Pull-ups:Beginners guide

man in black crew neck shirt doing pull ups

Pull-ups are one of the best exercises to build your back, forearms and grip.

There is some evidence that suggests core activation is higher when doing a pull-up when compared to standard abdominal exercises .

Are you trying to get to your first pull-up or your first five or ten. This guide should cover all your needs for starting out.

I have a love /hate relationship with pull-ups. I remember despite being one of the stronger children at school  always having difficulty with pull-up’s.

I still am not great at them but I realise the amazing benefits of doing them. So I stick to them.

Let me start of by saying this is guide is referring to the full hang pullup.

The one where you start at a complete dead hang and then pull-up till your chin is above the bar. Thats one rep.

Not the cross-fit style pull-ups. They serve a different purpose which I am still trying to understand.

How to get your first pull-up

  • Negatives- This refers to using a stool or chair to get into the top position of a pull-up- then slowly bringing yourself down- repeat this three to five times for 3 sets. To see what a set is check this article-Gym language for the newbie


  • Using a weight resisted band-  These are heavy duty bands that come in various resistances, depending on your strength levels you can use a lighter band or a heavier band. Step with both of your legs into the band. Hold onto the pull-up bar and pull. The bands take some of the weight off and make the pull easier.A heavier band means you are pulling less of your weight as the band is doing more of the work for you and the lighter band is harder for the opposite reason. Here’s a cool video to give you a visual-Band pull-ups


  • Partner assisted pull-ups. Get a partner to hold your legs when your doing a pull-up. This essentially works out the same as the band technique but you don’t have to spend money on the bands.


  • Australian pullups- Basically putting yourself horizontal to a structure you can hold onto and rowing your weight up. Now this is a way to start getting some extra work to get to your first pull-up but they target slightly different muscles than the standard pull-up. Link here for a visual-Australian pullups


  • Use the above techniques for 4 weeks. If using the bands progress from the heavier to the lighter bands. If using negatives work on holding yourself for longer before coming down to a stop. Shoot for 3 sets of 30 second negatives.



Getting to your first 3-5 reps

  • So you got to your first pull-up. But that second one is difficult. How to progress.


  • Don’t train to failure. Your body responds better when it works at a moderate intensity- saying that here’s a sample program below.


  • Week 1
    • Do 3 sets of 1 rep on Monday, 4 sets of 1 rep on Wednesday and 5 sets of 1 rep on Friday
  • Week 2
    • Do 5 sets of 1 rep on Monday, 6 sets of 1 rep on Wednesday and 8 sets of 1 rep on Friday
  • Week 3
    • Do 7 Sets of 1 rep on Monday, 9 sets of 1 on Wednesday and 10 sets of 1 on Friday
  • Week 4
    • Do 5 Sets of 1 rep on Monday, 3 sets of 1 on Wednesday and 1 set of 1 rep on Friday. This is your deload week. The rest will allow you to super-compensate and come back stronger.
  • Week 5
    • Monday-  Warm up with 2 sets of 1 rep. Then take a five to ten minute test. Get your favourite song on and go for an all out set !
    • Record the number of pull-ups you can do in 1 set- I would say if you started at 1 rep you should be at-least at 3,4 or if very lucky higher.


  • If you ended up at 2 or 3 that’s fine. You can repeat the program above with whatever number you ended with. Over time you WILL get stronger.


Getting to your first ten reps

  •  This is for those than can do around 5 pull-ups


  • Week 1
    • Monday- Do 3 sets of 2, Wednesday do 3 sets of 3 and Friday do 1 set of 5 and 2 sets of 3. On Tuesday and Thursday 3 sets of 10 of Australian pull-ups
  • Week 2
    • Monday- Do 3 sets of 3,Wednesday do 4 sets of 4 and Friday do 2 sets of 5 and 3 sets of 3. On Tuesday and Thursday for 4 sets of 10 of Australian pull-ups
  • Week 3
    • Monday- Do 6 sets of 3, Wednesday for 5 sets of 4 and Friday do 3 sets of 5 .On Tuesday and Thursday do 5 sets of 10 of Australian Pull-ups.
  • Week 4
    • Monday- 2 sets of 4, Wednesday 1 set of 5 and Friday do  1 set of 3 .  Skip the Australian pull-ups on Tuesday and Thursday
  • Week 5
    • Monday- Warm up – Do 1 set of 1, then 1 set of 2 , then 1 set of 3. Take 5 -10 minutes off, get your favourite song on and now go for an all out set!
    • Let me know how many you get!


Warming up

Never start a workout cold.  Pull-ups can be really hard on the rotator cuff and shoulder girdle so always take your time. If anything feels iffy stop.

Experiment with different grip width’s . I prefer neutral grip pull-ups as they feel better on my shoulders but everyone is different.

You can warm up any way you like . But if you are looking for inspiration do as outlined below

  1. 5 minute knees up ,running on the spot
  2. 50 arm circles- 25 forwards and 25 backwards
  3. 5 sets of 10 reps push-ups ( This helps keep the muscles of the shoulder girdle nice and balanced)


So there you have it. A pull-up routine from beginner to intermediate.

You can do these outside as well with a towel- for workouts outside check out this article by myself for ideas-Outdoor workouts tips: Why everyone should try it !

Let me know how you get on ,if you choose to try any of these routines.


















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