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The pull-up is the holy grail of all upper-body exercises.

The one exercise that separates the weak from the strong.

One true test of upper body strength that anyone can work towards.

Yes, you heard that right. Anyone. Regardless of whether you’re 50 and overweight or skin and bones 16-year-old fresh out of your GCSE’s. Anyone can build towards a pull-up, and as a side effect a leaner, stronger, more resilient body.

And if you’re goal is to achieve your first-ever pull-up? Then you’ve landed on the right page. Over the next 10 minutes, I’ll break down exactly what you need to do to build enough upper body strength to be able to achieve your first pull-up in under 6 weeks, along with a specific pull-up program to get you there.

Pull-ups are awesome, and they work your upper back, biceps, and shoulders in ways it’s hard to find across other exercises. Especially without equipment.

But what happens if you can’t even hang off the bar to start with? Don’t worry. Regardless of your strength (or lack of it), with the right exercises, stability, and consistency I’ll have you doing them in no time. But before we get to it, I must point out a couple of things that I’ve seen over the last 12 years helping mums and dads hit their first pull-up.

👉 Your weight matters. It’s easier to do a pull-up when you’re 20kg lighter than you currently are. For instance, at 75kg bodyweight, I can hit 20 pull-ups. When I put on weight to match my friend’s size at 105kg (so a 30kg weight vest) I can achieve 2, maybe 3. At a push. So if you have excess body fat to lose, work on losing that first. Any weight loss will make it easier for you.

Following this will help with that.

👉 You’ll also notice women hold more body fat around the hips and thighs. With that, and with regards to a pull-up weight distribution matters. And therefore that distribution matters a lot when hanging from the bar.

👉 Women can totally build their strength at the same rate as guys. What I’ve found and what studies show is that men have a better starting position. Guys hold more upper body strength from the start, so achieving the first pull-up comes a little quicker than women. That’s not to say it’s impossible, it just requires equal effort, if not a little more to progress quicker.

So what is a pull-up?

A pull-up is when someone hangs from a bar, with their whole body suspended by their grip on the bar, and from a relaxed, straight arm position they pull their body up so their chin rises above the bar they’re gripping.

Here’s an example:

There are different forms of pull-ups, with different grips and positions contributing to the difficulty of the movement. The further away your hands are, say in a wide grip position, the harder it is. The narrower your grip, say in a neutral position, the easier it will be.

For this post, we’ll focus on the neutral grip as I personally find it easier for most clients to achieve, whilst being the most comfortable position to practice and complete. This is generally down to shoulder positioning and stability with desk-bound jobs that have reduced many clients’ postures to a more rounded, hunched position.

Where do you start if you can’t even hang off the bar?

The first step is to test yourself first for how long you can hold a dead-hang position. That’s the relaxed, bottom position of a pull-up. It’s the position you start the pull-up from.

Measure that today, and record your score. In order to do one pull-up, we need to be able to complete at least 90 seconds in that position. Any less, and you’ll struggle.

Here’s how to get to 90 seconds

First, we’ll focus on completing scapula pull-ups and dead hang with your feet on the floor.

A scapula pull-up is where you hang from the bar, and whilst keeping your arms straight lift your body by pulling your shoulder blades down. That movement will lift your chest and your ears away from your shoulders. If you can’t hold this position for 60 seconds, you won’t be able to do a pull-up.

This is the first mistake I see when people attempt a pull-up. They’re too relaxed at the bottom. Their ears are touching their arms and their body is all loose. From that position, you can’t actively engage your lats and instead will rely on bicep strength to initiate the movement.

Build to 5 sets of 10 reps over time.

If that’s still too hard. Start here:

The dead hang with your feet on the floor will be completed with a barbell set up in a squat rack, and the barbell to be set up at chest height. To begin, grip the bar in an overhand position, shoulder width apart, and lower down so your arms are fully straight and your bum rests under the barbell, a couple of inches off the ground.

Complete 5 sets of 30 seconds on this, with 30 seconds rest between.