How To Master The Pull-Up

Jul 25, 2019 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

ONSIDE ACADEMY / Nathan Jeffrey

How do i get my first pull-up

Here’s the best way to get your first pull-up

Practice. Practice, practice, practice.

OK, there’s more to it than that but this is the most important piece you’ll read in this article. We’re going to show you some of our favorite exercises to master your pull-ups quickly and how many reps you should be doing.

Remember, there’s no such thing as a quick fix. Hard work is required beyond this point. 


How often?

Of course, the work that’s needed is going depend on what you’re currently doing. If you’re someone who can do a pull-up, or is very close, your training plan is going to be a bit different than someone who’s never done the movement before. Here’s a few general guidelines to follow if you’re working on improving your pull-ups, regardless of what stage you’re at. For each scenario, work on pull-ups often. Typically any personal training clients we work with are working on them 3 times a week before or after training, as long as they are recovering well and getting a rest day in between.

I've never done a Pull-Up

How cool does it look when someone does a pull-up, right? Imagine what the world is like up there!

Personally, we think you’re at an advantage starting from scratch—you’ve got no bad habits! First things first, your body needs to learn the movement and we need to create the neural pathways and muscle required to be able to pull yourself up.

Start by doing larger sets with lower intensity meaning foot assisted pull-ups or heavily banded pull-ups. Larger sets will let your body learn the movement and build pull-up muscles!


I can do one pull-up

You are statistically stronger than most people who walk into the gym. Go you! 

If you can do a pull-up already it means that you’ve developed enough muscle in the right places for your body to handle it, we just need to get stronger.

Building strength through this movement is going to come by using isometrics(static holds) and lower rep sets with a higher intensity.


I want to do more kipping Pull-ups

If you’re coming from the CrossFit or Gymnastics World and your coach has deemed your strength and mobility appropriate for kipping pull-ups – Nice work!

Improving Kipping Pull-Ups is going to come down to either increasing strength to be able to do more pull ups or perfecting the kipping motion itself to maintain perfect rhythm.

We’ll outline a few exercises further below that will help you out in this situation.


Learning the how to do a pull-up

So we’ve determined that either your body needs to learn how to actually do a pull-up or your just haven’t built up the musculature yet in the right places. If this sounds like you, read on.

Before thinking about strengthening the movement itself, lets start by actually mimicking the movement as best we can. One of the most important things to remember at this stage is that we need to be strict about moving perfectly, because bad habits are hard to break. Slow everything down, do the following exercises perfectly. Don’t rush here, you’ll get sloppy. Perform the following exercises 3 – 4 times a week as additional work to whatever you’re currently doing.


Foot Assisted Pull-Ups
Perform 3 sets of 12 – 15 reps 

Make sure that the level of difficulty is easy enough that you can get through 12-15 without sacrificing the quality of your movement. 


Banded Pull-Ups
Perform 3 sets of 12 – 15 reps 

The difficulty varies along different ranges of motion during this movement when you’re using a band. Use a band that allows you to easily move through your toughest range of motion.


Getting stronger

So this section is for you if you can struggle through one or two pull-ups but you’d like to be doing more. Most likely you’ve already developed the right muscles to perform a pull-up. Impressive! Now, we just need to get stronger.

Getting stronger is going to consist of less reps than learning the movement or developing the musculature to perform the movement, but the intensity is going to be much higher. You can think of intensity as the level of difficulty you experience when performing the movement, a pull-up while holding Astra, the dog, between your legs being a 10/10. The frequency of these exercises are the same as above. Aim for 3 – 4 times a week if your body is feeling good and you’re recovering properly.  

Negative Pull-Ups
Perform 5-6 sets of 2-3 reps 

Go nice and slow here. Doing these will also highlight where your pull ups need the most work. For example, if you can go very slow at the top but then fall quickly at the bottom, it tells us that you’re going to need work in the bottom portion of the movement or the initial pull. 


Weighted Pull-Ups
Perform 5 sets of 1-3 reps 

The starting point with this exercise might be as little as putting a 5lb plate in your pocket. Over time we want to be gradually increasing the weight by using things like medicine balls or weight belts. These reps should still look like excellent reps. 

Isometric Holds
Perform 3 – 4 sets of Max Time in hold. 

Go back to the negative movements we mentioned above and determine where the weakest point is in this range of motion. If it’s the bottom, you’re going to go into a static hold (no moving around here) just above the bottom of the pull up. If you struggle with just getting yourself up to the top, that last little bit, perform your isometric hold at the top.


Doing more kipping pull-ups

You’re a pull-up pro. You can do at least 5 strict pull-ups as a man and 2-3 as a woman. Your coach has let you move on to consistently doing kipping pull-ups and now you want to do more. If you’re at this point in your pull-up career, the best move forward looks like one of these two paths.

If your kip swing is great and you aren’t finding yourself losing the rhythm of the swing, your best bet is to increase your strength in pull ups and get more volume under your belt. Become a strict pull-up machine. Do strict pull-ups for fun, in warm-ups, when you’re at the office, or when you reach that moment of silence in the conversation with someone you just met. All the time is the best time.

If you’re already a pull-up machine, people are calling you names like “Pull-Up Patricia” and “Latissimus Larry”, or you can do almost as many strict pull-ups as kipping ones, you need to be working on the skill of the kip swing. In the section below we’ll be outlines a few drills to help with this.  

Isometric Hold
Perform 3-4 sets of Max Time in hold. 

Just like the version above, find the chink in your armor, the weakest point in your pull-up and hold that position as long as you can.

Weighted Pull-Ups
Perform 5 sets of 1-3 reps 

The starting point with this exercise might be as little as putting a 5lb plate in your pocket. Over time we want to be gradually increasing the weight by using things like medicine balls or weight belts. These reps should still look like excellent reps. 

Kipping Box Drill
Practice the movement for 10-15 seconds, over 8 – 10 sets 

Use the box to support your body weight, place your non-dominant leg on the box and mimic the kipping pull up as best you can for 10 – 15 seconds, starting slow then increase your speed. 



Practice the Kip Swing – No Pull
Practice for 8 – 12 swings as often as you can.
Often by learning the kip swing and improving your pull-up strength you will naturally learn the kipping pull-up. Start with very small kip swings and gradually increase the size of the swing. Higher swings will also transfer over to movements like kipping chest to bar pull-ups and muscle ups.  

The most important point.

The overarching point here, the most important one, is the we need to make sure we’re moving properly. Accept the idea that with every movement you make, your body is learning from that. From sitting with terrible posture while you’re watching season 14 re-runs of the Bachelorette with Becca, to rounding your back during your deadlifts, your body is recording these movements.

Ask your coach how the movements look and find out if your range of motion and mobility can handle these movements. Make proper and safe movement a priority.


It doesn't have to be hard, let an onside trainer help you out.

Office: (902) 404 – 5647
Email: [email protected]
110 Chain Lake Dr. #3D, Halifax, NS
B3S 1A9

Get the latest training tips

OnSide Performance Centre
Office: (902) 404 – 5647
Email: [email protected]
110 Chain Lake Dr., Unit 3D
Halifax, NS
B3S 1A9

Get the latest training tips