Last updated on February 9th, 2017
Are you struggling to do more pull ups? How many can you do now? And how many more reps do want to be able to do?
It doesn’t matter if you can crank out twelve pull ups or can’t even do one. This resource will help you with your goal of increasing pull ups in a short span of time.
My Story as a Pull Up Beginner
Before I was conscripted into the army (in 2010), I needed to perform at least eight pull ups. I wanted to qualify for the enhanced intake. However, at that time I couldn’t perform even one single pull up.
So, I trained for two to three months.
Without the many “pull ups for beginners” guides available nowadays, I did my first pull up within two weeks of training. After that, I steadily increased the number of reps I could perform to eight and qualified for the army’s enhanced intake.
To be honest, my progress wasn’t fast. I couldn’t find a reliable program for beginners. And, I was trying to combine whatever scraps of information I found in a haphazard manner.
Perhaps this describes you right now, in your quest to increase your pull up reps (or to do your first strict pull up).
Stop searching now and begin increasing your pull ups with this…
What You Will Learn about Increasing Pull Ups
Difference between Pull Ups vs. Chin Ups
Before showing you how to do more pull ups, let’s clarify the differences between pull ups and chin ups.
Similarities in both exercises
Both pull ups and chin ups are performed by first hanging on the bar, and then pulling yourself up so that your chin goes above the bar. Your arms should be shoulder width apart in both exercises. Many calisthenics athletes will pull up high enough for their upper chest to touch the bar.
Not surprisingly, the seven muscles worked for both the pull up and chin up exercise are the same (based on this study).
Key Differences in Grip and Muscle Intensity
Although the two exercises are performed the same way and use similar muscle groups, there is a key difference in forearm grip technique. This difference causes distinct intensity levels for each muscle mentioned, for pull ups and chin ups. Ultimately, pull ups are more difficult to do than chin ups.
The assertions about muscle intensity is based on this study.
|Exercise:||Pull Ups||Chin Ups|
|Grip||Overhand/Pronated Grip –|
palms facing forwards
Underhand/Supinated Grip –
palms facing you
|Intensity of Individual Muscles Worked|
Pull ups work the center of your upper back at greater intensity.
Chin ups relegate the movement to your chest and biceps (arms). Hence, the higher intensity in those areas.
Bottomline: Pull Ups vs Chin Ups
So, if you want a full back exercise that is harder to perform, do pull ups. The reliance of your biceps and pecs, make the chin up easier to do. Besides that, there are no differences in the intensity of muscle groups worked.
I personally prefer pull ups to chin ups. I’d rather do dips and push ups for biceps and chest.
Ultimately, whether you want to increase chin ups or pull ups, the training is the same. The different grip or the mix of muscle intensity will not change the below training program suggestions.
What Pull Up Equipment Do You Need?
Pull up bar facilities are everywhere (at least in my area). You can even visit your gym to do pull ups.
However, if there are no fitness facility close to your home or office, consider getting a doorway pull up bar.
The rationale behind this is simple. Convenience is a key factor to succeeding in a new training regime. If you have to make great pains just to find a pull up bar everyday, you are likely to lose motivation and give up on increasing your pull up reps.
When the pull up bar is right at your door, you have no excuses to avoid training. Every time you take a toilet break, pull ups. Every time you pass the doorway, do pull ups. Need a break from work or studying – pull ups. Perfect!
The only reason you need resistance bands here is when you are training in assisted pull ups (this section). Alternatively, you can go to the gym to use the machine or find a friend to help you out. If you are going to do assisted pull ups daily, however, think about getting the resistance band. You can use it for other kinds of training as well.
Note: If you can already do three pull ups and beyond, you don’t need to do resistance band assisted pull ups that often.
3. Your Body
This is a no brainer. You need your body and make sure you aren’t injured. If you have a pre-existing shoulder injury, see a doctor first.
How to Do the Pull Up Correctly?
Learning to perform pull ups correctly will ensure you progress in your calisthenics training quicker and save you from unnecessary injuries. These are some key points.
Grip Position & Method
Grip the bar shoulder-width (or slightly further) apart. The Bar Brothers recommend in their street workout program a full grip, where your four finger curl around the bar and touch your thumb.
Alternatively, the grip that I use involve curling the four fingers and partially the thumb on the bar.
Hang in an active position before even beginning your pull up. You do this by engaging your scapular and pulling your shoulder blades down.
Under no circumstance should you switch to the passive hang when performing consecutive pull ups. Doing so will contribute to injury.
You will find out exactly how to activate your shoulders and hand in this section (refer to 1. Active Hang).
Full Range of Motion
Your arms should start fully extended at the bottom position. Then, pull yourself up so that the chin goes above the bar; it’s even better if your barely chest touches the bar. Repeat.
No kipping or using of momentum. That’s cheating, unless you’re using it to learn the motion of the pull up. But don’t make it a habit. Your movement should be controlled.
Pull Ups for Beginners – How to do pull ups if you can’t?
Can’t even do one pull up? There are two things you need to train for in order to perform one – upper body strength and pull up coordination motion.
The following tips will help you with that. Before you know it, you will be performing your first pull up.
Grease the Groove – Do More Pull Ups Everyday (Method #1)
Without knowing it I was using the Grease the Groove method by Pavel Tsatsouline for pull up training. I visited the neighbourhood fitness corner just to attempt pull ups several times a day.
At the beginning, I could only perform barely half of a pull. But I just cranked out half pull ups. When I was tired, I hung on the bar for as long as I could.
This is the single most important method for increasing pull ups, even from zero. If you want to do more consecutive pull ups, you need to train more in pull ups. You need to be a tad obsessive. You need to put in more time.
But this method does not encourage you to train to failure. It is about practicing the movement to let your nervous system make it perfect.
As mentioned, if you want convenience, get a doorway pull up bar. Walking pass this awesome equipment would compel you to try pulling up. With the increased frequency of trying to do pull ups, what you are actually doing is to teach your body to make subtle adjustments from trial-and-error.
What Exercises to Do when Greasing the Groove?
Doing more pull ups everyday is a solid strategy. But what if you can’t even do one?
Jerk your body in barely half a pull up all day long, without noticeable progress?
No. That gets discouraging and boring.
Do this list of pull up strengthening and coordination exercises when you are greasing the groove. Although you aren’t yet doing pull ups, you are working towards that with these lower level progressions.
1. Active Hangs
Active hangs are when you hang on to the bar while keeping your scapular activated. Make sure to pull your shoulder blades down and together at the back.
So, how do you know whether you are in the passive position or active position?
If your shoulders are shrugging up and close to your ears when hanging, you are in the passive position. When you push your shoulder blades down and together, there will be some distance between your shoulders and ears. Also, your chest would naturally be extended slightly forward.
How do you incorporate this into your pull up regime?
Hang with your shoulder blades activated for ten to sixty seconds at a time, depending on your level of fitness. This teaches you to properly engage your back muscles, lengthens the time you can grip a pull up bar and gradually strengthens the muscles needed to do a pull up.
2. Scapular Pull Ups
This is similar to the active hang, except that there is a minute movement at the back.
3. Negative Pull Ups
Jump and use the upward momentum to pull yourself up. Your chin should be above the bar. Then, slowly lower yourself down. Make sure that your shoulder blades are pulled down.
Doing negative pull ups is one of the best ways to learn the pull up motion, but in reverse. Instead of pulling yourself up in a negative pull up, the focus is on lowering yourself down.
4. Halfway Pull Ups
Pull up as high as you can, lower yourself down, and repeat. This is also what the army deems as half-****ed pull ups.
5. Inverted Rows (aka. Australian Pull Ups, Inclined Pull Ups or Inverted Pull Ups)
The inverted row can be done almost anywhere, even at home. If you are training outside, use the parallel bars. At the gym? Modify the Smith machine. At home? Use a sturdy desk or dining table.
6. Assisted Pull Ups
These are the various ways you can perform assisted pull ups.
Assisted Pull ups with Machine
Assisted Pull Ups with a workout partner
If you have a training partner, have him/her assist you with three to ten more pull-ups/chin-ups after you have performed the maximum number of pull-ups/chin-ups you can perform without assistance. Repeat the set twice with 5 mins break in-between.
Avoid using the method of assisted pull ups in the below video. By having your partner hold your feet, you are risking injury. Some people have accidentally let go off the bar when too tired from doing supersets and fallen face first to the ground.
Assisted Pull Ups with Resistance Bands
7. Chin Ups
As mentioned, chin ups are easier to do than pull ups because you are relying on the biceps and chest.
Remember… where pull ups are performed with a pronated grip, chin ups are done with a supinated grip (reverse/underhand-grip).
Try them out and you may be surprised. This will at least ingrain the pull up movement and help you progress on to actual pull ups.
General Guidelines for Your Grease the Groove Regime
Begin with the most difficult exercise of the bunch, and then move on to the easier progressions. Greasing the groove does not involve training to failure. Make sure to switch between the exercises listed. Each exercise has its benefits.
- For a few times each day, do two to three sets of each exercise. Depending on intensity, take a one to four minute break between sets.
- Every hour, go to a pull up bar and get five to ten minutes of exercises done, the time includes resting between sets. If hourly isn’t possible, then every time you take a break. This is why having a pull up bar at your doorway (or nearby facility) is beneficial.
Never compromise your form in any of the exercises or you will start developing terrible habits. If you are too fatigued to engage the correct muscles, move on to a lower progression. Again, greasing the grove does not mean training to failure.
Later Training Considerations
When I was a beginner, I did maximum repetitions each hourly session. Back then, if I did halfway pull ups, it would be until I could barely pull myself up. I then proceeded to inclined pull ups. When I couldn’t do that correctly anymore, I did active hangs.
You can do the same after your first week of trying out the exercises. Get your form right first.
Note: Take a look at Posey’s Marine Pull Up program (below) as it also caters to complete beginners.
Increasing Pull Ups – for people who can do at least one
This section lists effective pull up workout programs for people capable of doing at least one pull up.
I’ve linked to the workout details for each of the pull up program, instead of listing it here. After all, the original creators have done a great job with the explanation.
Note: This section begins from Method 2 because Grease The Groove is Method 1.
Pull Up Push Workout (Method 2)
The Pull Up Push workout is a training regime by Stew Smith, a former Navy Seal. It is meant to blast your pull up reps through the roof in two-weeks. And the optimal pre-requisite is that you can already do between three to ten pull ups.
If you can do five pull ups and below, you are to perform an additional 25 pull ups daily. If you can do more than five pull ups, you are to perform an additional 50 pull ups daily. The additional pull ups are to be done in addition to your regular training program. And it needs to be done as detailed in Stew Smith’s regime.
Follow the scheme detailed here, which explains what to do on odd days and even days for the two weeks. The last four days are designated for rest and recovery before you take a test.
The Fighter Pull Up Program by Pavel (Method 3)
The Fighter Pull Up program is a thirty-day training regime that has been proven to double your reps. This is suitable for everyone.
These are the rough conditions:
- Do 5 sets of pull ups everyday
- After every five days, take a off day
- On the first session, do your maximum pull up reps for the first set. For every subsequent set deduct one rep.
Marines Pull Up Program by Posey (Method 4)
The Marine Pull Up Program by Posey is the only one that is completely friendly to complete beginners. This program is also effective enough that it is used at a Marines Corp Base. Check out Posey’s program here.
Do More Pull Ups in 30-Days Challenge
Ready to knock your pull up reps out of the park? Take the Do More Pull Ups in 30-Days Challenge.
- Post a video of the maximum number of pull ups you can do on the Way Of Ninja’s Facebook group. Also, explain in the post what your goal is at the end of 30-days (and which method you will use to increase your pull ups).
- Start training the next day and feel free to report your progress in the comments section of your video.
- Thirty days later, test your new maximum and post the video on your group.
Succeed or not, the group and its members are there to motivate and help. We do not judge.
What are you waiting for? Join the challenge and make your post in the group now!