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How To Do A Pull-Up

Updated: Sep 4, 2022

The Pull-up. The only exercise that, when performed improperly, can cost you your life. Just kidding! But they are tough. Really tough, and there is no reason to be ashamed if you cannot muster a single one. You are far from being alone.

Pull-ups are simple in theory, though. Start by grabbing the bar and grip it with a shoulder-width grip. As much as possible, let your arms fully extend and lift your feet off the ground so that your entire body is suspended. Pull yourself up using your arms, drawing your elbows down until your chin is level or above the bar. Then lower yourself back down, keeping your feet off the ground.

When it comes to proper pull-up form, the devil is in the details. There are two common mistakes many of us make:

  • Not squeezing your shoulder blades together and down before doing a rep.

  • Kipping is when you use momentum to get yourself up and over the bar.

Your lats are the largest muscles in your back, and they are designed to pull your shoulder blades together and down. Pull your shoulder blades back and down before beginning the movement to increase your chances of proper muscle activation throughout the pull-up motion. As for kipping, if it is intentional, then it is an entirely different exercise commonly performed in CrossFit. But if you want to build strength and muscle in your back... skip the kip.

Your First Pull-up

Don't worry if you can not do a pull-up. If you practice and have patience, you will be able to soon. Follow these steps, and you'll be on your way to your first pull-up.

Step 1: Isometric holds (Three timed sets)

First, you'll perform three sets of isometric holds. Start by placing your hands in the pull-up position on the bar and then jump up to be at the top of the pull-up position. Hold this pose for as long as possible. You should record your time for each set and try to beat it next time. Repeat this until you can hold yourself at the top of the pull-up position for at least 10 seconds for each rep.

Step 2: Negative pull-ups (Two sets of three repetitions each, with an additional rep each week)

Once you're comfortable with isometric holds, you'll then move on to negative pull-ups. In this exercise, you'll also jump up to the bar to be positioned at the top of a pull-up, but now you'll slowly lower your body until your arms are fully extended. Take about four seconds to reach the bottom of the movement. Do two sets of two to three repetitions, and aim to add a rep each week.

Step 3: Try your first pull-up.

Try your first pull-up after a few weeks of isometric holds and negative pull-ups. There's no right or wrong time to try to bang out your first rep. If you're still having problems getting your first pull-up, incorporate a resistance band by attaching one end to the bar and looping the other end around one of your feet. Concentrate on good form and increase the number of assisted pull-ups you are able to do until you are ready to again, attempt an unassisted pull-up.

Step 4: Incorporate a pull-up routine into your workout


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