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Can’t Do a Pull Up Yet? Here’s How to Get it Done
Health & Fitness
Can’t Do a Pull Up Yet? Here’s How to Get it Done
We’re going to start with these, the most basic of back exercises, in case you’re starting from ABSOLUTELY square one. For these exercises, focus on lifting more and more as you get stronger.
Level 1: Bent Over Dumbbell Rows: Every OTHER day, pick up a dumbbell that you can lift for three sets of 8 repetitions with a 2 minute break between sets. As soon as you can do 3 sets of 8 reps, it’s time to move up to a heavier dumbbell.
• As soon as you can do dumbbell rows with at least a 25-pound (10kg) dumbbell or heavier, consider moving up to the next level.
• If you are a little bit bigger than the average bear, you might want to stick with this step until you lose a little bit more weight and get stronger – maybe go to 35 or 40-pound (18kg) dumbbells.
Level 2: Body Weight Rows: Body weight rows are the PERFECT precursor to pull ups – they work the same muscles, just at a different angle.
You can also make adjustments. You can adjust the height of the bar, you can adjust how difficult the exercise is. If you’re just getting started, put the bar very high, so you only have to lean back slightly. If you’re stronger, you can start with a lower bar.
• Clench your butt and keep your abs tight and body straight throughout the exercise. Focus your mind on PULLING with your arms.
• Set the bar at a height where it’s challenging for you to complete 3 sets of 8 reps with two minutes of rest between sets.
• As soon as you can complete all 3 sets of 8 reps, lower the bar!
If you need to make the exercise easier, bend your knees and put your feet flat on the ground. You can drop your hips too to make things easier.
Sample routine that starts with your back exercises
Monday - 3 sets of 8 reps of overhand body weight rows
Wednesday – 3 sets of 8 reps of underhand body weight rows (hands reversed)
Friday - 3 sets of 8 reps of overhand body weight rows
(And then go underhand, overhand, underhand the following week)
Assisted Pull Ups with chair – (either one foot or two depending on your needs) – your feet are ONLY there for support, use your upper body as much as possible.
Assisted Pull Ups with exercise band – (you can get different types of exercise bands with different levels of strength). Put your foot in the exercise band and pull yourself up.
Assisted pull ups with a partner- (have a friend hold your feet behind you and help you complete each rep). Have your friend use the least amount of help possible to get you through your workouts.
• Clench your butt and keep your abs tight throughout the exercise – try not to swing like crazy.
• Keep your shoulder blades pinched behind you throughout the movement and focus on PULLING the bar down with your arms.
• Use the least amount of assistance that you can handle – as soon as you can do multiple pull ups with both feet on the chair, switch to just one foot.
• If you’re using an exercise band, try to get a few bands of varying tension so you can decrease the resistance as you get stronger.
• As soon as you can do 3 sets of 8 with assistance, it’s time time move on up.
A sample level 3 routine:
Monday – Assisted Pull Ups – 3 sets of 8 reps
Wednesday – Body weight rows – 3 sets of 8 reps
Friday – Assisted Chin Ups – 3 sets of 8 reps
Level 3B: Negative Pull Ups
Now, let’s say you don’t have a rubber band, you don’t have somebody to hold your feet, and you don’t have a chair – you ONLY have a pull up bar. That’s okay – you can do what we call negatives. When doing a negative, you jump above the bar and try to lower yourself slowly and in control until you’re at the bottom of the movement. This can be very dangerous if you’re very overweight, which is why I’d recommend moving slowly through steps 1-3A first.
For your negative pull ups, do as many as you can (up to 5 reps) per set – jump and lower yourself in control, then jump right back up and lower yourself. If you can do 5, wait 2 minutes and then start again. If you can’t do 5, do as many as you can in control, wait 2 minutes and then start again.
Once you’re doing 3 sets of 5 repetitions on your negative pull ups, along with your assisted chin ups and body weight rows…you’re ready.
Here’s a sample workout using everything up to this point:
Wednesday – Body Weight Rows – 3 sets of 8 repetitions
Friday - Negative Pull Ups – 3 sets to failure – capped at 5 repetitions for each set.
Level 4 – Chin Ups and Pull Ups
Depending on your weight, your level of fitness and strength, and how far along you are in these progressions, you might be able to start with more than one pull up. For MANY people, especially if you have spent time in the gym in the past working on your biceps (like most guys do), you might find it easier to start with chin ups (with your palms facing toward you) for your first exercise before trying pull ups (with your palms facing away from you).
• Pull your shoulder blades back as you’re going through the movement, and focus on pulling the bar down.
• Again, keep your butt clenched and your abs tight throughout the movement.
• Get your chin above the bar, or it doesn’t count as a full rep.
• Do whatever you need to get through the full rep.
• If you can only do one rep, try to do at least 3 sets of one rep…after your three sets, add in some negatives to exhaust the muscle.
At this point, here’s a Level 4 routine set up for a week:
Monday – Chin ups – 3 sets for maximums repetitions
Wednesday – Inverted Rows – 3 sets for max repetitions
Friday - Pull ups – 3 sets for maximum repetitions