Getting Your First Pull Up, pt. 1


Among the many goals I hear from people, getting an unassisted pull up usually ranks among the top ten. Whether you’ve been at the fitness game for many moons or if you’ve just begun your journey, pull-ups are an excellent way of assessing your progress. Can you do one already? How about two? How about ten? The people I begin to train who can do a pull-up are often accompanied with my expressions of dread and dissension due to their movement compensations. Rude, you say? Maybe, but my job is to make sure that you not only look better, but also move and feel better. So if you don’t like my facial expressions, look away!

The pull up has acquired many variations over the years including: kipping pull ups, butterfly pull ups, chin ups (not the same thing), corn cob pull ups, commando pull ups, and many more. Throughout this article, this is what we’re calling a pull up:

(*note: this is a tempo pull up; a pull up performed very slow and deliberately, the range of motion is the same.)

Let’s start with why; as in why do you want to be able to do a pull-up? In addition to being able to rub this strength in the face of your friends and family, pull-ups are a phenomenal way to:

  1. Keep our shoulders healthy
  2. Make our backs look better (with or without clothing)
  3. Strengthen the upper body (including, muscles, joints, and tendons)
  4. Teach our midline vital stabilization techniques
  5. Assess upper body strength and progress

The first thing to know about any exercise is what are the target muscles? For the pull-up, the primary muscle movers are going to be your latissmus dorsi, more affectionately called your lats. Secondary muscles include your biceps, triceps, shoulders, and abs. The purpose of this article is to get you more acquainted with what your lats and abs need to be doing during a pull-up; your arms will do exactly what they need to do once everything else is squared away.

Where do we start? The first thing you want to do, for any exercise, is make sure your midline (i.e. lats, glutes, and abs) are able to stay tight while the rest of your body is doing something completely different. I like to take a page right out of the Gymnastics playbook for this next exercise, the hollow body (or hollow hold).

In addition to being a brutal ab workout, the hollow hold teaches our brain and central nervous system how tight we need to be keeping our midline during a pull-up. There is no such thing as having abs that are too strong, so once you’ve mastered the hollow body continue to practice the hollow body.

The next step is to teach your shoulders where they need to be while your arms are pulling your weight up. This is arguably the most difficult part of the pull up; staying in your lats throughout the whole range of motion. What does that mean? It means you need to keep your lats engaged during the whole exercise. This is the exercise that will teach you how to engage your lats in a pull-up position.

After you’ve mastered the scap pull up, move on to the scap pull up plus:

Once you can do these scap pull ups, you want to move onto ring rows to build up strength throughout the entire range of motion. The main objectives are to keep your shoulders pulled back and down (not just back) and maintain your hollow body position throughout the movement.

Feeling saucy? If you can complete the ring rows with relative ease AND exquisite form, try this ring row variation.

Use your scap pull up plus exercise to assess how much progress you are making. If you can continue pulling through your scap pull up plus all the way until your chin is over the bar, you’re there! Congratulations! If you’re not quite there, great! Keep up the good work and use the exercise to assess progress.

Alright, we’ve covered most of the exercises that will help us learn how to do a pull up effectively and safely, but how long is this going to take? One week? A month? A year? That depends on how much time you put into these exercises and how much you want to reach your goal. Here is a plan to help you gain some traction.


Day 1:

*Do these before and after your workout*

3x :30sec Hollow Body,

3x 15 Band Pull Aparts,

3x :30 Planks,

3×10 Scap Pull Ups


Day 2:

*Do these before and after your workout*

3x :30sec Hollow Body

3x 15 Ring Rows

3x 15 Straight Leg Raises

3x 8 Scap Pull Up Plus


Day 3:

*Incorporate these as either supersets or in addition to your workout*

3x :30sec Hollow Body

3x 10 Lat Pulldowns (light-mod weight, perform just like you would a scap pull up plus)

3x 15 Db Rev flys

3x 5 Scap Pull Ups Plus (into as high a pull as you can, try to get chin over bar)


*If you get a chance to check out more the website, I would highly recommend the endeavor.  Be looking for part 2 coming up soon!



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