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How to Successfully Do a Pull-Up (Finally!)

Two individuals are performing pull-ups on a horizontal bar. The person on the left, wearing a purple shirt, has their back visible. The person on the right, in a gray tank top, is demonstrating how to successfully lift their body upward by gripping the bar and performing each pull-up with precision. MyFitnessPal Blog
In This Article

Megan May, head trainer and manager at Reebok CrossFit Fifth Avenue in New York City, gave Fitbie her expert tips to mastering that first lift above the bar. Her 5 upper body-strengthening moves will have you Rocky-status in no time.

The infamous pull-up: Moving one’s total body weight from a dead hang to an elevated position of the chin above a bar. It’s the ultimate bodyweight exercise, and for a woman, it’s one of the most challenging. Of course, it’s also one of the most rewarding moves to master in all of fitness, an accomplishment that instantly elevates you to a total “bad ass” (if I do say so myself).

Many people automatically think, “I can’t do a pull-up!” The truth of the matter? So many of you haven’t even attempted putting the effort toward one! Like any other goal, you need to set clear steps, and you need to practice those steps consistently to achieve success.

Why even bother trying to learn how to do a pull-up (nevertheless, multiple!)? First off, they’re a fantastic compound exercise that works multiple muscles at once, so you get more bang for your buck. Plus, they recruit just about every muscle in your upper body, including the lats, delts, biceps, and forearms, as well as challenge your core.

What does this translate to? Looking and feeling stronger and sexier when you are wearing that tank top. And bonus: You’ll get a huge boost of confidence from showing off your ninja bodyweight moves!

So let’s get to work! These 5 upper body-strengthening moves will surely help you accomplish that ever-so-difficult pull-up.

1. Rows It’s time to build some base strength. Grab dumbbells, a barbell, or a sandbag.

  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart and knees slightly bent.
  • Keeping core tight, bend forward grasping the weight of choice in both hands in an overhand grip.
  • Pull shoulders back and think of pinching shoulder blades together while bringing the weight towards your chest.
  • Return to starting position and repeat.

2. Inverted Rows These will give you a better feel for pulling your own body weight. The great thing is that they can be scaled to benefit all levels, from beginners to advanced. Inverted rows can be done using a bar racked about chest or waist height, a set of rings, or even the underside of a table.

  • Grab bar with straight arms and in an overhand grip about shoulder-width apart, wrapping thumb around the bar.
  • Keeping body tight, walk feet forward under the bar until you’re at an angle where you feel comfortable supporting your weight.
  • Pulling shoulders and elbows back, raise yourself toward the bar, aiming to get chest to touch the bar. Squeeze glutes and abs so that body stays in a completely straight line throughout the whole movement.
  • Lower back down and repeat.

If this is too difficult, you can walk your feet back to decrease the angle of inversion or even bend your legs. For more advanced exercisers, elevate your feet on a bench or box or even add weight if you are feeling particularly beastly.

3. Jumping Pull-Up These will help you feel the full range of motion of a pull-up and work that vertical pulling strength. The jumping pull-up will help you train the top of the pull, while the negative (controlling your weight as you come down) will work on the lowering portion of the movement.

  • Stand directly under a pull-up bar on the ground or on a box so that when arms are raised, the bar is at the middle of the forearms.
  • Grasp the bar about shoulder-width apart and with an overhand grip.
  • Bend knees and extend arms so that you hang extended under the bar.
  • Jump and pull arms so that chin gets above the bar.
  • Quickly lower back down until arms are straight, and repeat.

4. Negative Pull-Ups

  • Starting with a jumping pull-up or by stepping off a box or a chair, hold chin above the bar.
  • Slowly lower in a controlled manner until your arms are in fully extended and you are in a full hang.

5.  Assisted Pull-ups These can be done using a chair or a resistance band. If you have access to resistance bands, you can progress to using ones with less resistance as you get stronger.

Using a chair

  1. Hang from a pull-up bar with hands in an overhand grip and thumbs wrapped around the bar.
  2. Place one foot on a chair that is positioned slightly ahead.
  3. Use leg to help raise body while pulling up until chin is over the bar.
  4. Carefully lower back down and repeat.

Using a resistance band

  • Secure a resistance band in the middle of a pull-up bar.
  • Grab onto the bar in the same grip as above.
  • Step one foot into the band and extend arms, lowering to a full hang.
  • Take other foot and cross it in front of the foot in the band to secure the band from slipping.
  • While squeezing glutes and abs, exhale and pull yourself up until chin is over the bar (without overextending your neck!).
  • Inhale as you lower back down and repeat.

Tip: If the bar is too high, use a chair or box to get situated.

—Megan May for Fitbie


How long has it been since you’ve tried to do a pull-up? Who’s feeling inspired to do one now? Tell us in the comments!

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