How to do a Pull-up: From First Rep to New PR
If someone were to ask me about doing pull-ups, this blog represents what I'd tell them.
This isn't the fastest way to learn to do pull-ups, but it's a damn solid way. Here is the long, slow, boring, unsexy way to master pull-ups for someone not chasing instant gratification, but likes the prolonged process of gradual mastery and confidence.
1. First step with pull-ups? Hang around pull-up bars.
What are pull-up bars? These are bars or tree limbs, wood beams or pipes, rings or ledges.
Spend time around them. Simply try and position yourself near things cylindrical and small enough to fit your hands (or finger tips) around. Try and organize your day as to ensure that if you have an idle minute, you can easily reach up and grab a pull-up bar. They are going to be your new best friend throughout this process of mastering pull-ups. And it's always best to spend time with friends.
Get in the habit of checking your environment for possible pull-up bars. Enable yourself actively. Explore your neighborhood and find every monkey bar in a 1 mile radius. When I jog a new area I systematically work the area finding every possible pull-up bar to utilize during my routine runs.
If you do not naturally find yourself in the company pull-up bars, consider installing a few at some convenient places in your life. Office, living room, laundry room or attic.
Hanging around pull-up bars greatly increases the odds of you learning to do a pull-up. Mind blown, right?
I once lived in a house that had thick wood beams about 7 feet up. There were also ladders build into the decor. Everytime I walked beneath a pull-up bar I reached up and used it. Even if it was just to hang there and stretch for a minute. Before I knew it, I was getting pretty good at pull-ups.
2. Hang on to pull-up bars.
Don’t get all carried away with the pull-up part of pull-ups when you decide to do a pull-up. Don't run before you can walk, so to speak. Just hold yourself off the ground.
Start there. Seriously.
Grab the bar. Lift your feet. Hold on until it gets uncomfortable. After all, you can only do pull-ups if you can support your own weight.
Just hang. Hold tight. Get comfortable hanging from the bar.
Do this every day for a week. Two weeks maybe. If you are a little beefy, holding your full bodyweight beneath you might inspire you to shed a few pounds. Consider this a mindfulness session of sorts.
The important thing is that you don't rush.
This is a romance between you and the pull-up bar. Hopefully, you might find yourself in a life-long committed relationship with pull-up bars. So don’t rush it. Enjoy the romance.
Just hang around and think about cool things. That’s always a great way to spend 3 minutes a day. When I'm tired of doing emails I just hang out (literally) for a bit to refresh my brain.
Do that 3 minutes a day, even in 10 second or 1-minute intervals, and you get pretty good and supporting your bodyweight.
3. Worry about 1 pull-up at a time.
Don’t worry about 2 pull-ups until you’ve done one beautiful, controlled pull-up. Just focus on 1 pull-up and gracefully release your hold. Then do your next beautiful, controlled pull-up.
Spend a week doing 1 pull-up at a time. If if you do a few in a day, still reset after every perfect pull-up.
Feel the engagement up the shoulders and back as you contract your muscles into the up portion, and hold it tight as you do a controlled descent to where you started.
Own 1 beautiful pull-up.
No shaking. Solid core. Look like a gymnast in our mind's eye and just act like you think that person would act. Soon you just might find yourself looking like a gymnast.
Here’s a video that covers basic pull-up mechanics:
4. Warm-up slow.
So at this point, if you can repeatedly do single pull-ups, it's time to start strategically stringing them together. Here's is some advice: always warm up.
For some reason, people seem to have a scarcity mentally with pull-ups. They don't want to waste any. They feel they need to go from 0 to 60, all at once, in one max set. It's all or nothing.
For me, this just expresses inner insecurities with pull-ups.
Do 1 pull-up. Then do 2 pull-ups. Shake it out. Repeat. Then do 3 pull-ups, shake it out. Breath.
There. NOW do your pull-up workout.
That’s an ok warm-up in my book. Not ideal, probably by some standards, but I think it’s better than doing no warm-up.
Any warm-up is better than no warm-up.
5. Work is sets.
There. You’re doing pull-ups. Now try and do 3 sets of 3. I know, I know, that isn't as cool as posting you did 9 in a row on social media. Whatever.
Before you go for a maximal expenditure of pull-up power you want to have your system primed and ready.
Once you can do 3 sets of 3 pull-ups (after a warm-up), then it's time for some fireworks. You have a solid base to work with.
6. Go for it.
One day, after weeks of working yourself up through solid sets of pull-ups, then, my friend, go maximal till failure.
You earned it. Find your number. Not your friends' numbers. But your number that expresses your ability to do pull-ups till failure. Own it till you beat it next time. Maybe this will be next week. Maybe tomorrow.
You will find the experience of going to failure will help you understand what failure is regarding pull-ups. There are levels of discomfort you will experience. Until you've felt them and continued to work through them you won't learn your abilities.
7. Fuck kipping.
8. Don’t force things.
If you feel burned out walking up to the pull-up bar, go back to step 1. Just hang on it for a bit. Take a hot shower. Get after it the next day.
Shoulder injuries suck. Once you blow one out, you are sitting out in regards to upper body exercise.
It's a long-term game. Seriously, check the ego at the door. Your social media friends really don't care that much about your day to day pull-up progress such that you have to chase gains and numbers you aren't ready for.
Be humble. Play the long game, Spartan.
Pull-ups will fast-track you to a good performance on Spartan Obstacles. This will get you to excellence: The Spartan Obstacle Training Guide.