Master Your First Pull-up with These Four Exercises

Man doing a pull-up outside.

One of the most effective bodyweight exercises is the pull-up. If you are looking to strengthen your back muscles, then the pull-up is the perfect exercise for you. It also increases your grip strength and works your upper arms. When done correctly, pull-ups also help improve your posture.

You can train specific muscle groups by adjusting how you grip the bar and where you position your hands. The overhand grip (your palms facing away from you) focuses on your back muscles (latissimus dorsi, trapezius, and rhomboid minor and major), whereas the underhand grip (your palms facing you) targets your upper arm flexors (biceps and brachialis). There is also a variation of the underhand grip known as the neutral or opposing grip (your palms face each other). Grip width also plays an important role: The wider your grip is, the more it will train your back muscles.

The only problem is that the pull-up is not one of the easier strength exercises to perform. You have to be able to pull up your entire body weight and in order to do that, you need a well-trained upper body.

How to master your first pull-up

If a pull-up is still too hard for you, you need to strengthen the individual muscles you use to do a pull-up. We have put together a training program below to help you achieve your goal.

Your training program:

  • Work out twice a week (with at least 48 hours of rest between sessions).
  • Three sets of eight to 12 repetitions per exercise (with 90-120 seconds rest between sets).  You need to be able to still do at least 8 repetitions in the third set of Exercises 1 and 2 before including the next exercise in your training program.

These four exercises will get you to your first pull-up

Note: Make sure to warm up your muscles before working out. And remember to keep your shoulders down and back and to pull your shoulder blades toward your spine.

1. Seated pull-ups

A sportive woman who is doing inverted-rows.

2. Inverted rows

You can increase the difficulty of this exercise by adjusting the height of the straps or pull-up bar. The lower the strap or bar, the higher the intensity will be.

A sportive man who is doing inverted-rows.

3. Assisted pull-ups

Choose a resistance strength that allows you to do 8-12 repetitions.

A young woman who is doing pull-ups with a band to support her.

4. Negative pull-ups

The pull-up bar should be set at a height where you can jump up to it into the pull-up position with your chin over the bar. Now lower yourself down slowly until you are hanging with your arms straight. Four to six repetitions of this exercise are enough.

A young man who is doing negative pull-ups.


A sportive man who is doing pull-ups.

Our tip: When doing pull-ups, always go through the entire range of motion – from a dead hang to the end position with your chin over the bar. Your arms should be completely straight in the starting position. But make sure to always maintain a certain amount of tension in your arms and shoulders during the exercise to prevent overloading your joints. It is also important to engage your core when doing pull-ups.  

So, have you done your first pull-up? Soon you will be cranking out pull-ups like they were nothing.


Herwig Natmessnig As a former professional athlete (whitewater slalom), Herwig lives for fitness. Whether in competition or just for fun, he can never turn down a challenge. View all posts by Herwig Natmessnig