If you’re looking for a pull up progression to help you get your first pull up, then this post is for you.
What’s not to love about pull ups?
They look cool. They feel cool. And damn are they effective at building a strong back and biceps.
But the problem is… many people struggle to do a single pull up. As a result, they exclude pull ups from their workouts.
It’s a shame because with pull ups, as with any bodyweight exercise, there are ways to make the exercise easier.
In this post I’ll take you through a 5 step pull up progression. Follow these 5 steps and you’ll have your first pull up in no time.
But before we get to the steps, let’s cover some basics.
The Anatomy Of A Pull Up
Pull ups (and their sister exercise chin ups) primarily target the latissimus dorsi muscles. Oftentimes referred to as the “lats”, these large muscles are located on your middle and outer back.
Well developed lats give you that nice “v-shape” upper body that many guys want.
Although pull ups primarily target the lats, other muscles are trained as well:
- Forearms (including grip strength)
- Many other back muscles
Even your core is worked to help stabilize your position, which brings us to our next point…
How To Do A Pull Up With Perfect Form
Executing bodyweight exercises with perfect form should always be your #1 priority. Pull ups are no exception.
By failing to use proper form:
- The risk of injury increases
- You cheat yourself out of muscle and strength gains
It’s a lose-lose scenario.
People using momentum to jerk themselves up over the bar only to lower themselves halfway down look ridiculous.
Focus on perfect form from DAY 1 and you will be light years ahead of these clowns.
Here are a few tips to perform a perfect pull up:
- Body straight or slightly hollow – avoid crossing your legs or bending at the knees (keep your feet in front of you if necessary)
- Start from a dead hang position (shoulders disengaged)
- Strive to get your chest to the bar if possible
- Avoid craning your neck in the top position
- Use either a pull up (palms facing away) or chin up (palms facing you) grip (many people find the chin up grip easier)
We cannot discuss perfect pull up form without discussing scapular positioning.
Scapular positioning refers to the position of your shoulders during an exercise.
For a normal pull up begin in a dead hang position with your shoulders elevated (almost like you have earmuffs).
As you pull yourself out of the dead hang position, your scapulas should come down (depress) which is the opposite of elevation.
It’s important to go to the dead hang position after each rep. Failing to do so makes the exercise easier and thus sacrifices muscle and strength gains.
Where To Do Pull Ups
Pull ups can be done anywhere that you can find a place to hang from:
- Pull up bar
- Local park (monkey bars, etc.)
- Tree branch
- Underneath decks
Look around at your environment and you can almost always find a place to hang from.
If you’re still struggling, then I recommend investing in a pull up bar. It’s an expensive investment that will pay huge dividends.
No excuses here. You MUST find a place to hang from to do pull ups.
Now… let’s get to the pull up progression steps!
Step 1: Scapular Pulls
I mentioned above that it’s important to consider scapular positioning when performing pull ups.
This first pull up progression step is designed to help you feel more comfortable with this scapular positioning.
What you’ll do is start from a dead hang position on the bar. From there, simply pull yourself up slightly (while maintaining straight arms) until your shoulders are fully depressed.
Once your shoulders are fully depressed, lower yourself back to the dead hang position.
What you are doing here is performing the very first part of the pull up. But instead of continuing to pull yourself up to the bar, you lower yourself back to the start position.
This step will train you in proper pull up scapular positioning which will pay massive dividends down the road.
If you are too weak to perform this first step, you may want to start by just getting comfortable hanging from the bar in a dead hang position.
Work your way up to 30 seconds or so to improve your grip strength.
Alternately, you can place a box, chair, or use the floor beneath you to assist you on the way up as you build strength.
Once you can perform 10-15 scapular pulls, move on to the next step.
Step 2: Jumping Pull Ups
The next step in the pull up progression is jumping pull ups.
Jumping pull ups use your leg strength to compensate for a lack of pulling strength.
Begin in a dead hang position similar to Step 1. However, unlike Step 1 you want your feet to touch the ground with your knees slightly bent.
If your pull up bar is too high, place a box or chair beneath your feet to gain extra height.
From the dead hang position, use your legs and jump up to the top position until your chin is over the bar. Avoid craning your neck at the top and strive to get your chest to the bar if possible.
Once at the top, quickly lower yourself back down to the starting position to perform another rep.
The idea is to use your legs less and less for assistance over time. Use your arms to do as much of the work as possible.
Once you can do 15 or so reps of jumping pull ups, move on to Step 3.
Step 3: Jumping Negative Pull Ups
Jumping negative pull ups are the exact same as jumping pull ups (Step 2) except now you slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position (instead of quickly).
Slowly performing the lowering portion of an exercise is called “negative” or “eccentric” training. It’s a great tool to use when you cannot yet perform the full range of motion for an exercise.
Dips are another example of when negatives can be an effective training tool.
In this case you’ll want to work your way up to performing several sets of 6-8 second negatives. In other words, it should take you a full 6-8 seconds to lower yourself from the top position of the pull up to the bottom position.
You may start at only a second or two. As your strength increases, so will the time.
Step 4: Assisted Pull Ups
Once you’ve mastered jumping negative pull ups, the next step in the pull up progression is assisted pull ups.
Assisted pull ups are similar to jumping negative pull ups, except instead of jumping to the top position you’ll use assistance from bands, a workout partner, or your legs.
The idea is to perform the full positive (raising) portion of the pull up without jumping, but still using assistance.
You still want to do the negative (eccentric) portion of the pull up unassisted, similar to Step 3.
Assisted positives coupled with unassisted negatives are deadly effective at helping you build the necessary strength to perform full pull ups.
Over time try to use less and less assistance.
Work your way up to 10-15 reps on this step and you’ll definitely be ready for full pull ups.
Step 5: Full Pull Ups
If you’ve successfully followed the previous steps and didn’t skip ahead, you should now have the strength to perform at least one full pull up.
If not, go back to Step 4 and keep working.
The only difference between full pull ups and assisted pull ups is that you remove the assistance.
You should also decrease the amount of time on the negative portion of the pull up as you are no longer training eccentrics. Shoot for a 1-2 second descent, but take as much time as needed to maintain proper form.
From the dead hang position pull yourself up to the top of the bar until your chin is over the bar (ideally the bar should be at chest level).
From there, lower yourself back down to the dead hang position in a controlled fashion.
Once you master the full pull up, you can begin experimenting with different grips:
- Close grip
- Wide grip
- Neutral grip
- Opposite grip (i.e. if you mastered the pull up with an underhand grip, switch to an overhand grip)
You can also move on to weighted pull ups, muscle ups, and all sorts of other cool moves.
The full pull up is a foundational calisthenics exercise, so it is worth your time and energy to master it. Doing so will open up doors to move on to more advanced exercises.
By following this 5 step pull up progression and with consistent hard work, you can can achieve the full pull up faster than you think.
If you are severely overweight, pull ups will obviously be more difficult for you. In this case you may have to focus on dropping body fat before you can achieve the full pull up.
Remember, focus on executing pull ups with perfect form from Day 1, Step 1. Never sacrifice form to achieve more reps.
If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for my newsletter below to stay connected to my content.
Thanks for reading!