Top Ten Pull-up Strength Builders

[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!

Get those reps in!

Get those reps in!

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.

7. Grease The Groove.
Get a doorway pull-up bar and do 1 Pull-up or Chin-up every time you pass the bar. Read thisthis for more info.

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.

9. Armstrong Pull-up Program.
Guaranteed to get you to 20 Pull-ups within 8 weeks if you stick to the program. Read the guide. Check also the Recon Ron Pull-up Program which is similar.

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.

8 comments on “Top Ten Pull-up Strength Builders

  1. Dan says:

    In step 3 you stated, “Chin-ups (palms facing you, like in the top picture) are easier than Pull-ups (palms away).” However, the picture is actually showing “palms away,” or “overhand.” Is that correct? Also, you mention switching between the two. From my own extensive research, it’s my understanding that both are allowed, but “overhand,” or “palms away” is easier, so do you think it would be sufficient to train that was exclusively? FYI, this method is probably easier because it uses the back and shoulder muscles in addition to the biceps, where as the “underhand,” or “palms facing you” method uses biceps almost alone.

  2. Candidate says:

    Hi Dan,
    Yeah the picture is just showing overhand/palms outboard pull-ups.

    I do recommend switching between the two throughout your training, who knows, a sergeant instructor could make you do it whichever way you didn’t train for, plus it’s a little better for all-around fitness.

    See it’s funny, for me personally underhand/palms in/”chin-ups” are definitely easier and I’ve heard better on your shoulders. Then again, it was not a health professional so who knows.

    As for lats, dude they both work your lats for sure. I have seen size, tone and definition all increased as my pullups have gone from ~15 to 20. Do you do alot of pullups or one or the other of these?

  3. Mehdi says:

    Hm.. Pat if you want to copy and paste my entire article I suggest you put a better acknowledgement for the source rather than a little line at the bottom.

  4. Thanks for this post. One of my goals is to be able to do a set of pull ups.

  5. Candidate says:

    Thanks so much! I checked out your blog–great job and great idea. Good luck in the gym; stay strong & focused on your workouts and of course nutrition. Semper Fi!

  6. Conor says:

    A little delayed, but as per the outboard/inboard debate,

    I spoke with Stew Smith, the former Navy SEAL who writes the fitness articles on He says (and my experience has confirmed) that inboard chinups are easier for beginners, and for lower counts, but after training outboard pullups will yield higher numbers. The reason is that in beginners, the biceps are typically reasonably strong, and these are the only muscles that are used heavily in inboard chinups. Outboard pullups use a wider range of muscles, ie. the triceps, forearms, and especially the back muscles, so the fatigue is spread out over a larger area. However, these muscles are not typically strong enough in someone who does not work out.
    So, inboards are easier for someone just starting out, but using one muscle means more fatigue and thus lower numbers. Outboards will take much more time and work to get the muscles strong enough, but eventually the diffused muscle fatigue will yield many more pullups in a row.

    -Candidate Church, PLC-Air

  7. […] I also began incorporating weighted pull ups as I could do 20, 21, 22 reliably. Top Ten Pull Up Strength Builders. […]

  8. Lt Weeks says:

    Awesome info, Candidate Church–I agree.

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