend your elbows to pull the bar in front of your face toward your lower chest, like a pull-up. You breathe out.
- Inhale as you bring the broomstick back to the overhead position in a controlled manner.
With this exercise, you train your core strength while performing the pull-up movement – and keep breathing.
Your goal is 8-10 clean reps.
Exercise 1.3 – Hollow Body Leg Raises (with a broomstick)
Do you master the hollow body “pull-up” on the floor like a Jedi master?
Clean! Then let’s go one step further.
By elevating your legs, you additionally challenge your core:
- Assume the starting position of the hollow body “pull-up”: The broomstick is above your head, and your body is in the hollow body hold.
- Now cross your legs and lift them up. The knees remain stretched. Imagine you wanted to push the broomstick backwards and forwards.
- Bring your toes as close to the broomstick as possible. You might even manage to touch it with your toes.
Do a set of 5-8 reps.
Tip: The most important trick to this exercise is the tension in your lats. You maintain this throughout the exercise by trying to push the broomstick further back while tucking your toes toward the broomstick.
The more tension you can build up in this way, the easier it will be for you to lift your legs.
Did you know that most fitness athletes use supplements? Some can help. Many others are superfluous at best.
Learn pull-ups: Part 2 — Hanging
Learning pull-ups also means developing the strength on the pull-up bar independently of the pull. That’s what we’re practicing now.
Equipment needed: pull-up bar.
A good pull-up bar for at home is relatively cheap and usually very easy to mount on a door frame.
I recommend this pull-up bar, which you can easily attach (and also use for push-ups and tricep dips) without drilling or screws.
Exercise 2.1 – Hanging out
Shall we hang out for a round?
If you want to learn good pull-ups, you should also be good at hanging.
It’s like being on the sofa. It’s just that it’s not the sofa that carries your body weight but the pull-up bar.
- Hang on to the pull-up bar. The arms remain stretched.
- Hold your body weight for 10 to 30 seconds.
Hanging is one of the most effective exercises to train your grip strength.
You will also benefit from this in other exercises such as the deadlift.
Tip: When hanging out, make sure that you maintain the body tension that you have already trained with the hollow body exercises.
Exercise 2.2 – Hanging shrug
Hanging out for 10-30 seconds is not an issue for you? Then you’re ready for the hanging shrug.
- Hang from the pull-up bar with your arms stretched out (see photo).
- Build body tension in the core, like the lying-down hollow body hold.
- Pull your shoulders down. Exhale as you do so.
- Hold this position for 5 seconds before bringing your body back to the starting position in a controlled manner.
Your goal is to do 5-8 reps.
Exercise 2.3 – Hanging leg raises
The shrug in the hollow body position works? Great. Then you can further increase the level of difficulty by elevating your legs.
- Hang from a pull-up bar (like the previous exercises).
- With your knees bent, raise and lower your legs in a controlled manner. You don’t work with momentum nor make your body swing.
If bent-knee leg raises are no longer an issue, you can make the exercise harder:
- Hang on a pull-up bar.
- Raise your legs slowly and in a controlled manner with your knees straight. Then you lower them back down.
One of these variants will definitely challenge you.
This exercise is about QUALITY, not quantity. To get to your repetitions, you can therefore work wonderfully with “micro sentences”:
10 clean reps is a good goal.
You can do 5 micro sets of 2 reps each, 4 sets of 2-3 reps each, 3 sets of 3-4 reps, and so on.
Tip: If you want to take it a step further, you can try touching the pull-up bar with your toes (shown in the video).
Learn Pull Ups: Part 3 — Pull Ups
Now we train the actual pull-ups.
And in such a way you can develop the necessary strength as a beginner and get even better as an advanced user.
Equipment: pull-up bar and resistance bands
Logically, you also need a pull-up bar for this exercise part.
Resistance bands make pull-ups easier as you get stronger.
You need different strengths to work your way from “much resistance” (=easier) to “little resistance” (=heavier).
Exercise 3.1 – Negative pull-ups
Negative pull-ups are a simple and effective but little-known strengthening exercise for all the muscles involved in your pull-up.
You can also train negative pull-ups wonderfully if you have not yet managed to do a complete pull-up:
- Jump onto a pull-up bar to swing straight into the upper pull-up position. (You can use a stool for this.)
- Bring your chest as close to the pull-up bar as possible and hold this position for as long as possible.
- As soon as you can no longer prevent your body from lowering, keep going: Work against the lowering movement as best you can for 3-5 seconds until you reach the bottom position.
Your goal is to hold the top position for 10-30 seconds and slowly lower your body in a controlled manner in 3-5 seconds.
Repeat this exercise up to five times.
(Caution: with more reps, you might move like a tyrannosaurus the next day because your arms are so tired.)
Once you’ve mastered this exercise, you’re ready for the next level: the resistance band pull-up.
Exercise 3.2 – Resistance band pull-ups
Once you’ve mastered the negative pull-up (hold for at least 10 seconds and lower for 3-5 seconds), you can try the pull-up yourself.
First, use a resistance band:
- Attach the resistance band to the pull-up bar by throwing one end over the pull-up bar to form a loop. Now thread the other end of the resistance band through the loop and pull it tight, so it doesn’t come loose.
- Step one foot (or knee, depending on the band’s length) into the resistance band’s hanging end and hang from the pull-up bar.
- Build tension and pull yourself up until your chin touches the bar. Hold this position for 1-2 seconds.
- Lower your body back down in a controlled manner.
Choose a resistance band that’s strong enough so that you can do 3 clean reps.
Gradually work your way up to the lighter bands: when you can do 5 reps, you can try the next heavier variation.
Exercise 3.3 – Pull-ups
If you have trained in all the previous exercises and have mastered the technique, a technically clean pull-up should no longer be an issue for you:
- Hang onto the pull-up bar.
- Build up body tension and pull your body up as far as possible – chest to the pull-up bar.
- Tighten your back muscles and hold the top position for 1-2 seconds.
- Slowly lower your body back down in a controlled manner.
Tip: In the picture, I am doing the slightly easier version with slightly bent legs and crossed ankles. Assuming there is enough ground clearance, you should do the pull-up as soon as possible with your legs stretched out – keyword: hollow body position.
This is the last exercise in this guide. Before we move on to the training plan, here is a video of my colleague Sven Kohl doing a pull-up.
Learn Pull-ups: Your training plan
By now, you are probably wondering how you can combine all of the exercises mentioned above into a meaningful training plan.
If you want to perfect your pull-up technique or want to learn your first clean pull-up, I recommend the following:
Train for the pull-up. 3 to 4 times a week is ideal.
I mean “training for the pull-up” literally:
You don’t train THE pull-up regularly but FOR the pull-up.
Not all of your training sessions have to consist of pull-ups.
In this training plan, you only train the pull-up yourself once a week – on training day 4. On days 1 and 3, you do negative pull-ups.
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A training session will cost you about 15 minutes.
The time expenditure, therefore, remains manageable. You can easily integrate the training plan into your existing strength training.
Perform all exercises with a 60-second average set break.
- Hollow body Holds – 4 sets of 5 reps (1 rep = hold 5 seconds)
- Hanging out – 4 sets of 6 reps (1 rep = hold 5 seconds)
- Negative pull-ups – hold the top position for 30 seconds (total)
- Hanging shoulder raises – 4 sets of 5 reps (hold for 5 seconds each)
- Hollow body pull-ups on the floor – 4 sets of 8-10 reps each.
- Hanging leg raises – 10 reps (in micro sets, see above)
Hollow Body Leg Raises – 4 sets of 5-8 With.
Negative pull-ups – 4 sets of 4-5 reps (lowering down for 3-5 seconds)
Day 4 (pull-up day!)
If you can’t pull up yet: Resistance band pull-ups – 4 sets of 3-5 reps
Else: Pull-ups – 4 sets; Set 1: AMRAP; Set 2-4: 50% of AMRAP.
(Example: If you can do 6 reps on the first set, you’ll do 3 reps each on sets 2, 3, and 4.)
AMRAP = “As many reps as possible”, “as many repetitions you can do”.
Learn Pull-Ups – Conclusion
Pull-ups will always be a challenging strength exercise.
But they are among the most effective muscle-building and fat-loss exercises for a reason because they claim almost the entire body, train and keep you strong even in a calorie deficit.
In this article, you got to learn how you can learn pull-ups in a precise way. And from the bottom up.
If you haven’t managed a single pull-up, you now know a way to your goal. And the plan also helps advanced users to hone their technique and body tension.
As a result, you will find that pull-ups will soon become a lot easier – and hopefully a lot more fun. Read also about Australian Pull-Ups here.
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