Do More Than One Stinking Pull-Up

by Brett on July 8, 2008 · 160 comments

in Fitness, Health & Sports

I’m still haunted by my 6th grade gym class. At the beginning of the semester, all the students took part in a physical fitness test. Part of the test included a visit to the old chin-up bar. I remember standing in line nervously knowing I was about to embarrass myself. You see, I was a fat kid. My mom tried to tell me I was big boned (God bless you, mom), but I knew I was fat. And looking at that bar, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to pull up my pudgy 160-pound body with my wimpy 11-year-old arms.

I watched all the skinny kids bust out pull-ups like they were nothing. “Yeah,” I thought, “pull-ups are easy when you only weigh 75 pounds.” Maybe God was trying to humble me that day because the person right in front of me in line was a girl. Not only that, she was a prepubescent athletic machine. I stood and watched her crank out pull-up after pull-up. I lost count of how many she did.

“Okay, McKay,” the coach said, “you’re up.”

I summoned all the positive thinking I could at that moment. I convinced myself that I could actually bust out 4 or 5 pull-ups. With my newfound confidence, I jumped and grabbed the bar. It was over before it even started. I put up a good fight, but gravity and my fat middle school body beat me that day. I couldn’t even do one stinking pull-up.

Ever since then, I’ve made it a goal in life to be able to do pull-ups. Lots of them. To me, the pull-up represents the ultimate test in fitness.

The Benefits of Pull-Ups

The pull-up is a strength-building dynamo. In just one pull-up, your body calls upon the following muscles:

  • Fingers
  • Forearms
  • Biceps
  • Triceps
  • Shoulders
  • Back
  • Core

Not only will your strength increase dramatically from pull-ups, but your upper body will become bigger and more defined. Moreover, the strength you derive from doing pull-ups will help you improve your performance in other exercises like the bench press or overhead press.

How Not to Do Pull-Ups

Many men who have trouble doing pull-ups go to the assisted pull-up machine to help them crank the pull-ups out. Don’t do it; it’s a useless crutch. If your goal is to do several unassisted pull-ups, you’re wasting your time with these machines for a couple of reasons:

First, a mental factor exists when doing pull-ups. Because you know the machine is helping you up, you probably won’t exert as much effort as you would if doing pull-ups unassisted. When you finally make the switch to unassisted pull-ups, you may still find yourself unable to do any.

Second, you don’t use all the muscles needed for real pull-ups when using the machine. When doing real pull-ups, your body has to call upon larger and smaller muscle groups all throughout your body for you to pull yourself up. A machine won’t recruit as many of these muscles. Thus, when you make the switch to doing unassisted pull-ups, you won’t have the strength needed to complete them.

The “Do More Than One Stinking Pull-Up” Routine

A friend recommended this pull-up routine to help turn me into a machine. And guess what? It worked. In a month, I went from doing one stinking pull-up to cranking out 10 reps in multiple sets.

So if you’re ready to start cranking out pull-ups, here’s your routine.

If you currently can only do one pull-up, start out by doing 12 sets of 1 pull-up with a 45 second break between sets. Do the routine two times a week. Once you can do two pull-ups, begin this routine:

Week 1: 6 sets of 2 reps. 45 second break in between sets. Twice a week.

Week 2: 5 sets of 3 reps. Twice a week.

Week 3: 4 Sets of 4 reps. Twice a week.

Week 4: 3 Sets of 6 reps. Twice a week. If you’re able to do more, go ahead. Like I said, by this time I was able to increase my reps to 10.

When you get to the point that you’re able to do more than 12, it’s time to start adding weight to your pull-up routine, like the bad ass guy in the picture at the top.

Where to Do Pull-Ups

Many men don’t do pull-ups because they don’t have access to a pull-up bar. Here are some options:

  1. Tree limb. Some trees have limbs that are perfect for pull-ups. When you’re out for a run, jump up, grab on, and start cranking some out.
  2. Outdoor gyms. During the 1980s, many parks installed outdoor gyms along jogging trails. The idea was that you could get a complete strength workout while jogging. Usually a pull-up bar is one of the stations.
  3. Get a pull-up bar for your house. The last, and most convenient option, is to get a pull-up bar for your door frame. I recently bought the Iron Gym Pull-up bar and have been completely happy with it. It just fits right in your door frame and you don’t have to drill holes or do any installation. What’s great about having a pull-up bar in your door frame is that every time you walk by it you can crank a few out. After doing this a couple of weeks, you’ll be doing more than one stinking pull-up.

{ 157 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Timo July 8, 2008 at 8:25 pm

Out of all the strength training exercises a man could do, the pull up and overhead press are probably the hardest. Working on those more really pays off, as they work some of the least used muscles in the body.

I never thought of working pull ups using the above routine, and my goal is to achieve weighted pull ups. That really looks like a good starter, thanks Brett!

2 Neil July 8, 2008 at 8:43 pm

Nice entry – pull-ups are inherently manly. I disagree about the assisted pull-up, however – I went from being a “1 or 2 stinking pull-up” guy to being able to crank out 10 easily last year, and I think the assisted pull-up helped me get started.

First of all, it helped my form. I was able to really isolate my lats, and feel exactly what it was like to flex them while I pulled myself up.

Second, it helped me work the muscles more than I would have (at least at first) having to face the bar, making me stronger and probably more defined.

While it is a crutch, it can be valuable for guys who have never had much upper body strength or have never really practiced pull-ups.

My recommendation: I like the suggested routine, but perhaps throw in some assisted pull-ups (think 20-30 lbs off your body weight, not any more) towards the end of your work out, just to really hammer on those muscles. Also, seated row and other exercises that isolate lats and biceps will help a lot for pull-ups.

3 Zubin July 8, 2008 at 9:15 pm

If you can’t do any pull-ups (not even one stinking pull-up), a good way of doing assisted pull-ups is to use one of those large exercise rubber bands attached to the bar. You can hook it around both feet, one foot, or a knee to adjust the tension.

The good thing here is you get to use most of the muscles involved in a real pull-up, but with a little assistance.

Once you can do 1 pull-up, stop using assistance (check periodically, it could happen after just a handful of workouts).

4 derek July 8, 2008 at 9:48 pm

I have some homemade rings hanging from a tree limb. It seems to take some of the stress off of my shoulders when my arm can rotate inward while pulling up (pull-up-ing?).

Handstand pushups are next on my goal list…

Then a front lever…

That should keep me busy for a while.

Thanks for the good read!

5 Shatt July 8, 2008 at 11:04 pm

I’d sure love to but I don’t know if the door frames here will be able to support a pull-up bar, much less a 240lb guy.

6 Mark July 9, 2008 at 12:24 am

Starting pull-ups without any assisted devices:

If you can’t do a single pull-up, this is a great set of advice I came across once.

Step one: Check body-fat % to ensure that the necessary strength-weight ratio can be achieved. If need to lower body-fat %, priority is to exercise and weight lift (the latter builds muscle which burns more fat). Stronger arms and back through basic weight lifting will go a long way to being able to do pull-ups, even if you don’t practice pull-ups specifically.

Step two: At some point where you feel better, use these new stronger muscles and hardening body to attempt a pull-up. If you can’t do one, do negative pull-ups. Basically, jump all the way to the top of the pull-up position and then lower yourself as slowly as you can. The lowering work of the pull-up motion actually damages muscle fibers a lot (in a good way) and promotes growth and strengthening of muscles, making you stronger. Do this a few days a week. Soon you’ll be able to pull yourself up then lower back down.

Step three: This step means you’ve managed to pull yourself up once. Go with Brett’s advice from here on :)

7 E. Hubble July 9, 2008 at 1:31 am

Outstanding article! The hardest exercise known to man, I agree.

TIP- keep your thumbs on the same side of the bar as your fingers when doing palms-away style pull-ups.

That is, don’t wrap them around the underside of the bar.

this will help your grip a lot.

8 Charlie on PA Tpk July 9, 2008 at 3:08 am

I was told – and it seemed logical – that doing palm-facing pull ups uses different muscle sets than palm-away pull ups. To that end, it was recommended to try one hand palm-forward and the other palm-away until I could do several reps, then reverse.

Has anyone else heard of this method?

9 Dad of Divas July 9, 2008 at 4:20 am

This is something that I have just started to do. Purchasing the bar and installing it was the first hurdle, now is the goal of setting in a routine, which is never an easy task, but definitely worth it. Thanks for the thoughts on this…great article!

10 nouman July 9, 2008 at 4:47 am

Nice aritcle

11 Adrian July 9, 2008 at 4:49 am

I did the same kind of thing with dips (which are another difficult manuever that are awesome in all the muscles they entail). My best friend, who is a gym freak, raved about dips, but I couldn’t do one. He said… just do one… then next day do one… then the next day do one… keep going until you can do two.

What was amazing was the speed at which I became able to do dips. In a few weeks, I was doing sets of 12. It was one of the most rewarding gym experiences.

Pull-ups were sort of the same, but I think I need to get more serious about them. I’ll watch Rocky IV daily for inspiration.

12 William July 9, 2008 at 5:30 am

Some days, I feel like the forces of fate are working in my favor, it may sound overly-grand in this case, but to some degree its true.
I say this simply because I am joining the army very soon, and have been working out for the last five or six weeks. My ability to do pushups, situps and run has improved 5-fold at least, however I still have issues with pullups. I don’t need to do any pullups in the PT test for selection but I know how beneficial they are, and if I follow through with my ultimate goal, I will have to know how to do many pullups. I am not too disappointed with my lack of ability to do pullups, as I have not spent much time working on them yet (due to lack of a readily available bar) but this post has inspired me and I am now going to make the effort to get to the gym and work on my pullups using this guide.
Thank you for the advice.
- Facta, non verba!

13 Gary July 9, 2008 at 5:30 am

Great article! Thank you for that and all the tips.

My 8th grade PE coach pointed out to us that pull-ups were better than chin-ups. If all you could do were chins, what would happen if you one day found yourself hanging from a cliff or ledge?

I hate pull-ups more than pushups, but I can now crank out pushups having used the incremental increase-by-one per day approach. It works.

I’ll be doing pull-ups the same way.

14 Pete July 9, 2008 at 5:33 am

Any suggestions on a stand or something you can use in-home? We’ve got a “basement gym” of sorts, but the ceiling isn’t very tall, either. I’d rather not have one of those doorway bars; is there something out there relatively inexpensive that’s freestanding?

15 Zendad July 9, 2008 at 6:15 am

I can maybe crank out two real pull-ups, unassisted, but that’s it. I have the over the doorframe doohickey that I should be using more. Currently it holds items to be ironed…..shameful. The only thing more scary than the pull-up bar in highschool gym class was the rope climb, i mean WTF? To this day I can tell you I’ve never EVER had to climb another rope. Perhaps if I’m being rescued from a dingy in the ocean by a large sailing vessel I may regret not having rope climbing skills, but till then…whatever. Yup, pull-ups are manly fer sure!

16 Bubba July 9, 2008 at 6:18 am

Yes to chin-ups.

For people like me, who loathe and are bored by the sterile, artificial atmosphere of gyms, chin-ups are a throw-back godsend.

Many times I have tried to go to gyms and burn out after a month or so. I used to work out and train a lot for sports but in my thirties now I just don’t have the discipline. I was lucky to come into an empathetic trainer one day and he got me on to pull-ups. At first I could do 2 reps. A few months later I could do 25 reps.

As said before, pull-ups work the upper body and core very efficiently. Do five sets (of as many as you can do each set) four or five times a week and I promise you will notice a huge difference after eight weeks. It is the old-school and easy way to a ripped physique.

17 Will July 9, 2008 at 6:45 am

When I was a kid — and even a teenager — I couldn’t do even one pullup without cheating for most of it.

When I started weights in college, I could only bench-press the *bar*.

You have to start where you are.

18 Adam July 9, 2008 at 7:23 am

This article is pretty funny from a physiologist point of view, but either way, the main point is very true. It isn’t very manly to be weak. and pull-ups are a great demonstration of strength.

It’s easier to start with chins (palms facing you, hands close) than pull-ups (palms away, wide grip). Most people can crank out at least one or two chins if they’re not very overweight. If you are specifically training pull-ups and chins, but can’t get one full rep, I’d recommend starting with bent-over rows, DB pullovers, and negative-only pull-ups. After 2 or 3 weeks if you still can’t get one perfect (3-0-3-0 tempo from a dead hang to chin over the bar) pull-up, you’re not trying hard enough.

19 Nico July 9, 2008 at 8:16 am

Great article!
What’s even more unmanly than not being able to do pullups? Being a fatty with man boobs.

20 Lynn Newton July 9, 2008 at 4:34 pm

I enjoy this blog, but must say that I disagree strongly with your
advice not to use the assisted pull-ups machine.

I’m speaking as a healthy ultrarunner, able to run 100-mile races and
further, and as someone who is also 65 years old.

The fastest way to get injured when lifting weight is to try to handle
a weight that is too much. There is nothing manly about doing
something stupid and getting injured.

About five years ago I ripped a rotator cuff doing unassisted
pull-ups, because my body weight was simply too much for me to lift,
and at my age, my upper body strength is diminishing. For many months
I could not raise my right arm to shoulder level. It required
cortisone to heal, and over a full year to recover. It has not been
the same since, and I still feel pain when I try to put too much
stress on those muscles. I will never attempt to do an unassisted
pull-up again.

However, after years, I can now do assisted pull-ups, and am grateful
to have the machine available, because otherwise I would not be able
to execsize those muscles again.

21 Stephen July 9, 2008 at 8:24 pm

I remember that grade school lineup like it was yesterday.

Another good benefit of pullups is building a powerful grip.

22 Ace boogie July 10, 2008 at 3:44 am

6’6″ 279 lbs and i can bang out about 4 solid sets of 8-10. I’d say the assisted machine ISNT completely useless as the reason why most people can’t do pull-ups is because besides under developed arms, shoulders, upper back and core, their joints, tendons and ligaments really aren’t used to the amount of stress and shock that doing the pull-up or dips puts on them.

I’d suggest starting out doing about 4 sets of 10 on the assisted machine. Remember to use a weight which provides some assistance but a weight with which you can still only manage 10 reps per set. Once you complete the 4th set, give yourself about 3-5 minutes to rest and then get on a regular bar and just rep out. This will help get your joints and ligaments used to the stress.

Remember to reduce the weight by about 5-10 lbs every week and to always aim for one more rep per 10 lb in weight that you drop. You’ll be doing pull-ups in no time.

23 EasyAndElegant July 10, 2008 at 11:03 am

God, the days of PE and then a few of STPT (…. the rope climb is a nightmare; pull-ups when younger were far easier. I read a Crossfit article that encouraged kipping until you can pull up from a dead hang. It works.

24 Kevin Conder July 10, 2008 at 2:18 pm

What’s an assisted pullup machine? Link please.

I sometimes use a lat pulldown machine as a warmup. Is that what you’re talking about? Anyway, the article didn’t mention anything about kipping. I find this helps build momentum.

Kipping pull-ups:

25 Brett July 10, 2008 at 5:30 pm


This is an assisted pull-up machine:

Thanks for the link on kipping. I can’t say that I have tried and I am intrigued.

26 bansko July 11, 2008 at 4:19 am

did someone say pull-ups! Aren t they part of the Holy Trinity of Fitness or something like that…

27 Dave July 11, 2008 at 3:07 pm

Great post, I’ve got a few questions though. What should I do during the 45 second breaks? Should I just hang on the bar, or stand on the ground? And what’s the best way to position my hands? Facing inwards, outwards, or both hands parallel and on different bars? What’s the difference, and can this also be alternated?

28 Brett McKay July 12, 2008 at 8:45 am

@ Dave- I just stand there during the break and watch the clock. Maybe get a drink of water. The pullup uses hands facing outwards, while the chinup uses hands facing inwards. Pullups are more difficult than chinups, so I stick to the pullups.

Experiment with different grips to focus on different muscles.

29 JC July 13, 2008 at 4:52 pm

i hate you for referring to fingers, forearms, shoulders and back as muscles… very very passionate hatred

30 Brett July 13, 2008 at 8:14 pm

JC- Sounds like you have some serious anger issues. Seek help and get a life. God bless.

31 jake3988 July 15, 2008 at 5:28 pm

When you progress to over 10, add weight. Remember that a 200lbs guy doing 10 pullups is going to be stronger than a 150lbs guy doing 10 pullups because he’s pulling up more weight.

The way to overcome that, of course, is adding weight. But it appears that ‘badass’ guy put weight on his feet. Don’t do that. If your leg even slightly moves to the outside your knee will crook and you can say goodbye to your ligaments.

Instead, grab an ‘ironman’ weighted vest or a weighted belt.

32 Israel July 17, 2008 at 5:36 am

I used to be able to crank out 15 of these bad boys back in my day. My goal is to be able to do it again. Aside from working out and losing weight, I hadnt thought about a routine to get at it with. Now I can. Thanks.

33 JavaGuy147 July 17, 2008 at 6:27 pm

haha i love how everybody talks as though these things are hard. I NEVER work out and i got 29 cranked out during my 10th grade physical.

34 King July 19, 2008 at 8:25 pm

The Holy Grail of workouts to make a real man out of you is the SQUAT!!! Nothing else compares, end of story. Deep breathing squats are what separates the men from the boys. If you want raw strength, do squats. If you want massive power, do squats. If you wants tons of stamina, do squats. Do not rob yourself of this awesome exercise, it will make an athlete out of the laziest of people if done correctly.

35 Allan W. July 19, 2008 at 10:23 pm

The hardest exercise known to man, I agree.

Sorry, I’d have to say that handstand push-ups are pretty much the hardest. Take a military press of your full body weight – while balancing upside down (against the wall is okay). Even the toughest gymnasts I worked out with as a teen could maybe do 10.

36 writerzbloc July 29, 2008 at 6:25 am

For those of you who are serious about getting in shape, I humbly suggest that you acquire Pavel Tsatsouline’s Power to The People book.

37 Chris August 2, 2008 at 12:03 am

This is a great post, Pullups are something very hard to progress at them is to keep ploughing away and once you can do a few with your body weight add some weight in order to shock your body.

Also try doing sets of 3 reps adding some weight between your feet every couple of sessions!

38 Your RSS Feeds aren't working August 11, 2008 at 7:30 pm

Nuff said. Try adding your site.

39 JD August 11, 2008 at 10:29 pm

There are no muscles in fingers.

40 Richard L. Bucci August 15, 2008 at 5:15 pm

I am 74, 100 lbs overweight and have a pacemaker. Thirteen years ago I had an accident that resulted in the 100 lb weight gain. What would you reccomend as a beginning excercise program? Thank you.

41 Brett August 15, 2008 at 5:59 pm


I’m not a doctor or a trained professional, so I don’t feel comfortable telling you yes or now about starting this program. My guess would be that it would be okay, but that’s only a guess. Ask you doctor or a physical trainer at the gym.

42 W August 17, 2008 at 7:47 pm

I know that I’m a little late to the comment-party, but this post originally inspired me (along with Pavel’s ‘Naked Warrior’ e-book) to look into getting a pull-up bar about a month ago.

For those of you that are renting and don’t want to deal with your landlord when it comes to the holes you have to put in your doorframe for a pull-up bar, I’d suggest the Door Gym:

Yeah, it’s got that cheesy infomercial look to it, but I got it for less than $40 and use it daily – with no damage to the doorframe at all. I’ve got friends who weigh upwards of 250lbs who use it, as well, and have yet to damage anything.

Just a thought!

43 Eric September 1, 2008 at 11:12 am

I’ve gone from zero from dead hang on the first of 2008 through progressive routines of negatives to a total of 40 dead hang pull-ups 3 times a week 8 months later (now usually doing sets of 8 or 9 in a row and then making up the difference after about 30 seconds with a negative plus the 1 or 2 more to get to 10). Weighted chin-ups on the in-between days (now up to a set of as many as I can do (usually about 6) with extra 25 pounds) seems to help without putting as much strain on the shoulders as weighted pull-ups. I was lifting weights pretty religiously for a year before trying the pull-ups again and still couldn’t do any at first, so in my mind there is no substitute. There are good pull-up bars available which fit in most doorways and don’t require any installation of hardware, being removable between workouts.

44 linzi wuh September 13, 2008 at 6:45 am

heeyahhh a carnt even do 1 pull up a deent nah how 2 start by doin thm and a really want to because a want to join the army really bad and there is got to be sum how ov getting them right please help linzi xx

45 anon September 14, 2008 at 4:32 pm

this bar is good, multi positions, no screws or hardware if your doorway has a lip on one side. i’m about 200lbs.

46 Zach Farra September 24, 2008 at 7:59 am

ok well i read the article and i hav to say i hope it works!!!! im currently a NAVY SEAL hopeful and im lookong to pump out about 15 to 20 pullups(palms away,deadhang) with no time limit! il be using this system and il get bak to u guys with results….

And yes i find that assisted pull ups machines are useless, i used to use them alot,alot and to this day i can do no more than 5pullups unassisted! U cheat urself using assisted pullup machines…..

47 Adam October 20, 2008 at 7:46 pm

For those of you who are complaining about not having a readily available pull up bar, or not wanting to install one, they have started making ones for about $35-40 that work on a cantilever system so they do not damage door frames and can be put up and taken down with one hand in 2 seconds. They hold my 180lbs just fine and are supposed to hold up to 300 lbs (that seems a bit high though). The one I got is called iron gym and it came with straps to do a lower ab workout and when on the ground it can actually function as a push up support (to make it feel more like a real bench press cause you’re grabbing a bar) and with a chair or stool you can do dips or incline presses as well. There are a few different places you can grip to give yourself different angles and mix things up a bit as well. Seriously it’s actually a really good piece of equipment.

48 Nixon November 30, 2008 at 11:24 pm

I’m going to give your training method a go, hopefully, i’ll turn out less scrawny…. Thank you! (took me a while to find a website that was not condescending at all)

49 Chris December 16, 2008 at 9:49 am

I just bought a pull up bar:

I’m going to give your regiment a try, thanks for posting it up!

50 Mike December 18, 2008 at 11:04 am

For those in the more “intermediate” category, i.e., you can do 8-12 pullups, but want to do more, do a google search for the “Armstrong pullup program”. It was developed by a Marine Major years ago. If followed, one can hope to reach the Marine Corps’ ideal standard of 20 dead hang pullups in 4-6 weeks. Also, it’s just an all around good upper body regimen even if your not looking for shear numbers.

51 NB December 26, 2008 at 6:52 am

Work out prep for the Marine Corps PFT:
1 pullup
2 pushups
3 situps
2 pullups
4 pushups
6 situps
…increase by 1 pullup, 2 pushups and 3 situps every set.
keep going up until you can’t do all the pullups. at that point start going back down.
In other words if you max out at 4 pullups, then do your 8 pushups and 12 situps
then do 3 pullups, 6 pushups, 9 situps, then 2 pullups 4 pushups, 6 situps, etc back down to 1 pullup, etc.
Do this every other day and each week try to get one pullup higher and work back down. If you can’t don’t, just try to get as high in the pyramid as you can every time.
By the time you make it to 6 pullups and back down you’ll have done 36 pullups, 72 pushups and 108 situps (probably take around half an hour). Tones your whole body, builds functional strength and no need for equipment.

52 Andy January 12, 2009 at 6:22 pm

This isa helpful post. I can’t do even one. I just started using a door bar at home, I step up on a chair then lower myself down slowly. I do sets of 8. I got the idea from here –,-I-Cant-Do-Pull-Ups—What-Now?&id=1641529

Once I can do one then its time for the plan you suggest.

53 griffin January 24, 2009 at 5:15 am

Pull-ups are probably the easiest ways of exercising the upper body. Wish there was something as easy for legs training.

54 Giovanni January 26, 2009 at 8:20 pm

I think pull ups are great, intuitive, timesaving all round workout, quick to do and very functional (if you want to lift your body on a level, on a slope on a tree etc…), not “the hardest exercise known to man”, but maybe just the hardest known to…every men, the hardest among the common exercises (apart rope climbing). Anyway it much depends on the bodyweight,

Handstand pushups are not that commonly known and not even that useful in real life situations I mean (unless you want to climb up stairs on your hands…).

For lower body training, if you are looking for an easy way of exercising like pullups is for upper body, without using weights/equipments, something you can do almost everywhere, I am doing one leg squats carrying on to calves exstensions, if you can’t do them all the way down, do partials or help yourself up for the lower part of the motion by pushing with the other leg or with arms pulling on a bar or pushing down your legs. Instead, if they are too easy make them deeper putting the foot on a raised surface while your body goes lower and/or adding weight on you or just pushing/pulling upwards an immobile object while flexing

55 ryan February 20, 2009 at 9:04 pm

ok im pretty overweight and im not very strong in my back will hanging on the bar help me at all or do i need to do other back workouts

56 Guy March 15, 2009 at 4:40 pm

I’m only fifteen and I got started doing pull ups a few months ago and they are my favorite excersise and I like to work out. They really seem to help almost all of your major upper body muscles like lats, biceps,shoulders and your whole back. I have the iron gym and you can also work out your chest and triceps by doing push ups and dips with it. Right now I do four sets of ten pull ups and if you can’t do pull ups yet you can get the iron gym and just use it for push ups and dips until you are strong enough and then do pull ups because they use some of the same muscles(push ups are very good for your triceps as well as chest but also shoulders and back which you need for pull ups and for your biceps just start out with concentration curls, barbell and dumbell curls, and preacher curls, even if you can’t use a lot of weight focus on form that is the most important thing because I could curl a ton of weight with bad form but it won’t help me at all). Hope that helpedand remener you can’t excersise some of your body and not the rest so do leg excersises and deadlifts, power squats are one of the best excersises out there and never neglect to run, hop on the bench but you should never be able to bench press more than you deadlift. Form is key.

57 @bhi... March 19, 2009 at 1:53 am

gr8 man……dese tips work buddy……bt deadlifts r more diffficult 2 b done……

58 robert March 19, 2009 at 2:35 pm

griffin on January 24th, 2009 5:15 am “Pull-ups are probably the easiest ways of exercising the upper body. Wish there was something as easy for legs training.”

They’re called squats genius!

59 Guy March 23, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Oh and by the way if your excuse is I don’t have time or money the iron gym costs about 25 to 30 bucks and takes about 4 minutes to set up and if you do for sets of pull ups with a 2minute break in between that will probably only take about 10 to 15 minutes so what if you’ve never worked out you have to start somewhere and the sooner you start the sooner you see results

60 john April 3, 2009 at 8:05 am

Thank you for the post.
I am 53, about 10 lbs over weight. I attempt to do pull ups 3 -4 times a week. Sometimes interspersed with push ups, sometimes with chin ups. I can do about 6-7 and then need to stop. Some sessions I go till about 40 or 45 , however I can get there.
I had never worked out, until about 2 1/2 years ago. I never did a pull up in my life (maybe the many years ago fitness test, but thats lost…)
I absolutely agree with you, for upper body strength, pull ups are amazing.
I would love to be able to balst out a set of ten. Should I focus singularly on pull ups, or continue with chins as well ?
Thank you.

61 Val April 23, 2009 at 10:01 am

I couldn’t do a single pull-up when at school; i, too, know how embarrassing it can be. Then, in the army (Russian army) i could hardly do 3 half pull-ups. God forbid Dips!!!!! Not even a single one. Now i’m 33 years old: 20 pull-ups (palms away, of course!), 25 dips, and i’m gonna add some weight, cause it’s TOO easy. What i wanna say, don’t give up, guys, even weakest man with enough determination can move mountains!!!

62 Mark the weight vest fanatic May 8, 2009 at 7:19 am

That’s a great programme for getting the pull-up strength up. That programme doesn’t take too long either. In hindsight I should have taken that route rather than starting up with low reps and wearing a weight vest. The aim was to do 7 pull-ups from a dead hang (at the end of a whole load of other stuff that darn near killed me) so I started out with resistance.

Maybe should have worked on it this way.

63 Joe May 24, 2009 at 11:37 am

well i dont know what about you but i was suffering from obisety through all of my life…
i am 15 now , i am 6 feet tall 230lbs i am obese and i can easily do 6-7 pull ups…
maybe i am just extreamly strong but anyway i belive there is no connection between your weight and your ability to do pull ups because since i began pumping iron i had no problem doing pull ups or any other things like benching 220+ leg pressing 660lbs and other stuff….

64 Vic Rattlehead June 3, 2009 at 11:33 am

About 10 weeks ago I hired a personal trainer to help me in a full body program. One of the first evaluation things she had me do was a pull up. I managed 3 rest, 2, rest and then a half one, so a grand total of 5.5. I slowly increased my reps by setting a goal and then beating it, I would try for 3 sets of 3 but on the last set try for 4. Once I could do 4 on my last set, I would start off my next time with 4/4/fail. Now if fail was 5 then my next workout would start with 5/5/fail… get the idea. The other day she said show me what you got, and I pulled off 12/12/12.5!! Now your article I realize that I had been doing them incorrectly with a palm facing grip. Since I can do many that way I switched my grip to palm away and did 3 sets of 7. Now to work up in the same fashion as my others.

65 mike June 27, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Try doing static holds – if you can pull up once, hold at the contracted position as long as you can. Do that two or three times a week, then see if you can do more than one full range pull up.

Another technique is doing the pull up (or any other exercise) in a style called ‘J-reps’, where you start at the weakest part of your movement and do short range reps through the entire movement. You can find info on that on the web that will explain it better than I can here, but believe me, it will show you what you’re made of ..

66 MIKEY July 17, 2009 at 1:51 pm


67 HTS August 3, 2009 at 11:16 am

I’m a runner and started doing pull ups about a year ago. The first day I could barely do five. I’m now up to 400 pull ups per week, typically three to four sets of 20 reps. I’ve also started weighted pull ups. I’m 57 years old… so if I can do it, anyone can. I have to say that I’ve worked really hard at it… nearly every day I feel I’m almost maxing out..

68 Davey August 7, 2009 at 11:05 pm

I recently bought a rock climbing fingerboard/hangboard and put it up on the floor joists in my basement. I didn’t have any place I could do pullups. I’m only up to two so far – I just started this work out – but the hangboard totally works for doing pullups on. The bonus is that hanging on it gives me a stronger grip and bigger forearms too. The board was like thirty bucks, in case anyone else has a house like mine with no place to put a pull up bar.

69 Murchada September 20, 2009 at 8:17 am

I see guys every day at the gym doing fake pull-ups. They might go 1/4 of the way and they are pretty smug.

I’d say go with the lat pulldown machine until the strength goes up and then move on to real chip-ups: wide, standard, close, and inverse grips.

One thing that’s really awesome is to have a chin-up bar in your home. You can crank a few out every time you go by it; it adds up!!! :)

Duncroft Masterworks – warrior pendants –
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70 Todd September 20, 2009 at 2:38 pm

I’m so happy you were a fat kid, too.

71 Scott September 24, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Definitely going to add this to my goals for the winter. I can’t do a single one.

72 colombia September 29, 2009 at 10:01 am

Here is a really good program I have been following

73 TimothyS. October 1, 2009 at 4:19 pm

There is very little muscle in your fingers. Fingers are moved by the pulling of long tendons. The tendons are connected to muscle in your palm and forearm.

74 Julian October 14, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Ryan on Feb 20th – hanging from the bar will help your grip, but won’t do much for the rest of you. If you’re failing because of your grip then that’ll help, but what’ll help more is hanging with bent arms – as bent as you can, for as long as you can. As you continue with that, you’ll find that the strength you build will help the rest of the pull up.

75 Doug November 16, 2009 at 11:40 am

Today is my 61 birthday and I started the celebration at 6:30am by doing 4 sets of chin-up(palms facing me), 8 reps each. This afternoon around 6 pm, I’ll do four sets of pull-ups,
6 reps each. Tuesday’s and Thursdays and Saturdays I do push-ups, 3 sets, 50 reps.. I have a free standing pull-up/dip frame in my garage that I’ve been using regular since this date a year ago. My goal was to do one set of 10 chin-ups & 10 pull-ups today, but it’s not quite happening.

76 rajan November 19, 2009 at 6:36 pm

do pull up affect in a human growth… please answer me..

77 Kevin November 20, 2009 at 2:31 am

I’d just like to say, two weeks ago I couldn’t complete one stinking proper pull-up. Today, I started sets of three pull-ups. This really works. Bonus: This also got me in the gym and now I’m doing more than just pull-ups. I’ve noticed everything gets easier the more pull-ups you can do.

78 Dom December 24, 2009 at 2:45 am

Awesome. Bookmarked. Pullups (and pushups) (and crunches) for me for the next eight weeks and then it’s on to the squats. Right now I can do — just about — maybe half of one from a dead hang. I’m 38, about 30lbs overweight and I’ve just given up smoking at last.

Really good to hear from the older guys here. I can’t stress that enough: you’re all really inspirational. More power to you.

79 Frank December 29, 2009 at 8:50 pm

HTS – damn I am impressed. 3 sets of 20 at 57 years young, HTS that’s awesome. I ran into a 72 year old at the gym that could do a set of 22. HTS, how tall are you and how much do you weigh? I’m 50 years old 6′ tall about 172 lbs. I can get a set of 20 clean, weighted at 25 lbs I can usually get 10, with 45 lbs I can do 4. When I was 12 I could do 10, at 22 years old I could do 12, at 42 I could do 12. At 42 I started doing about 3 sets of 8-10, 2-3 times a week – I would max out once a week. Slowly after about 6 months I was able to get 20. I usually do a set of 20 every 2 weeks just to maintain (I have won a Marine shirt every Summer at the NYS Fair for the last 5 years by doing 20 clean ones, the Marines get a kick out of the old guy, this Summer I want to do 25-30). I mix it up with 3 sets of 10-12 once/twice a week then I do bent over rows and biceps, then stomach and run. My dream is to do American Ninja Warrior. I’ve also tried rock rings, but my forearm tendons were screaming, I want to get back to them for finger strength. After reading this thread I will be doing weighted pullups for the next 4 weeks. From what I’ve put together here and elsewhere I will be going for 5 sets of 3-5 once/twice a week, depending on my schedule. My goal is to get a set of 30 and one with 90 lbs on a weight belt. Wish me luck, I’ll check back in.

80 Will January 15, 2010 at 10:08 am

I’m in my late 30s and I’d never done pull-ups or chin-ups. Been lifting free weights and running for years. My wife got me the UD-6 from easy effort and I tried for the first time a few days ago. Results… 3 good chin ups and 1 barely there pull up. I’m going to try the routine you’ve got listed here. I can tell these are exercises I’m going to like!

81 Ronan January 20, 2010 at 5:19 pm

I’m giving this a go! Trying the challenge. I had to add on Week -1 and Week -2!. About to start Week 1 proper and up to 3 from 0 so somethng’s working! Great website and daily email btw. Keep it up!


82 Dominic January 24, 2010 at 6:08 am

Read this article only about five weeks ago. I’m 38, pretty overweight and I am LOVING the fact I can do sets of five pull ups now (um … a little feeble on the last one, admittedly). I got a pull up bar that sits above my kitchen door and it’s fantastic — and a little bit frightening — to find all these muscles in my back that I didn’t know/had forgotten I had.

Great article.

83 Joe March 11, 2010 at 9:53 pm

great article i love reading about pullups right now im trying to get into this crew at . im at 25 right now and trying to find that extra edge to get myself to 30

84 Gerron March 13, 2010 at 9:40 pm

i have lots of trouble doing pull ups.I can reach up, but if(and only if) i extend my arms all the way down, i cant go back up.please help

85 Alex March 16, 2010 at 12:05 am

One thing I would recommend for people who are having trouble doing pull ups is eccentrics. Jump up to where you would be had you pulled yourself up and slowly lower yourself down and repeat till you CANNOT do any more. It WILL hurt at first but push through the initial pain and rest for a day and you will be able to start your full pull up work out in no time.

86 brucie March 16, 2010 at 5:40 am

check out these ONE ARM PULL UPS!

87 Robert Edwards April 11, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Jeez thanks alot dude even though am a 14 year old boy and im not fat at all. I just thought that pull ups could possibly do so much. I will try to do pull ups every day. This will really build me some muscle. Thanks for helping me find my inner manliness.

88 Grant April 13, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Several months ago, I ended up purchasing a doorway chin up bar for my closet door. Just by being in my line of morning traffic, its presence has inspired me to hop up and do a couple of reps. Over the course of a few months, I’ve been impressed on how much more muscular my arms are becoming.

89 Mitz April 23, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Pull ups are manly. As a note for anyone that is taller and bigger, they make what is called an “elevated” pull up bar for the doorways. It’s not more expensive, I got mine for like $35 from and it included delivery. Right now I’m around 180 and it’s it does no damage to the doorframe and is rock solid. It’s pushed away from the doorway and up, so I can almost fully extend. Don’t get one of those ones that uses pressure between the door, it’ll pop out and you’ll likely hurt fall and take revenge on it (like I did).

I do a few in the morning, and leave it up all day. I can then just walk by and do a quick few pull ups. I went from 0(ZERO)NADA when I got it, to 5 in a set now. My goal is 10 in a set. I’m doing all body weight workouts now at home, and I can’t say enough for getting back to basics, pull ups, push ups, planks. My wife is also duly impressed by my feats of strength.

90 Peter April 28, 2010 at 3:00 am

I read this article ten weeks ago and got started: I found I could do 10 at the time.
I can do 20 now.
I just kept increasing the reps by 1 every week.
I did four sets daily, five days a week: one set in the morning, another before lunch, another at around 2pm, and my final set would be at 5pm, just before I got off from work.
And that was it.

My original goal was 20 pull ups, because I wished to fantasize about meeting US Marine Corps physical fitness standards.

But now that I’ve got 20 down, I’m just going to keep going.
My body has continued to give me 1 more rep every week for the past ten weeks.
I want to see if I can get to 25+

91 Lee June 4, 2010 at 6:54 pm

Hi Everyone,

Another way to improve pull ups is to start with incline pull ups, reverse push ups, or also called Austrailian pull ups. They are still hard to do, but easier than vertical pulls.

92 Mikey D June 6, 2010 at 1:52 pm

I have a question with one is better. a wide grip pull-up with palms facing away from the body, or a close grip pull-up with palms facing the body?

93 Lee June 8, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Hi Mikey

What I found best is to do both. In fact, do a good 30 min of pull ups, different ones. Maybe 5 sets of 8 wides, close, medium, climber style, etc. Then after you able to do this to your ability, switch it up a bit. Try supersetting or harder yet, trisetting. Just make sure you have lots of rest days afterward. You are doing major blast on pull ups so your going to be sore. Do this at the most, twice a week. For a while, just do it once a week. Yes, use a chair for a helper if you can’t get many reps in. You will get stronger, and by resting you will build muscle and physique.

94 John June 9, 2010 at 6:29 pm

I used to obsess on pullups. I started by doing 3 each minute for 20 mins. That made me very very sore. Then I would go 3-4-3-4 for 20 mins. Then 4′s. Then to 30mins. After about a year of this I was up to 8 each minute for 30 mins. By this time I could do 3 one-arm pulls on each arm, I could do a pullup with 180 lbs on my waist (4 45-lb plates), and I could do a one-set max of 42 pullups.

I never did help my rockclimbing very much, but it impressed the other nerds at the gym.

95 Bill a.k.a. "Wicked Willie" July 9, 2010 at 11:52 am

Pull ups are a two edged sword. For the younger fellow…they are a must, as is the clean and press, done full cycle each repetition. However, as you age (I’m currently 54) the pull up can set you up for injury. Couple that with a recurring shoulder injury…and pull ups are off the menu, replaced by lat pulldowns (done carefully) and low pulley rowing. Eventually, you have to reconcile with your age and your past training history.

96 Ryan Lee July 12, 2010 at 2:39 am

I bought an Iron Gym pull up bar (yeah the ones on TV) that just wraps around the door frame. I fully expected the thing to rip the facing off the door, and leave me laid up with a broken back. I’m 225 and the thing hold me just fine, and give lots of angles and grips to work with. And it doubles as an elevated push up frame, and you can do hanging ab routines from it. I’d definitely recommend one if you’re in a rental property or even if you just don’t want to mess up your door frames.

97 Joel Pitt July 14, 2010 at 6:58 pm

@John Thanks for sharing your routine.

I tend to plateau at 15 pull-ups, but I tend to just do 3 sets of 15-14-13 (or where ever exhaustion sets in). Will give your plan a go.

98 July 28, 2010 at 1:18 am

If we are going to discuss Pull-Ups, a certain drill sergeant needs to be quoted.

“Come on, Pyle! Pull! Pull! You mean to tell me you can’t do one single pull up Pyle? You are a worthless piece of sh*t, Pyle! Get outta my face!” – Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket

I’ll also chime in that the door frame pull-up bar systems work great. Especially on the bathroom door so you can watch your form in the mirror.

99 Daniel gonzalez August 6, 2010 at 4:08 am

I just sign up with the marines I suppose to leave to bootcamp January 24 . I wanna leave before , I’m a good runner I weight 140lb I’m in a good shape, I’m kind of skinny but for some reason I had never been able to do pull ups Ive been workin out and now I can hardly do two of them so what’s da faster way to get myself to do at least 10 pull ups as fastest as possible I don’t care if I need to be lifting weights or workin out every free second I have. I just don’t wanna b like the fat guy from full metal jacket movie

100 ScottH0 August 8, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Great article. The point is don’t give up and do whatever you can. I agree that you should do “real” pull ups and not use a machine. However you can get all the benefits of a real pull up and take a little of the weight off if you need to by putting one leg on a chair. Don’t use it to push yourself up. Just let the weight of that leg rest on the chair.

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