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I Want to… Do a Pull-Up!

Learn how to triumph the pull-up bar in just three short weeks! Everyone can do a pull-up, with just a little knowledge and motivation (and some hard work too).
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Drop and give me 10? Perhaps. Hoist that body up for a single pull-up? Not so much. Pull-ups can be an especially tricky exercise because it takes so many different muscle groups to get that chin over the bar. But where do we begin? Which exercises will develop that pull-up power, and how long will it take to see progress? We went straight to Greatist Expert and Equinox trainer Kelvin Gary for his kick-ass action plan.

To nail that first pull-up or tack on a few to our personal record, Gary created a three-week plan to strengthen the back, chest, shoulders, arms, and core, so we can get up and at ‘em— literally.His prediction: After three weeks, we should be able to add up to five pull-ups to that total. Yep, that’s even if we can’t do one to begin with.

Movin’ On Up — The Workout Plan

Before the weights and cables come out, Gary recommends grabbing the foam roller to 

Workout A:  Day 1

Sets x Reps

 2×10            Shoulder Circuits
 2×10            Band Pull Aparts
2×10             Wall Slides
 2×10            Plank Push-Ups
 3×15            Close Grip Front Lat Pulldown
 3×15            Push-ups
 3x1min        Planks
 3×15            Standing Wide Grip Cable Row
 3×15            Bicep Curl with Shoulder Press
 3×15            Standing Push/Pull

Workout B: Day 2

Sets x Reps

2×10            Shoulder Circuits
2×10            Band Pull Aparts
2×10            Wall Slides
2×10            Plank Push-Ups
3×15            Assisted Pull Up
3×15            Cable Anti-Rotation Press
3×15            Seated Narrow Grip Row
3×15            Low Wood Chop
3×15            Standing One Arm Cable Chest Press
3×15            Straight Arm Pulldown

Workout CDay 3           

Sets x Reps

2×10            Shoulder Circuits
2×10            Band Pull Aparts
2×10            Wall Slides
2×10            Plank Push-Ups
3×15            Wide Grip Lat Pulldown
3×15            Dynamic Side Plank
3×15            Alternating Dumbbell Chest Press
3×15            Bent Over Dumbbell Row
3×15            Hanging Knee Raise
3×15            Bicep Cable Curl

 

Repeat workouts A, B, and C for two more weeks, adding 2-5 additional reps for each exercise in week two. Make sure to take a rest day between each workout, too. And no need to power through each set either — Gary suggests about one to one and a half minutes of rest between sets.

Crossing the Bar — Technique Talk

Ready to grab hold? Gary notes the different ways to grip the bar use the same muscles differently, since various grips change our . Try pronated (palms facing away), supinated (palms facing toward the body), neutral/narrow (palms facing each other), or a wide grip to mix things up.

Proper form is key to staying safe — no surprises there. So keep in mind that swinging the body or not using the correct posture can potentially lead to injury. Once the hands are set, stick to these steps for a pull-up free from harm:

1. Play dead. Begin in a dead hang— with arms extended, chest up, and shoulders back.

2. Eyes on the prize. Whether you’re afraid of heights or not, don’t look down! Instead, focus on where the body is heading: the bar.

3. Pull (obviously...). Start pulling the body upwards, focusing on leading forward with the chest while driving the elbows down. And this isn’t a dance floor, so don’t even think about sticking that booty out!

4. Be smooth. It’s hard we know, but maintaining a steady, controlled motion is key— try not to swing or squirm up.

5. Count it. Once the chin clears the bar, keep the body controlled when lowering back down. And hey— that’s one!

Besides impressing our friends, strength training— ala pull-ups!— can help rev metabolism, tone muscles, and even boost brainpower  [1] [2]Ready to pull away? Don’t worry about hitting the bar during every workout to keep those numbers up. Many experts recommend training two or three times a week to see significant improvements in the strength department.  With some cardio and lower-body lifting, the whole body is sure to stay in tip-top shape!

A final reminder: This is just one trainer’s take on how to achieve your pull-up goals. Be sure to adjust the amount of reps or exercises depending on fitness level and how the body is feeling.

Originally posted Febuary, 2012. Updated January, 2013.

Special thanks to expert Kelvin Gary for his contribution to this article.

Are you going to give this plan a go? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author @lschwech.

Works Cited +

  1. Effect of acute resistance exercise on postexercise oxygen consumption and resting metabolic rate in young women. Osterberg, KL, Melby, CL. Dept. of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 2000 Mar;10(1):71-81.
  2. Strength training increases resting metabolic rate and norepinephrine levels in healthy 50- to 65-yr-old men. Pratley, R, Nicklas, B, Rubin, M, et al. Department of Medicine, University of Maryland at Baltimore, MD. Journal of Applied Physiology, 1994 Jan;76(1):133-7.

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