How to do a Pull Up When You Can Not Do a Pull Up

August 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Fitness Tips

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Pull-ups are one of the best exercises that you can do, but so many people don’t do them because they can’t do them.  Is Yogi Berra in the hiz-ouse?

Nevertheless, here’s a strategy that will help you do that first, key pull up. And once you can do one pull up you’ll be amazed at the progress that you will make…

The pull up is one of the top-5 exercises and everyone should strive to do them.  Pull-ups can be used to determine, and are an indicator of, a persons’ physical fitness level, as the service academies expect that all applicants be able to perform 8 pull-ups.

The problem is that because some people have a problem doing them, they don’t do them and don’t even try.  Pull-ups are hard and a lot of people who can’t do one – even if they want to be able to do them – don’t know how to go about developing their strength and technique.

First let’s get some terminology straight.  A pull up is done when you grip the bar with a “palms away” grip and chin-ups are done with a “palms facing” grip.  Chins are a bit easier because this grip allows for more biceps involvement.  For the sake of this discussion I will refer to pull ups.  However, you can apply this fitness tip to either variation.  Work on the pull up; they’re harder and ultimately do more for you.

If you can’t do one pull up there are two very effective variations to use; the flexed arm hang and negative pull-ups.

For the flexed arm hang boost yourself up – either have a friend spot you or step up on a bench – so that your chin is above the bar.  Once in this position, pull the elbows down and slightly back, keep your chest up and tighten your lats before you take your feet off the bench. The idea here is to hold yourself in this “chin over the bar” position for as long as possible.  At first shoot for a 15 second hold and take a 2-minute rest before your next hold.  Four sets of holds is a good place to start.  Add time as your strength increases.

When you are hanging, bend your knees so that your feet are behind you and your torso and thighs form a straight line.  Don’t lift your knees up in front as this will develop a bad habit that will retard your progress.  Work to minimize or eliminate the body from swinging as this wastes precious strength.

Negative pull-ups will help develop the strength necessary to perform pull-ups.  Get into the “chin over the bar” position but instead of staying in the flexed arm position, you will lower yourself down to the “dead hang” position.  Try to lower your body on a 5-count and don’t just drop and flop.  There will be a point just before the dead hang position where there’s the urge to relax, but continue to exert control.

Use the same initial position and form doing the negative pull up that’s used in the flexed arm hang.  Lock in with your lats, bend your knees and keep your feet behind you.  Maintain control as you start your decent and keep your lats tight.  If you have a spotter they can help steady you before the drop.

The goal should be to do four single 5-count negative pull-ups with 2-minutes rest in between each.  As you progress – and as your confidence grows – add reps to the routine.

There’s no hard and fast rule as to when you’ll be able to crank out your first pull-up, as the mental component of getting to this point is huge.  You have to be able to make a complete, 100% effort, from both the mental and physical standpoints, to perform a pull-up. Employ both of these strategies in the effort to be able to perform that first, elusive pull-up.

Don’t get psyched out by the pull-up. Be patient and make use of this approach and you will be able to do pull-ups, and improve your level of physical fitness and health – before you know it.


42 Responses to “How to do a Pull Up When You Can Not Do a Pull Up”
  1. Guest User says:

    i cant even do one pull up and i cant hang either not even of 1 second and im 5 4 109 pounds and it so hard for me

  2. Guest User says:

    Go to a pull up bar and jump up to bar and do a negative pull up by dropping as slow as possible. Do 3 reps of this two times(sets), three times per week. (m/w/f) The next week do three sets of 3 (3times per week). keep going at this and in a few weeks you will be able to hang up there for a little while and a month or two after that you will be doing real pull ups. I promise this will work for you.

  3. Guest User says:

    ok thank you very much I always wanted to do a pull up, and now I can get up only for 2 centimeters… 🙁
    hope that with this training I will reach a complete pull up

  4. Guest User says:

    i cannot hold myself at the top of the flexed arm hang. i can pull myself up about 80% of the way. it seems the last bit is the killer for me and if i start at the very top i cannot hold it even for a second. any advice?

  5. Tim says:

    Last week I set u a bar in my hallway that runs from te livingroom to the bath & bedroom everytime I go by it I try to do as many as I can do (I weigh 206 and most of it is fat!) Today I can do two last week I could not even do one. The method works and I don’t feel like it is too much trouble

  6. Jamie says:

    This website was very helpful to me as I cannot do a pull-up. I will try these technices and hopefully I will soon be able to achieve my goal.

  7. Guest User says:

    I have been working on assisted negatives (using the assisted pullup machine) since February. Last week I was finally able to do some unassisted negatives. This takes a long time but my upper body is getting really fit! So keep working, I figure it might still be months before I can do an unassisted pullup…

  8. Guest User says:

    i hope this works beacause we r about to have our fitness test at school and i way 60 pound s and i cant do 1

  9. Guest User says:

    Hi, i have the same situation currently.. i really need a guide to do pull up, just one! i seen some guides saying that the best way to train pull up is to do pull up.. however, i tried hanging on and try pulling but i can’t even budge at all. i tried jumping up and hanging there but will drop in a second time. Can someone please help me?

  10. Guest User says:

    It worked for me but took about six weeks. Then I had a wank over very big jugs and it made me feel better

  11. Guest User says:

    Ive been lifting weights for some while and have had some really great results along the way, im 6’4 220 lbs so a pull up is not the easiest thing for me, but i finally got frustrated one day when i couldnt even do 1 pull up, (palms away), im on my way to getting that wide back with big lats and superset bench press with pull ups, i can now do 4-5 pullups with each set, they are one of the greatest exercises you can do, hence the hardness, usually anything thats extremely hard is really good for you, just a word of encouragement to all those out there, dont quit just because you can only do one, keep at it, this is more of a mental thing than anything, are you really going to let nothing but a single pull up win against you?

  12. Guest User says:

    I love pull-ups. Sure, they’re tough but they really improve your physique. My long term goal is to be able to do 50 pull-ups. I use the assisted pull-up machine at my gym to slowly get better at doing them. I figure it will take me at least a couple years to reach my goal.

  13. Guest User says:

    Cool article guys… a great way to increase your pullup strength is to use an assisted chin up machine.

    Something I use myself and with personal training clients is to do 3 reps, followed by 20 secs rest and repeat that process until you “fail”. If you get to say 3 minutes you are doing well. The next time you do it, try and go for a little longer. As your strength increases you can increase the number of reps and/or decrease the rest time… you can keep progressing this as far as you want.

    Regards, Clayton.

  14. Guest User says:

    I am 18 and gonna join the army soon but i cannot even do a single pull up. I go to the gym almost weekly to pump and also do push ups once in a while but i cannot still do any pull up.I am about 70kg and 175cm tall. what would u reckon me to do ?

  15. sal says:

    If you follow my recommendations of doing negatives, static holds and partials you will be able to do a pull-up in a matter of 2-3 months.

  16. Vivian says:

    straps are always an option. if you cannot get yourself/ hold yourself up even a second… i suggest trying the assisted machines. the pullup machine on which you can adjust the weight (the lighter it is, the more difficult)… you can try single armed wide grip pull ups. rest your non-working arm on your obliques as a reminder to use them and keep your navel tucked. another option is to work at a very low bar… with only the tips of your toes touching the floor and barely helping you up. finally, you can try diagonal pull ups… heels on the floor, body in supine plank position… wide grip… and pull your body up. pull ups are a killer, but all these techniques should help you reach your goals!

  17. i am 13 years old about to be 14. i weigh 150 pounds and i am very athletic and strong.. bt i still kant do a single pull uo for some reason.!

  18. marine says:

    doing push ups is the single best exercise in increasing pull ups.

  19. Sal Marinello says:

    Aside from working the pull up varieties, I would agree with Marine.

  20. Aamir says:

    I wheigh 73kg.
    My hieght is 5ft9inches.
    I cannot do a single pull completely .
    Please help me on this somebody

  21. Rich says:

    marine says:
    March 17, 2010 at 11:57 pm
    doing push ups is the single best exercise in increasing pull ups.


    This is completely untrue. The pectoralis muscles (chest) are used for push ups while the latissimus dorsi (upper back muscles) are necessary for pull ups.

  22. barry says:

    hi i am 15 5’10” and 225 lbs i play football do karate,weightlift, run track and do jujitsu yet i can not do a pullup i want to so bad. i am planig on joining the army yet i cant do anny pullups. Any thing i can do i will please help

  23. marine recruit says:

    “This is completely untrue. The pectoralis muscles (chest) are used for push ups while the latissimus dorsi (upper back muscles) are necessary for pull ups”

    Actually it is true.. If you dont have a freaking gym in your kitchen.. Push ups do work your back and chest yes but they also work you biceps and triceps.. And if your doing a reverse pullup your mainly using your upper back and triceps.. Trust me i know this because when I first signed with the marines i couldnt do a single pull up and i couldnt leave for boot until i did 3 without struggling and my main form of excercise to improve my pullups were push ups and just about every arm exercise with a dumbbell.. I went from 0 to 8 pull ups in 2 months.. I leave for boot in Aug. and my goal is to reach 16 by the time I leave.. Honestly the best thing you can do is max your “reverse pull ups” then 10 push ups.. Same “reverse pull ups” then 15 push ups ect ect ect.. Do this for about 20 mins a day then some dumbbell excerises and youll be able to get one in 2 weeks.. Just keep in mind the 1st pull up is the hardest to do but once you get one and as long as you keep at that number will multiply faster than you can imagine

  24. jesse says:

    Im 17, weigh 175 pounds and can do 55 pull ups. This works, just keep increasing and maintain discipline. You wont regret it and you’ll be happy you did. I impress many people with taking this concept and applying with other workouts as well.

  25. Hyder says:

    I’ve been doing 5 negative pullups for the past two months, and I can hold myself in the negative portion for about ten seconds, but I still can’t do a single regular pullup (the upwards part). I can at the most get about halfway, but never above that. Any suggestions?

    Do pullups require the biceps or triceps more? I remember reading in one place that dumbbell curls will increase strength at pullups.

  26. Guest User says:

    I think chin ups and pull ups are so hard. I haven’t done any in a long time. in my back yard we have bike handle bars attached to rope attached to a tree that I sometimes practice on. I am so weak xD, I am going to commit myself to getting my muscles stronger and eating right.

    Thanks for this article, I will try it and see how it works =).

  27. Max says:

    erm so around how long do we have to do this, in order to do a full pull up?>

  28. ryan says:

    Hey I found this site pretty damn cool.

    I know the US Marines have to do pull-ups but down here to get into the Australian Army you need to do 10 and SAS i think is like twice as much as Navy Seals but we digress…

    I have lost a tonne of weight struggling my whole life to get fit and am currently 191 cm (6’2″-6’3″) and weigh 120kgs (264) so i have like another 20 kgs to go maybe 17-18. A fella at my gym (who studies biomechanics and movement sciences at uniiversity) put me on a program of just activating the scapula and ur lats n delts by just hanging for 30 secs (3 reps) then doing neutral grip pulldowns (removing the lat bar and replacing with two hand cables so it works the bicep instead, given that i am aiming to do chin ups) 3 sets of them 6-8 reps. Then back on to negatives doing 5 reps in 3 sets and this is apparently important which i have noticed people haven’t commented on is doing incline dumbell curls or standing ezy-bar curls because you need that strong supination of the biceps in your arm when doing chin ups. I was told if there are some of yous that cant do a pull up dw start with chin ups then u will find u can switch the weight training back to lats instead of neutral grip pulldowns and bicep curls.

  29. Cecile says:

    i am 16 and can do about half a pull up but cant do the rest i have honestly tried everything there is and ever will be put i still cant please help me.

  30. If you follow my plan and are patient you will be able to do a pull-up. You can’t rush it. It’s not like doing waste of time exercises like arm curls and triceps extensions.

  31. Perry says:

    We just did our fitness tests last week im 13 and i only weigh 85 and im pretty short haha. I got none for pull ups and everyone got at least 2. After all the tests were over i did one (out of rage probably) and i cant do another one im gunna try the reverse ones and hope it helps thanks.

  32. Big Phil says:

    Awesome tip Sal!! after one week of this I managed to do my first unassisted pullup. the chinup bar WILL NOT beat me….

  33. Johny says:

    Im 14 145 pounds and i can do 123 push ups. i need to get to 130 and it seems impossible! Any help?

  34. Not important says:

    You’re expecting people who can’t do a pull-up to nonetheless know what the heck a lat is. Wow, you’re out of touch.

  35. Guest User says:

    The only place in my house that you could possibly do a pull-up is on the door, and that has sharp edges that dig into my hands =P annoying. I’d like to be able to practice, but there’s no place. I could probably try the treebranch outside….

  36. Actually I’m not here to hold people’s hands. Go out and learn a little something about yourself. Seriously, don’t come back.

  37. Frank says:

    P.S. When I say “hang” I mean of course at the top of the movement. I can dead hang for quite some time ;).

  38. Ash says:

    how long should i do this in order to do a full pull up?

  39. McK says:

    I’m 13, 6” 165 lbs. and 3 weeks ago i couldn’t even pull myself up at all. Now I can do 3 chin-ups. This shit works!!!!!


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