Who doesn’t want to rock pull-ups at the gym? They are the ultimate symbol of strength, and getting that chin above the bar is soooo incredibly satisfying.
If you haven’t been able to master a strict pull-up yet, don’t worry! We’ve got a six-week plan to get you there.
A Few Notes About Pull-Ups
Pull-ups are one of the foundational training moves. They require incredible strength and muscle control, and they engage many different muscle groups at once. Pull-ups are a great measure of overall athletic ability, which is why they are a benchmark skill in various exercise programs, professional athletic training programs, and even military training.
Unfortunately, many people – women in particular –think they will never be able to do a pull-up. That’s simply not true. Anyone can get a pull-up. The first step is to believe you can. The second step is to get to work.
Week One: Isolating the Right Muscle Groups
During week one, you’ll be strengthening the specific muscle groups needed to complete a pull-up, including:
- Lats (latissimus dorsi - the large muscles in your mid-back)
- Traps (trapezius – the muscles in your upper back)
You’ll also want to start working on your grip strength to help you hold the bar effectively.
You can isolate these muscle groups and start strengthening them with the following exercises.
Complete 3 sets, 10 reps each:
- Bent over dumbbell rows
- Lat pull-downs
- Upright row
- Dumbbell hammer curls
- High plank
- Farmer carries and grip squeezes (for forearm and grip strength)
Week Two: Inverted Bodyweight Rows
On your second week of training, you’ll start mimicking a pull-up without pulling your complete body weight.
You can use either a barbell on a lowered rack, a TRX band, or gymnastics rings for these exercises.
Keep your feet on the ground. The closer you are to upright, the easier this exercise will be. The goal should be to gradually increase your incline as the week goes on.
Use an overhand grip. Keeping your lower body straight, pull your sternum to the bar or even with the rings, then lower until your arms are straight. Do not let your hips sink; keep your back, hips, and legs in a straight line throughout the exercise.
Complete 3 sets of 10 reps. Increase the incline until finishing 10 reps is a challenge.
Week Three: Adding More Weight
Week three is about building on your momentum. Continue to isolate the key muscle groups, but increase the weight.
Continue training your inverted rows on the bar or rings, but add a greater incline to increase difficulty.
Week Four: Assisted Pull-Ups
This week, you’ll start going through the motions of a strict pull-up while using assistance. You can use pull-up or resistance bands if available, or a chair or box to assist.
If you’re using bands, start with a large band (or multiples) for plenty of assistance. On day one, you should be able to complete 10-15 reps fairly easily, doing multiple rounds. Throughout the week, you’ll decrease the resistance and use more of your own body weight.
If using a chair or box, start with the tops of your feet on the box, then assist the pull-up using your quads as you lift. Similar to the band method, you’ll start the week allowing your legs to do the bulk of the work, then gradually decrease the assistance.
Week Five: Hang and Holds
During week five, you should continue isolating your muscle groups and working on assisted pull-ups. But you’ll also start doing more bar work.
Start with a bar hang. This is fairly self-explanatory. Get into position on the bar, with an overhand grip wider than should width. Without your feet on the ground, hang from the bar. As you hang, engage your shoulder and back muscles, trying to retract your shoulders away from your ears. Hold this position for a few seconds, then relax and continue to hang. Continue until you can’t hang any longer (aim for 30 seconds to a minute). Do three rounds.
You will also start bar holds this week. Start with a box or bands to lift yourself into pull-up position, with your chin above the bar. Gradually release your legs, allowing them to hang freely in a pull-up position. Hold for 5 seconds, then release. Give yourself a 30- to 60-second rest before doing another rep. Complete three rounds.
Near the end of the week, complete a few rounds of “negative pull-ups.” For this exercise, you will start in the hold position mentioned above, then slowly lower yourself back down to a hanging position.
Week Six: The Strict Pull-Up
Week six is the big one, where all your hard work pays off!
On day one, try a strict pull-up after your warm-up and see how close you are to completing it. Start from a dead hang, with your hands wider than shoulder width. Pull your chin upward, pulling your shoulder blades together as you lift. Your goal is to get your sternum to the bar and your chin over the bar.
If you can’t quite get it on the first try, don’t fret. Complete a few with very light resistance, then try again or wait until the next day.
When you finally complete the first pull-up, yell, “I did it!!” as loud as humanly possible before releasing. Then accept the high-fives and compliments from all your fellow gym-goers.
And there you have it! Now you can pump out those strict pull-ups with the best of them. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way to muscle ups – but we’ll save those for another time.
Can you do strict pull-ups? We want to see your success! Tag us in your videos and photos on social media!