When it comes to the idea of doing pull-ups, a lot of people are stuck thinking back to their high school days when they couldn’t do even one.
The physical fitness testing attempted to show how out of shape and weak we are. And it worked! Even though I was an athlete for years leading up to it I could never get my chin over the bar, even when cheating it wouldn’t happen.
And I’m not the only one!
I know dozens of people, men, and women, that couldn’t do a single one growing up.
To do pullups you need a couple of things:
- Build your back strength up with rows, pulldowns and other back exercises. If you can’t do pullups you need to get stronger. Build basic strength with tried and true exercises.
- Increase your grip strength. If you can’t grip the pullup bar you’ll never actually pull yourself over it! Building your grip and back strength goes hand in hand luckily.
- Lose Body fat. The less you weigh, the less weight you have to pull over the bar. Easy.
Why Listen To Me?
Before we talk about how to build the back and why you’d listen to me in the first place, here’s some proof for you. After years of being unable to do a single pull-up, I worked up to 18 at a body weight of 275 lbs. That’s a huge difference in strength so I definitely know what I’m talking about!
My client went from barely doing 3 to doing 22 in a row at a bodyweight of 210 lbs. So I know this doesn’t just work for myself but this method also works for others. No matter what strength level you’re at this will get you results regardless of if you’re male or female.
Build The Back And “Pull-Ups” At The Same Time
Now we’re finally getting into the meat and potatoes of the training program. There are two things to consider when setting up your workouts;
- 1.) Make sure the rest of your program is balanced. You don’t want to be doing a ton of biceps exercises right before working on your back work. That is the main focus for this part of your training so make sure to keep it a priority near the beginning of the workout so you’re as fresh as possible.
- 2.) When working on building your pull-ups from 0 to multiple reps per set, we won’t even be doing pull-ups at the beginning. If you can’t do at least 2 with great form then we have other matters to attend to. Mainly, building up your back musculature with basic bodybuilding techniques. A bigger muscle has a higher strength ceiling than a smaller muscle so that will be the main focus for Phase 1.
Phase 1: For Beginners AKA Those That Can Do 0 Pull-Ups
For phase 1 we’re going to be focusing on 4 basic movements in a 4 day training week. There are other ways to set this up but here’s the way I would do it to gain as much muscle and strength as fast as possible. The 4 movements will have a little variation based on the person but they’re very basic in nature. Those 4 movements will be 2 horizontal pulls and 2 vertical pulls spread out evenly throughout the week. Let me explain what I mean.
Horizontal Pulling Movements
Because of the orientation of the body, these are considered horizontal movements. They work very similar muscles compared to pull-ups and absolutely need to be trained hard to get better at them. The easiest movements I’ve seen that almost everybody can do are dumbbell and inverted rows. These two movements are awesome for building strength and muscle without the strain on your low back like a barbell row. These will be our 2 horizontal pulling movements for the week.
Vertical Pulling Movements
Vertical movements are things like pull-downs and you guessed it, pull-ups. Pull-downs are going to be the main movement for a long time, until we can start working on pull-ups, of course. We need a way to train those muscles in the same plane as a pull-up and pull-downs absolutely fit the job for us! The other movement we’re going to be using is rack pull-ups. Let’s see the proper way to do both of these.
Onto The Training Program!
Now that we have our movements picked out, I’m going to show the best way I’ve found to set up the training. You won’t have to worry about exact sets and reps. Just basic total reps per exercise will make this exceptionally easy for you guys to set up on your own. Here’s what it looks like!
|Day 1: |
A1. Bench Press
A1. Military Press
5×5 @300 lbs
|A2. DB Rows |
25-50 [email protected]
|A2. Rack Pull Ups |
|A2. Pulldowns |
|A2. Inverted Rows |
|B1. DB Incline Bench 25-50 Reps @50lbs||B1. Back Extensions 25-50 Reps||B1. DB Press |
25-50 Reps @30lbs
| B2. Pull Aparts or |
|B2. Pull Aparts or |
|B2. Pull Aparts or |
|B2. Pull Aparts or|
As you can see the workouts are very simple and using super-sets that work opposing muscle groups is a great way to get solid work in without ruining your strength. You want to use the bodyweight back work on your main lower body days so you don’t get overly fatigued. Doing heavy DB Rows with Deadlift is a bad idea, doing them with Inverted Rows is perfectly fine.
Why all the supersets? Increase your efficiency and keep you in great lifting shape. The better shape you’re in with less bodyfat the easier it’ll be to achieve your first pull-ups. Being in shape makes you stronger I promise. And yes I know there’s a ton of Pull Aparts/Face Pulls but that’s by design. Imagine how much better your upper back strength and musculature will be by doing all that work? Over time your upper back strength will improve and will absolutely make your overall back strength greater.
Also, you might be wondering why the rep ranges instead of sets and reps. There are multiple reasons why but honestly it’s just easier to set up! You can set a weight and just work hard increasing how many reps you do at those weights. Once you can get 50 or 100 total reps for a movement in 3-5 sets you just add 5 lbs and keep working next time. Definitely simple but definitely effective as well! Also, by doing back work every training session you can make sure you’re doing the most work possible to get stronger fast! There are a ton of ways to set this up so if you have any questions definitely let me know!
This is how I would set the training up for at least 6 weeks. After that, you honestly should be able to start moving onto the next part of the program which will be included in part 2 of this series!
Getting better at pull-ups is definitely a tough beast to crack but it really does boil down to 2 things; 1.) Lose body fat so the amount of weight you have to lift (your bodyweight) is lower, and 2.) get stronger at basic, compound movements. That’s really it. I wish I had a secret but there isn’t really any.
If this article helped you out and gave you some new ideas about what to do in your own training I want to know about it! Leave me a comment and tell me what you’re going to do to increase your Pull-up strength!
Thanks for reading! I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!
Until next time,