[This post adapted from & courtesy of Stronglifts here; a great weight-lifting advice website]
Yes, Pull-ups are hard and the lack of progress can be frustrating. But as with all exercises, you can get stronger at them using the right methods. Here are 10 ways to get stronger at Pull-ups fast. This is especially aimed at those just starting to work on pull-ups, or those who have lots of room for improvement. After seeing hundreds of candidates succeed at OCS under the worst conditions, I am confident that anyone can get up to 20 pull-ups. Just work at it consistently!
1. Avoid Machines. Machines balance the weight for you and force you into fixed motions. The strength you build on the Lat Pull-down and the Assisted Pull-up Machine won’t carry over to pull-ups. Don’t use them.
2. Use Resistance Bands. Attach a resistance band to your pull-up bar and loop it around your knee, like in this video. I have Iron Woody bands: they’re cheap & quality. Check their Assisted Pull-up Package.
What’s the difference with the Assisted Pull-up Machine? Resistance bands only help you in the bottom position. You’ll have to do most of the work in the top of the movement. Assisted Pull-up Machines help you from start to finish.
3. Do Chin-ups. Chin-ups (palms facing you, like in the top picture) are easier than Pull-ups (palms away). Start with Chin-ups. Once you can do 5 reps with proper technique switch to Pull-ups. You’ll be able to do at least 1 rep.
4. Get Help. Ask someone to grab you by your side and help you on the way up. Do most of the work yourself: don’t push off with your legs too much. Pull yourself up using your back muscles as if no-one was helping you.
5. Use Momentum. Pull yourself up while using hip drive like Jesse Marunde in this video. Once you can do about 5 Pull-ups this way, drop the hip drive and use strict technique again.
6. Do Negatives. Grab your pull-up bar and get yourself in the top position by jumping up. Lower yourself slowly and jump back up on each rep. 5 sec count on the way down is enough. Expect lots of soreness using this method.
8. Do Multiple Sets of Low Reps. Start with 10 sets of 1 Pull-up. Take as much rest between sets as you can. When 10×1 gets easy, switch to 10×2. Continue until you can do 10 sets of 5 Pull-ups.
- 10 sets of 1 Pull-up
- 10 sets of 2 Pull-ups
- 10 sets of 3 Pull-ups
- 10 sets of 4 Pull-ups
- 10 sets of 5 Pull-ups
Once you can do 10×5 Pull-ups, you’ll be able to do 10 Pull-ups on your 1st set when going all out. Remember: if you can’t do 1 Pull-up, do Chin-ups using the same approach. Worst case use a resistance band.
10. Believe. Drop your excuses. You’re not too heavy and being a woman or old doesn’t matter. Others have gotten stronger at Pull-ups and so can you. Here’s some proof that you can do it.
- Body-weight Is Irrelevant. Check this video of Jesse Marunde doing 21 Pull-ups at 310lbs body-weight. Granted he uses hip drive, but still.
- Gender Is Irrelevant. Watch this video of Eric Cressey’s girlfriend doing 8 neutral grip Pull-ups. Neutral grip (palm facing each others) is easier than Pull-ups but harder than Chin-ups by the way.
- Age Is Irrelevant. Video of a 68 year old doing 8 neutral grip Pull-ups.
It’s all about strength. And strength will come if you keep working at it. That’s the 1 thing you must keep in mind all the time: the only way to get good at Pull-ups, is to do Pull-ups. Lots of them.
What’s my favorite way to get stronger at Pull-ups? Grease The Groove using resistance bands until you don’t need them anymore. You should be able to go from 0 Pull-ups to 1-3 good ones within 4 weeks.
Understand there’s a difference between strength and endurance. If your goal is strength, switch to Weighted Pull-ups asap. Start with 2.5lbs/1.25kg for 3×5 and add 2.5lbs/1.25kg each session for example.