5 Steps to Your First Pull-Up or Chin-Up: Beginner Progression Plan

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One of the most common questions I get asked is:

“how to I progress to doing my first pull-up?”

Which makes sense. It’s a great question.

The pull-up isn’t a particularly easy movement if you’ve never managed to do one before.

And there isn’t any obvious way to make the movement easier.

The good news is that progressing to your first pull-up doesn’t need to be as complicated as a lot of sites make out.

I’m going to share what I consider to be the 5 steps to your first pull-up right here.

But first, I need to go over a few points before we move on to the steps themselves…

 

Firstly, Are you Overweight?

Okay, first thing’s first: if you’re overweight then doing your first pull-up is going to be a whole lot more difficult.

There’s no way of sugar coating that fact.

To get a rough idea of whether your weight is appropriate for your height you can check your Body Mass Index (BMI) here.

If your BMI has you down as as overweight, I’m guessing you’re overweight from excess fat rather than you’re an experienced bodybuilder (seeing as you’re reading an article on how to do your first pull-up).

So a focus point for you will be to lose body fat so that your bodyweight drops to a healthy level.

Losing weight fast and effectively is a whole other topic, but it is certainly one which I can help you with: check out The Bodyweight Workout Training Program.

 

Secondly, Prioritize Pull-ups

If you want to improve your pull-up power – you’ll need to be prioritizing them in your workouts.

This is because you don’t want to be trying your pull-ups when your muscles are fatigued – you won’t be able to develop them effectively.

So make sure your pull-ups feature at the start of your workout.

 

Thirdly, approach the following in the right frame-of-mind

I’ve come to realize that different personalities react to informative guides differently.

Some people will very loosely follow advice.

Others will want to have every second, every repetition and every movement carefully dictated to them.

Neither of those two approaches are that effective. You want to be somewhere in the middle.

Give yourself some structure to your workouts using the steps below, but also, remember that it’s just a guide. You’ll need to find what works for you.

You may even be able to start with Step 3, or Step 4, rather than Step 1.

As long as you keep to the key principle of always building on previous achievements (reps/sets/difficulty) then you’ll make progress for sure.

Here are the 5 steps to you first pull-up or chin-up.

 

Step 1

Bent Over Rows


These can be done with a weighted backpack, dumbbells, kettlebells or a barbell.

Because our core ethos at Fit for Everywhere is to workout with minimal equipment, then I’m going to refer to the backpack method.

Method:

You’ll need a backpack and something heavy to go inside. Jugs/bottles of water, tin cans, rocks are all god options.

• With a slight bend in knee, tighten core, suck in belly button and extend arms to grab pack.

• From arms extended, bring pack to torso while pinching shoulder blades together.

• Pause, before lowering pack under control to arms extended.

• Repeat for appx 8 reps.

 

Bent over backpack row pull-up
Backpack Rows

 

You should use a weight that allows you to do about 8 reps, but not much more than that.

If you’re able to do 12+ reps it’s probably a little too light for what we are trying to achieve – which is rapid development of back strength.

Once you can do 3 sets of 8 reps it’s time to add more weight to the pack.

Make sure you give yourself at least 48 hours between workouts.

 

Step 2

Table Rows


Once you’ve become comfortable with the bent over row and feel you can’t fit much more weight in the pack, it’s time to try table rows.

You can also give these a go straight off and miss out Step 1. If you can manage 3 sets of 6+ table rows, then there’s no need to start with Step 1 and you can give table rows a go for a few workouts.

Method:

You’ll need a table that you can lie underneath and pull yourself toward, exercising your back.

• Lie underneath the table with your shoulder in line with the table edge. Extend arms and grip the edges of the table, overhand.

• Clench your butt and keep your abs tight and body straight throughout the exercise.

• Pull your shoulder blades down and back towards each other (like you’re trying to pinch a pencil between them).

• Concentrate on really PULLING with your arms.

• Pull until your chest touches the bar – don’t extend your neck to the table.

• As soon as you can complete all 3 sets of 8 reps, you’re ready for Step 3.

Table row pull-up chin-up progression
Table Rows

 

Step 3

Chair Assisted Pull-Ups


You’ll need your pull-up bar, a tree branch, overhead beam, something you can reach and grip to do your pull-up. You’ll also need a chair, or a slightly better option is resistance bands.

A pull-up bar is the only piece of kit you actually need to be able to work every muscle group in your body effectively at home.

Method:

Place the chair under your pull up bar. Or if using resistance bands, place selected band around pull-up bar and let it hang down.

  • Place either one foot or two on the chair, depending on your needs. Your feet are ONLY there for support, use your upper body as much as possible.

  • Grip the pull-up bar, overhand grip, slightly wider than shoulder width.

  • Pinch your shoulder blades together as you slowly bring your chest toward the bar. Squeeze your butt and keep core tight throughout.

  • The movement can be assisted by pushing on the chair with your feet – take care not to help yourself with your feet too much.

  • Resistance Bands: loop band under a foot or knee, the elasticity of the band will pull you toward the bar. Use a band that allows you to do 8 reps.
Assisted Chair chin-up progression
Chair Assisted Pull-Up

 

Aim for 8 reps, being really honest with yourself about how much you assist yourself on the way up and down.

Once you can do 3 sets of 8 reps with a 2 minute rest between sets, it’s time for Step 4.

Related: 5 Hacks that Prove Anyone Can Get Fit at Home Without Equipment

 

Step 4

Negative Pull-ups


You only need a pull-up bar for this movement. It’s pretty straight forward. You going to make the first part of the exercise easier by jumping to the up position, and then slowly lowering yourself back down.

Method:

• Grip the bar with overhand grip.

• Jump so your chest is touching the bar – or use a chair to assist to the top position.

• Slowly lower yourself under control until you’re at the bottom of the movement – no assistance from chair or band.

Once you can do 3 sets of 8 reps with a 2 minute rest between sets, it’s time for Step 5.

 

Step 5

Pull-Up/Chin-Up


Well, you made it. Step 5 is a pull-up!

Method:

  • Grab the pull-up bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder width, with overhand grip.

  • Start from a dead hang.

  • Engage your shoulders, pinching them together.

  • Tighten your core, pull your body until your chest touches the bar.

  • Slight pause, smile, cheer and feel good about yourself as you…

  • Lower yourself all the way back down to straight arms.

 

If you’re using a door-frame bar like me, you can bend your knees throughout to keep your feet off the floor.

If you find the overhand pull-up very hard still, try an underhand grip. This is called a chin-up and is slightly easier for most people.


Where to go from here?

Aim for multiple reps. I like to feature 12 reps of pull-ups in a bodyweight workout, at least 3 times (3 sets per workout).

With this new skill you’re in a great place to start building your own bodyweight routines, personalized to your unique: goals, weight, gender, age, ability, experience, height and lifestyle factors.

Want help with your bodyweight workout planning? Check out the Bodyweight Workout Training Program.

If you’re looking for a free workout to get you started, then follow the steps at the bottom of this article to get a free 10-week program : it’s one I designed whilst serving in the military.

Related: The Military’s Functional Fitness Formula That’ll Revolutionize Your Workouts

 

Further Viewing

Check out Mind Pump Media‘s Podcast below on the Benefits of Daily Push-Ups and Pull-Ups.

These two exercises are incredible and without doubt should feature as part of your bodyweight workouts.

Want a Workout you can do RIGHT NOW?

Check out this 12-page guide to a results-focussed bodyweight workout we used in the military

Had enough of overpriced gym subscriptions?

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Which is why I now help others achieve real transformation.

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After almost a decade's experience coaching teams as a military officer; I'm here to help you finally achieve transformation that lasts.

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