Pullups For Total Beginners!
The pullup is one of the most important exercises that a newcomer to fitness can do, but its also the most difficult and many of you cant do a single pullup. Here I give you a 5 phase program to build up your strength so you can do 8 solid pullups. Man or woman, 13 or 80, you can do it!
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Some important terminology before we start. A pullup is when your palms point away from your face, these are hard. A chin-up is done with you palms facing you – these are easier. We will use this fact to help us build up to doing eight pullups.
OK, how to do your first pullup. There are four methods:
- chair method (anywhere)
- resistance band assist method
- partner knee spot (anywhere)
- cable pulldowns (gym only)
I will cover how to do the first two because you can do them anywhere with no equipment or very cheap equipment. First though, lets cover two basic exercises you will need to know to do the chair method, increase your pullup program – “walk the planks” and the “dead hang“.
“Dead hang” exercise
If your bodyweight is very high or your lats relatively weak, even doing the below “walk the plank” exercise will be too difficult. In that case, this “dead hang” exercise is a great way to build up strength so that you can start doing the ‘walk the planks’ and then ultimately build up to doing real pullups. Strength training is all about progressions, that is, a sequence of exercises that get progressively more difficult until you reach your goal. Despite the name, you will work *really* hard in this exercise. It only has the name “dead hang” to indicate that there is no motion, its an isometric exercise. A “set” of dead hang “reps” just means hanging from the bar for 20-30 seconds or as long as you can. So with dead hangs your lat workout might be to do 10 sets of dead hang, each for 30 seconds. “Dead hang” is also a bad name because the word “hang” indicates being relaxed but you are anything BUT relaxed with the dead hang. You do NOT relax and let your weight attempt to pull your shoulders out of their sockets, you resist! You want to keep the shoulders in the packed position, that is, with the shoulders down and the chest thrust outward. How to do the dead hang:
- Put a chair or a footstool under your pullup bar so that you can just reach the bar with a wide grip.
- Put your shoulders in the packed position and hold it there for the entire ‘set’.
- Grab the bar with your palms facing away from you.
- With your feet still on the chair/stool, start the first 1″ of the pullup making sure your elbows move outward to the side parallel to the pullup bar rather than forward
- Now keep your upper body motionless in this position as you bend your knees until your feet are not on the chair/stool any longer
- HOLD this, hold, hold, hold. Fight it. Keep the shoulders in the packed position. If you find your shoulders up beside your ears that means you are not yet strong enough to do the dead hang. In that case assist with your feet for the duration of the set
Note that in the dead hang exercise, it is very likely that your wrists will give out before you have hung long enough to do any good. I highly recommend you use some cheap wrist straps for this exercise – you can work on grip strength later.
“Walk the plank” exercise
Getting yourself up is hard, its a lot easier to just lower yourself slowly down and that’s what we are going to do to build up strength. We also are going to start with chin-up instead of pullups for the same reason. The first exercise you will do to build up your pullup strength is an exercise I have named “Walk the Plank”.
|1. Put a chair under your pullup bar that’s tall enough so it puts your eyes at bar level.|
|2. Grab the bar with an underhand grip (palms facing you) shoulder width apart|
|3. Tense your muscles and step off the chair (walk the plank!)|
|4. Lower yourself as slowly as you can. If you find yourself plummeting like a rock then you are not yet strong enough to do walk the planks so start with “dead hangs”.|
|5. Step back up onto the chair and do it again, repeat a total of 8 times|
The Chair Method
How to do your first pullup, then 8 more!
OK, now that you know how to do “dead hangs” and “walk the planks“, lets cover the chair method to increase your pullups! Lets get started, but first, I need to place you in the right phase of the program so as to give you the proper amount of challenge:
- If you plummet like a rock when attempting to do a “walk the plank”, start at Phase 0
- If you can do one kipping chin-up then start with Phase 2
- If you can already do three good chin-ups (palms facing you) then skip to Phase 4
8 sets of “dead hangs” with each set lasting 20-30 seconds. Take one to two minutes between sets. Workout every other day.
Continue with Phase 0 until you can do a “walk the plank” without plummeting like a rock.
5 sets of chinup (palms facing your face) Walk-The-Plank’s, 8 reps per set, one minute rest between sets. Workout every other day.
Continue with Phase 1 till you can do it so slowly that it takes 2 seconds to lower yourself each time.
5 sets of pullup (palms pointed away from your face) Walk-The-Plank’s, 8 reps per set, one minute rest between sets. Workout every other day.
Continue with Phase 2 till you can do it so slowly that it takes 2 seconds to lower yourself each time.
5 sets. On first two reps, do as much of a real chinup as you can, followed by 6 reps of Walk-The-Planks. Workout every other day. One minute rest between sets.
Continue with Phase 3 until you can do two real chinups!
Phase 4 – Monday Workout
5 sets. Do as many real chinups as you can, followed by enough Walk-The-Planks to give you 8 total reps One minute rest between sets.
Phase 4 – Thursday Workout
Do as many real chinups as you can, and then a static hold for as long as you can. Rest 2 minutes and do next set for a total of 5 sets.
Continue Phase 4 till you can do 8 chinups
Phase 5 – Thursday Workout
5 sets. Do as many real pullups as you can, followed by enough Walk-The-Planks to give you 8 total reps One minute rest between sets.
Phase 5 – Thursday Workout
Do as many real pullups as you can, and then a static hold for as long as you can. Rest 2 minutes and do next set for a total of 5 sets.
Continue Phase 5 till you can do 8 pullups!
There you have it, my 6 phase chair method to build up your strength so you can do 8 pullups!
Increase your pullups!
Resistance Band Assist Method
The chair method is great because you don’t need to buy anything and it is an optimum way to build up your pullups as quickly as possible. The problem is that if your strength/weight ratio is low, both the “dead hang” and “walk the plank” exercises can be too difficult. If you were in a gym, I would recommend using the lat cable pulldown machine, but at home that is not an option for most of us. There is a way to get the same benefit as a cable lat pulldown machine at home and that is to use resistance bands. The issue is that the heavy duty resistance bands you will need to assist you if you cannot do the walk the planks yet are going to be expensive. There is a LOT of rubber in one of these big resistance bands so do not be surprised if it costs $40 or $50. The other thing you have to be very careful of is that you can really smack yourself and raise a welt with these bands so before we get into the “increase your pullups” program using them, lets cover how to do the band-assist pullup without hurting yourself.