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How to Get Your First Pull Up

Today’s article is talking all about how to start doing pull ups. Of all the exercises out there, pull ups and chin ups aren’t usually something you can just walk into the gym and start busting out reps. If you can, you’re a super hero and I’d love your autograph! I think mastering a bodyweight chin up (or pull up) is one of the most badass things a woman can do! However, not everyone can do them – it takes a tremendous amount of upper body strength that most females simply don’t have naturally, certainly not without spending a lot of time (like months, or years in my case) practicing and working towards building up their upper body strength. But don’t let the fear of failure discourage you from putting in the dirty work. Like anything, with time, effort and consistency you can absolutely master your first chin up – just be patient with this one!

Here are some exercises that will help you build up that upper body strength and get you closer to mastering your first chin up. You can check out the video demos for the exercises right here.

1. Eccentric Chin-Up

What this involves is essentially getting yourself up to the top of a rep (typically via jumping) and then slowly lowering yourself back down. I like to do a 3-4 second count with these. If doing these still feel too challenging, you can mimic this same exact movement but try adding a long resistance band for assistance. These are still very challenging, try for as many reps as you can at one time and focus on increasing number of reps week to week.

2. Band-Assisted Chin-Up

I did a lot of these before I could get my first real bodyweight chin-up. I really like this variation because it provides less resistance as you pull yourself up to the bar depending on the thickness of the band you’re using. With time, you can progress with this exercise by using a smaller and/or thinner loop band, which will make the motion of “pulling up” more difficult. Aim for 8-10 reps.

3. Scapular Retractions

This one may look too easy and not worth your time doing. But practicing scapular retractions forces you to engage the correct muscles in your back as you initiate a chin up – or any back exercise for that matter. I like performing 2-3 sets of these for 15-20 reps.

4. Inverted Row

I think these are a great option for those who don’t yet have the physical strength to perform eccentric chin-ups or banded assisted pull ups. These are best performed in a smith machine or a squat rack if one is available. The higher the bar is placed, the easier it will be and vice-versa. If you can do 15 reps at a given bar height, progress in this movement by adjusting your body so you are more horizontal to the floor and/or lowering the height of the bar. Eventually, you can move onto the feet-elevated variation.

5. Knees Bent Pull/Chin Ups

Next to band-assisted pull ups, these are probably my second favorite exercise to help build up your upper body strength. You get the stabilization and “extra help” by keeping your feet planted in front of you on the ground with your knees bent as you perform a pull up on a secured barbell in a squat rack. Having your knees bent and feet planted takes a lot of the force of gravity out of the picture, making this a lot more doable of an exercise for most people. Aim for 10-15 reps.


– Increase frequency. I suggest adding in 1-2 sets of any of these exercises 2-3x/week. You can add these in the beginning of any of your strength training sessions.

– Lose body fat. Naturally, the less you weigh the easier it would be to pull your own body weight up.This is largely because fat mass doesn’t actually help contribute to the lift at all and really just weighs you down, making chin ups very difficult.

– Be Patient. Everyone is different; some women can get their first chin up in a matter of weeks, sometimes it can take others (like me) a year plus before they can master a bodyweight chin up without assistance. It’s also important to remember that strength progress is not linear, and that’s completely normal. Don’t get discouraged if you go a handful of weeks with seemingly no gains or progressions.

Keep on keepin’ on!

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