Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Pull Ups


sergio-oliva-chins_1The pull up is one of the greatest muscle building exercises in existence, which is precisely why it’s been called the upper body squat.

If you’re a man and you suck at them people will laugh at you.

Lat pulldowns can’t even come close to comparing. Whenever you move your body through space the level of neuromuscular activation is dramatically higher.

People all too often ask, “How much can ya bench?”

A more appropriate question would be “How many pull ups can you do?”

The pull up measures your strength to weight ratio better than almost any other exercise known to man.

Don’t Be the Guy Who Can’t Do Pull Ups

To this day I am still haunted by the image I witnessed in a local park a few years ago when I was there training. A man in his mid 30′s was there with his wife and son.

He was shooting some hoops, watching his kid play, and basically just enjoying the beautiful July weather.

At one point he wandered over to the pull up bar and got on it. He then proceeded to twist and squirm and strain for the next 10-15 seconds as he attempted and failed to do one pull up.

ONE PULL UP! Now mind you, this guy was not obese. He probably weighed around 170 pounds.

The second hand embarrassment was enough to make me want to dig a hole and jump in it.

“Look at the man you married, honey. I can’t do a single pull up.”

“Hey buddy, watch how strong daddy is. Don’t you want to grow up to be just like me?”

A real man can do pull ups. It’s as simple as that.

Below are the top 10 ways to improve your pull ups.

1) Don’t go to Failure

This is the biggest mistake you can make with pull ups.

As soon as a single rep does not look exactly like the previous one and you can’t get as high, the set is over.

If your speed slows down noticeably the set is over.

You would never continue a set of squats if you could no longer lock out the weight. If you got all the way up on rep five but were only able to get up ¾ of the way on rep six you wouldn’t proceed to do four more reps of partials until the set ended with the weight crashing down on you and crippling you.

But that’s exactly how people finish their sets of pull ups. The form gets worse and worse and worse, and they keep going and going and going, climbing up the invisible ladder, swinging and kipping.

When you do this you get no stronger. And most of the time you get weaker. The negative effect of training to failure is seen more on chin ups than any other exercise. No one knows why this is, but trust me, that’s how it is.

2) Lose Excess Body Fat

If you are carrying excess body fat your ability to do pull ups will be greatly reduced. Extra body fat is good for lifting more weight in certain exercises that require greater leverage like the squat and deadlift. But that’s all it’s good for. Other than that it’s unhealthy and unsightly.

3) Start in the Proper Position

All too often people start in the dead hang position with their scapula elevated and their shoulders touching their ears. This is dangerous and incorrect.

When you do this all of the tension is placed on your tendons and ligaments instead of your muscles.

When you get on the bar you want to pull your shoulder blades down and lock your shoulders into their sockets. This is a far safer position and ensures that the stress will be placed directly on the muscles and not the tendons and ligaments.

4) Maintain a VERY Slight Elbow Bend Throughout the Set

This goes hand in hand with the above tip. Before starting your set you want to bend your elbows ever so slightly.

This bend should barely be noticeable, but it will have a huge impact on your elbow health.

Do not start with your elbows completely locked. This, again, places all of the stress on the tendons and ligaments instead of on the muscles. On each successive rep you should lower yourself until your arms are nearly straight, stopping just shy of lockout.

But don’t use this as an excuse to cheat. Just shy of lockout means that your elbows are “99% locked out;” you just don’t want that complete extension.

5) Initiate With the Lats

When you start to pull, be sure that you fire your lats first; not your biceps. If you have trouble feeling your lats, as many newbies do, have someone poke or slap your lats a few times before you start pulling. Even having a partner keep his hands in contact with your lats throughout the set may help. It may also look a little strange to other members of your gym.

6) Drive Your Elbows Down

To get the most out of your lats when you chin you should think about driving your elbows down and back. Don’t simply pull with your biceps.

7) Pull Your Chin Over the Bar

I used to be a stickler for having people pull their chest to the bar. I still instruct beginners to do that, knowing full well that they won’t be able to, but that it will at least instill the importance of getting high.

You really only need your chin to clear the bar. That last few inches does very little for you lats and instead focuses the stress on the smaller, weaker muscles of your upper/middle back.

The pull up should be used to target the lats, first and foremost. Don’t waste energy struggling with that last few inches at the top. Get your chin over while keeping your back arched and then lower yourself.

Use other rowing exercises to target those smaller upper back muscles and use the pul up to smoke your lats completely.

8) Use a Variety of Grips

There are countless ways to pull your body up. You can do chin ups with your palms facing you at a number of different grip widths.

You can also do chin ups with your palms facing each other, or pull ups with your palms facing away at multiple grip widths.  You can pull up on bars, rings, Fat Gripz, ropes, towels, suspension straps, beams, Eagle Loops, and even baseballs or softballs hanging from a chain.

The variations are endless. Use as many different chin ups as possible to avoid burnout or overuse injuries.

9) Use a Variety of Rep Ranges

To do a lot of pull ups you need strength and you need endurance.

Strength is built with low reps. You can do low reps with a weighted vest or dip belt or you can simply perform more difficult variations of pull ups.

Endurance is built with high reps. This is where the use of bands comes in handy.

Having a few different levels of band tension will allow you to vary your rep range greatly. This will help you boost your chin up numbers a lot faster.

Some days you train in the range of 3-6 reps for maximal strength. Some day you train in the range of 7-12, and others you train in the range of 15-30, with a band, to improve your endurance.

10) Strengthen Your Grip

The stronger your grip is the easier pull ups will feel. I suggest getting a Captains of Crush Gripper and using it a few times per week. You can also add in some more specific grip work at the gym like fat bar holds, hexagon dumbbell holds, as well as various pinching and crushing exercises. I highly recommend investing in a pair of Fat Gripz and using them for a large majority of your exercises.

Start using these top 10 ways to improve your pull ups today and drop me a line to let me know how they’re working out for you.

In the meantime if you could hit the Like button I’d really appreciate it.

PS. Wanna take your pull ups to the next level? And build an incredibly strong, powerful physique while you’re at it?

Then you need to check out Body Weight Body Building.

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107 Responses to Top 10 Ways to Improve Your Pull Ups

  1. Dan February 20, 2010 at 8:00 am #

    “I got a chest like a shit house, its gotta be built up Gordon.”

    You managed to incorporate 2 of my favorite things into 1 post, pull ups and the Jerky Boys.

    I live in NJ, but not near your gym. Love to workout there some time.

    Dan

  2. On a limb with Claudia February 20, 2010 at 8:19 am #

    Cool! :) I’m excited to learn how to do these – plus it’s my goal for the year. These tips are truly helpful as I have done all of the mistakes. Then gotten discouraged.

    This is the year! :)

  3. Neil February 20, 2010 at 8:31 am #

    Thanks Jason

    Great tips. I am a hill runner and have strong legs with poor upper body strength. I had started a program including pull ups and chin ups and this will really help.

    Aye

    Neil

  4. John Legg February 20, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    Great stuff Jason. Keep it up mate.

    There’s a lot of males out there that have no right to call them selves men! Very sad

  5. Odi February 20, 2010 at 9:18 am #

    I’m still amazed some guys at my gym can pull a lot of weight in a machine but lifting themselves looks like agony. Also, full extension does not apply for this kind of exercise, note to myself.

  6. Byron C February 21, 2010 at 6:54 am #

    …………….and # 11 is get the hell away from the lat pulldown and be a real man!

  7. Marc February 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm #

    If my goal is to improve my chin-ups/pull-ups what is the best frequency? If I am training upper body 2x per week, should I do chins in one workout and only to rows in the next or should I do chins at each workout?

    Thanks,

    Marc

  8. Andrew February 22, 2010 at 12:22 pm #

    I can certain appreciate this article as the Lats are very important in upper body strength and athletics but I’m still waiting for a comprehensive and exhaustive article on the key exercises, benefits, dynamics, stretching/treatment options, etc. for the posterior chain…as it is the foundation for nearly every athlete.

    Personally, I feel this group of muscles are neglected far too often in favour for mirror muscles. It is also my own personal opinion that without a strong posterior chain, an athlete is at a greater disadvantage for winning championships or even beating personal bests in the weight room.

    Looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say about this.

    Andrew
    Vancouver, BC

    Andrew

  9. Brian G February 22, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    Which rings do you recommend? I’ve been meaning to try them for a while now and my gym doesn’t have any.

    Thanks!

  10. Joe M March 2, 2010 at 11:21 pm #

    Great pic of Sergio Oliva!

  11. Ilyse March 8, 2010 at 11:15 pm #

    Thank you! I was directed here from Nina Shank’s blog, and I’m working on perfecting my pull-ups. Thanks for all your great tips, I’m well on my way to being a woman who can do 10 or more!

  12. Taipari March 21, 2010 at 8:01 am #

    I been trying pull ups for a couple years and couldn’t understand why i wasn’t really progressing? Till i read “don’t go to failure”! Fuck me! I been climbing that invisible ladder this whole time! Couldn’t do five close grip chins and now i can do wide grip over hands piece of cake! Thanks jay, just started my programme and now i’m amping to get into it

  13. Dan April 16, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

    Great tips. Especially making the distinction between (near-)full extension and exaggerated dead-hang. I’ve personally made that mistake, and almost immediately developed pain that forced me to quit pull-ups for a while. Also, the stopping before failure tip is something that may not be intuitive to many people. Thanks for posting this helpful advice.

  14. jasonferruggia April 25, 2010 at 7:12 am #

    @ Dan- Always good to hear from a Jerky Boys fan. Let me know if you ever want to come by the gym.

    @ Claudia- Make it happen.

    @ John- Very true.

    @ Byron- Exactly.

    @ Marc- Frequency is important. Twice a week would be better than once. Five times per week, doing only one set per day is often even better.

    @ Andrew- I’ll get to it.

    @ Brian- I will double check the name of the rings and get back to you.

    @ Ilyse- Awesome!

    @ Taipari- Great to hear. Keep killin it!

  15. Sean April 25, 2010 at 8:11 am #

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one that measures one’s ratio of strength with the pull-up. Most of the ‘no-necks’ love to bark about heavy their bench is, but shy away from the good ole’ pull-up.
    Thanks for the tips, I’m trying to increase my reps – may have to get my hands on some bands.
    Good stuff!

  16. Rob April 25, 2010 at 8:23 am #

    Great article bro… one tip that’s helps everyone with their pullups is not to look up and to keep your head neutral… when you look up your neck pinches the nerve and de activates your lats the major mover in a pull up… try it out… just make your you do some neck rolls after you pinch that nerve to loosin it back up…

  17. Jason April 25, 2010 at 10:15 pm #

    Driving your elbows down back is a great tip. Nice to have reminders like this. Thanks

  18. Eric Moss April 26, 2010 at 12:44 am #

    pullups a great measure of strength per body weight…and accessible pretty much anywhere. love it

    except for the kipping ones….thats too hard to do while loading extra weight :)

  19. Stacey Diehl April 26, 2010 at 10:59 am #

    I can’t do ‘em, either. Attempting to do ONE without my Iron Woody band and not being able to get anything going made me feel like crying. But since it was 2am at the gym there were no witnesses so it was okay.

    Yea, I keep trying, thinking ‘eventually… when I get rid of a bit more of the body fat, it’s just going to happen… (*sigh*).’ :(

  20. John April 26, 2010 at 8:25 pm #

    Yeah, I agree…attempting to add heavy weights without proper form is futile, not only a waste of time and effort, actually can do you more harm than good!

  21. jasonferruggia May 10, 2010 at 7:32 am #

    Thanks, guys.

    Stacey, you’ll get there. Just be persistent.

  22. Andy May 13, 2010 at 7:48 am #

    Jason,
    One of those who presently struggle to do just one pull up. Have a pinched nerve (C6-C7 vertebra) affecting strength. Any ideas on how to safely do pull ups and not aggravate the existing condition? Good tips…still plan on being a “man” soon!

    Andy

  23. Matt May 24, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    I am in 7th grade and can do 21 pull-ups, hopefully with your tips I can make 25.

    Thanks!

  24. Mace June 30, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    No need to chin over the bar. Don’t believe me, champs such as Oliva and Scott utilized this technique with great results.

    • Jason Ferruggia November 7, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

      @Mace:Agreed. I always tell people they should be called chest ups. Lead with the chest and arch the back. Trying too hard to get your chin over the bar leads too shitty form and rounded shoulders.

  25. xanix June 30, 2010 at 12:25 pm #

    Thanks, great tips about HOLDING SCAPULA DOWN and not fully straightening the arms. I would not even go 99% straight arms and I think 90% are perfectly fine–even less, depending on SHOULDER HEALTH. Neglecting these things at first gave me the hell of a case of shoulder impingement, which still affects me, so people with shoulder issues shouldn’t go too low on pullups. And no, a man who can’t do pullups isn’t a woman and still a man, there’re different kinds of men and women, we live in a free and diverse country…at least I do. I’ve been told a few times that I’m a “man” just cause I’m athletic and can do things like pullups, etc, sexism is alive and well.

  26. Jessica October 28, 2010 at 4:55 am #

    Jason,
    What do you suggest if you can’t do any to start? Using a chair, bands or something else?

  27. Jeff November 15, 2010 at 4:12 am #

    “Don’t go to failure” is such an important point. Reaching failure will slow down or even stunt your strength gains, which will also hurt your muscle gains.

    “Initiate with the lats” is also a great point. When I started doing pull-ups, I could only feel it in my biceps for quite some time. Once I started focusing on engaging my lats, my progress started speeding up.

  28. Jake Schwatz November 26, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    i also found this to be a real good article on how to get started if you cant do any Pullups

  29. tyciol February 10, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    I have no idea what you’re talking about with tendons and ligaments, tension is ALWAYS on the tendons, that’s how muscles pull. As for ligaments, that’s only if you relax. We have muscles with depress (lower traps, pec minor) and downward rotate (levator scapula, rhomboids) our scapulae, so letting them come up is part of the movement.

    The criticism of the lat pulldown also doesn’t make any sense, if more nerves are stimulated it’s likely from your legs flailing through the air, not from it being any harder on the working muscles. Lat pulldowns are easier because some pulleys may be designed to make it easier to pull a given weight, the difference between open and closed chain movements is less in pulling than in pushing. There isn’t anything near the “balance” difference there is in a squat, you can’t fall over during a pull up, it’s self correcting.

  30. Luke H February 18, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Chin ups are admittedly a stickler for me, looking into the post I think it been do to with going to failure every time I do chin ups (trying to improve on my last performance.) I will have to rethink my plan of attack now thou.

    Thanks Jason

  31. mick June 6, 2011 at 12:43 am #

    Another great article from you Jason, However i don’t understand number three

    “When you get on the bar you want to pull your shoulder blades down and lock your shoulders into their sockets.”

    Got any videos demonstrating this one?

  32. maureen June 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm #

    Just incase there are any other girls out there with small hands forget the fat gripz. I could not even get my hand around them once they were on the bar. Actually caused discomfort
    in the area between the thumb and palm.

  33. Tyciol October 30, 2011 at 10:16 pm #

    Till is buying into a modern bad usage. These all involving pulling ourselves up, so using pull ups to refer to everything makes the most sense. Call it a chin up if you pull up high enough to touch your chin to the bar.

    It’s fine to have terms for grip, but they should make sense, calling them chin/pull does not. Palms inward is a supine grip, so call it a sup-up. Palms outward is a prone grip, so call it a pro-up. SOLVED

    This article has some good points but not sure I’d call it great. Avoiding complete extensions seems silly, you’re not getting a full stretch or RoM that way. Ligaments need to get stronger too and people use locked elbows for things like leg raises all the time.

  34. Big t November 8, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    So great that you think the opposite of “Big” is “Low.” Enough said.

  35. Brad January 21, 2012 at 11:19 pm #

    So i’m training to become a PJ in the air force, and in the (PAST) test I have to take, to be qualified for special ops, I have to do 10 pull ups, 52 push ups and a wide variety of other running and swimming events, the only thing I struggle with is the pull ups and push ups, I can do 35 push ups and 5 pull ups before my arms give out on me… yet I can lift 145 lbs. I am 5’9″ and weigh 145, 18 years old. What part of my body should I work out in order to be able to progress greatly in these events? My recruiter sais I should be able to do pull ups easily for how small I am but I just can’t get the hang of it. If someone could email me and help me out, it would be great. bradgetzdown@aol.com <-

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 8:35 am #

      @Brad- Do two sets of pull ups til near failure every day. One in the morning and one at night. After 2-3 weeks of this add another set mid day.

      You can do the same thing with pushups

  36. walaa January 29, 2012 at 3:59 am #

    do u recommed the following :
    Pull up behind the neck
    daily chin up/ pull up or it will be overload for shoulder and elbow
    if so maximum reps per days

    • Colin February 11, 2012 at 4:00 pm #

      what do you think about density training? great post btw

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 8:34 am #

      @walaa- No pull ups behind the neck. You can do daily pull ups for a while to bring them up rapidly. I’d stick with 1-2 sets though and only do that for about a month. After that the elbows might start to get beat up.

  37. Dion February 15, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    I was almost 360 pounds at 20 years old. I had NEVER done a pull-up in my entire life. I woke up one morning and decided to change and never looked back. I am 28, 5’10″ and 174 pounds. My PR at this point is 13 pull-ups, when I hit 10 I started to train with weight. This article really hit close to home, thanks for the tips.

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 8:32 am #

      @Dion- DAMN! That’s awesome progress. Keep killin it, man!

  38. Kevin Guzda February 16, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    Hey Jason,

    I will admit I can not do a pull up, there I admitted it although last time I checked I am a man, great dad and provider..lol….but I want to be a man who can do pull ups or chin ups. I am 6`3 235 and by no means not fat, I only have a 35 inch waist and 13 % bodyfat. EVen when I was a skinny turd in Grade SChool I could not do them. I have Iron Woody bands of all different sizes. Currently, I do old school routines similar to what you typically recommend. I do squats, trap bar deads from knees, bench, seated barbell presses, close grips benchs, one arm rows, ez curls, planks, side bends, weighted supported sit ups, thick bar holds. This is all spread out over 3 divided workouts over 7-9 days. I also do pushup variations as finishers. Can you outline a simple program to help me with my pull up/chin ups. A supinated grip is much easier for me currently, should I foucus on those to start? Can you recommend sets, frequency, ways to progress with bands, rest period between sets. Currently i am experimenting with smaller band which lets me to multiple sets of 2-5 reps. Whats a good way to improve on these…Thanks

    • Till February 16, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

      Kevin: Do one set EVERY DAY. Don’t go to failure, but put some effort in. every bodyweight movement that’s hard requires moderate volume evenly spread out over the entire week. people who are lean but can’t do pull ups usually have enough muscle to do them, they just lack the neural efficiency. work on it and remember – DON’T go to failure. ONce you can get ten reps with bands, start on low rep sets without them.

      • Kevin Guzda February 19, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

        Thanks Till…………….I think this is something Jason recommends as well after reading through the site more closely. I will give it a go thanks

      • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 8:31 am #

        @Till- Good advice

  39. Michael- Somebody Lied March 14, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    Lat activation is something I learnt properly last summer. You really notice the difference in how your lats look when you use them properly. Well done on also mentioning to pack the shoulders into your body.

    Something else I learnt is to squeeze your butt hard, which uses the principle of irradiation to give you a quick strength boost.

  40. jackyleon2000 March 25, 2012 at 1:42 am #

    actually, it is a great article, and it seems that your point of views about how to increase the number of pull ups is quite same as mine, i am 5 foot 10 weight 220 pounds, and now i still can do 15 reps of pull ups, what i do really agree is that you said never go to failure, and this is very important, i have been weight training for 10 years, and what i think why we should not go to failure on this, is because pull up is very different from other upper body movement, it actually requires a lot of energy when you train it, and when you do some partials, you’re just wasting your time on consume more body energy, but not efficiently training the specific muscles involved in pull ups, and what do you say? man? i am sorry, i am from China, and my english may not be good, hope you can understand what i mean, hehe.

    • Jason Ferruggia April 9, 2012 at 8:30 am #

      Yeah, you’re on point, man. No failure.

  41. John April 12, 2012 at 9:19 am #

    I disagree with your number 1 rule. Most strength coache don’t use the term failure, they use fatigue. Once a lifter loses positve control of the movement they have effectivly fatigued that muscle group. When you say don’t go to failure you are saying that you stop long befor the inraoding of the muscle hits a productive level. No lifter should count any rep if the rep isn’t done to true form. You would be more sound in your advice to say that the number one rule is to work the muscle group to fatigue (rep til you can’t rep any more as long as they understand what an acceptable rep is they can lift to fatiguewhile maintaining form).

  42. Dylan April 26, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    I am currently training for the world record of most pull ups in 60 seconds. I have read from multiple sources that it was 47 pulls up. I currently have done 44 pull ups within the time frame. I seem to be stuck in a plateau not being able to get past 44. I average 40 pull ups. What are some techniques to increase my reps. I currently workout 4-5 days a week and do my pull up set first thing. My goal is to do 50 within 60 seconds. Let me know of any tips or tricks you may advise with.

    Thanks

  43. Nick May 10, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    I am able to do about 15 pull ups in a row but about 13 with “PERFECT” form. Should I just do the 13 pull ups if I want to increase the amount because you were saying something about do not go untill failure. I have been doing pull ups for 5-6 years untill failure but I will be sure to change that!
    And hey Jason i have been on a push up program that was six weeks long and did 1 day on 1 day off. I started only being able to do about 19-20 pushups and and by week six i managed to kill off about 40 pushups. I went from being able to doing non stop cycles of 8-10 pushups now doing cycles of about 20. I am now on week 7 but i am making the workout up as I go any tips on how to make the push ups turn from 40 too 50-60?* Should I use the phrase “dont go untill failure” for push ups? Because i might do pulls up ruling for push ups! Please answer this long series of unrevised questions lol. THANKS ALOT

    • Jason Ferruggia May 11, 2012 at 5:38 am #

      Nick- You’re better off doing more sets further away from failure. Ladders work incredibly well. I’d only go to your limit once in a while.

  44. Ben Brilliant May 16, 2012 at 1:26 am #

    Great tips to keep people from getting injured in the beginning and stay motivated by using proper form. Thank you Jason.

  45. Jordan May 19, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    Jason, great tips … I especially keen to # 3&4, I have been doing my pulps wrong for years, and after about 4-6 weeks of using the proper position I saw my pull-ups increase from 15 to 22-23. My goal was to be able to get up on the bar and knock out 20 at any given time, being a Marine “20″ is the number you need to be taking seriously in any PT environment, and so far these tips have worked better than any stupid workout book or video people might pay for. If you could I would greatly appreciate some tips on hand positions when doing pull-ups, I do my 20 over-handed – shoulder-width apart, my new goal is doing more in a rep, rather than gaining strength … i need some more endurance, any advice? Thanks a lot, Semper Fi.

    • Jordan May 19, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

      Please, ignore the awful grammar…

    • Jason Ferruggia June 14, 2012 at 9:41 am #

      Jordan- Great progress, man! Moving your grip out just a hair wider than shoulders can help. Have you tried doing ladders?

  46. greg May 21, 2012 at 5:01 am #

    I totally agree with training to failure.My pull up numbers slowly got worse and worse and it can only be from training to failure and having a poor technique. I followed the tips and pull ups improved straight away. Also been trying them combined with Pavels GTG (greasing the groove) and they feel easier within a week.

    • Jason Ferruggia June 14, 2012 at 9:57 am #

      Greg- Yeah, everyone has that experience. Glad to hear the GTG is working for you

  47. Ben May 21, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    One way to increase your grip is to put towels on your pull up bar and do pullupsmon those.

  48. Joe May 23, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Excellent.

    I’m an almost-girl with a 4 chin-up maximum, seeking to improve the mark substantially.

    At 212 pounds, 6’4″, long wingspan and 56 years… ah… young, it’s a challenge. My strength-to-weight ratio needs vast improvement.

    But I declare here, that I will get to 10 this year!

    Yep.

    -Joe

  49. James June 3, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    I find my self in need of some more advice. What I need is some advice that will help me increase my upper body strength, mainly pull ups and push ups. I can currently only do 47 push ups/min, and only 4 pull ups. I’m preparing for a military carer ROTC, or enlisted. I’m 6ft, and I weight 185lbs. could anybody help me out?

    • nibin July 2, 2012 at 5:38 am #

      james we are in the same league i have the same question.

  50. Geo June 6, 2012 at 9:35 am #

    “A man who can’t do pull ups is a woman”, man I better improve..or else get the surgery done and get it over with…..Thanks great advise!!

  51. Matthew June 14, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    A nice way to improve grip strength is (I find) to place a towel over a bar so it hangs down on both sides… then just hold it while hanging there. Epic for grip

  52. Kevin June 14, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    Hey Jay…I’m still stuck at about 5 to 7 reps till my form breaks down with the middle band..I tried doing pull ups every day like till recommended but felt constantly sore and my lifts and regular three workout days were impacted..What are ladders…What do you recommend for me..again I have three assisted chin up bands . What type of set and rep scheme should I do for the ladders and how many days per week and when…..pleease help …I. am so pull up challenged

    • Tim June 18, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

      Hey, for improving the number of pullups, I recommend negatives. Also, these things take time. I needed a year and a half to get to 17 from 2 or 3, doing them nearly everyday. I also eschewed all other upper body exercises and just swam. Having a buddy(s) to compete with also helps.

      • Ron May 26, 2013 at 3:51 am #

        Hey, i am not very good at pull ups, but i had a similar story to yours – i was very bad in pull ups – could do like 5 of them. However – i was intensively training and managed to achieve 28 reps per/set after 2 months – which is a lot faster than you mentioned in your comment. Just to tell you the way i trained – first of all, my workout always happened in same time of a day – like 9 a.m. before breakfast, i only drank water before exercising. As i was working out about 5 straight days – identical time for a workout worked great to give my muscles maximum time to rest.
        Very beginning of training pull ups: as i could do 5 – i did a lot of sets with a low number of pull ups – about 7 sets – starting from that maximum 5 then /4/4/3/3//3 – i was pushing myself to do as much as i can.
        The result was like this – i could increase number of pull-ups per set at least once per week. After a week i shiften to numbers similar to 8/8/7/6/5/5/5 (number of keeps similar all the time – 4-6 sets).
        Additional and very important feature – every week or week and half – i was checking what is my limit of pull ups, meaning trying to do maximum of them during the first set. The result was giving me recommendations of how much pull ups per set i should do in the following week. I.e. if i made 20 pullups as my maximum – i would do 15/13/10/10/8 or similar to that (meaning i already did 20 of them a minute before) and for a remainin week i would do (20/15/13/10/10/8). After a week – i do maximum again – and hange my numbers and sets.
        As a result – after monts – my maximum was 28 pull-ups.

        • abc June 18, 2013 at 10:54 am #

          Hey, how long did you rest between your set?

  53. Ian June 18, 2012 at 12:45 am #

    The most chin ups I have ever done is 10 and sadly right now at the end of a weights workout 4 or 5 is about all I can do. I have been doing 2 sets per workout. One with weight and one without. I have been doing bent over dumbbell rows and lat pull downs in an effort to strengthen my chin ups but so far it has not helped.

    Thank you for the tips and I hope they help.

  54. AustinB June 22, 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    How do i do ladders?

  55. erez July 2, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Good and proper manual. thank you.
    i wiil take more care of my ligements when doing the first pull up now.

    can you please include some of the more complex varations of pull ups. i have been stuck on 15 for quite a while now.

  56. Boots July 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    Will try these tips out been boxing for a while but still struggle to manage more than 3/4 chin ups !

  57. gerry andrews July 14, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    hi there jason ive just started doing pull ups and dips and inverted rows in a new trainig session ive found these to be awsome have only started doing low reps like 4 reps of 3 sets for the pull ups different varieations and 8 inverted rows reps of 3 sets and ten reps of 3 sets for dips which would you recamend i use for my stomach im not looking abs just to trimm down my stomach many thanks gerry andrews newry

  58. Karim August 1, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    I first fell in love with the pull up as a child while training in gymnastics and it is still a major part of my and all my clients workouts.

  59. brad August 4, 2012 at 5:54 am #

    i have been doing pull-ups for years, but last month i must have hurt a muscle near my shoulder blade (left)…it feels like a pinched nerve as my neck, and shoulder is affected too, along with my back…i tried to work out again, but the pain came back. any ideas how long this takes to heal, and what i actually did to myself?

    • guest October 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

      Dude, not sure if you figured it out or not but it sounds like you have rotator cuff tendonitis!

    • Alfie williams March 12, 2013 at 8:51 am #

      Never start your pull up static and dangling. This puts stress on your tendons and neck. Begin your pull up approximately three quarters of the way up as this puts the stress on your muscles. I am only 15 but have witnessed the same problem.

  60. Jason Thorpe August 31, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    That first piece of advice about not going to failure was new to me, but then again I’ve always sucked at pull ups. Maybe I’ve finally found the key to build some reps – will report back, thanks!

  61. izzo September 2, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    hate to be that guy, but you the author of this post comes off as rude and snobby, and these aren’t really tips on how to improve pull ups but on how to do them correctly.

  62. Nick September 14, 2012 at 6:18 am #

    I’m joining the Marines and my PFT requires a certain number of pullups. My recruiter told me it is from a dead hang position that I’ll have to start, will that affect my number of reps that much? Also, I’ve been doing things like bicep curls and just free lifting dumbells to strengthen my biceps, do you think this will help much?

  63. Joe September 29, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

    Good tips, particularly the elbow/tendon saving suggestions.

    Perhaps the terminology is mainly to get this post read and to slap some of us into pull-up action, but making pull-up prowess equivalent to manhood overlooks that different bodies are primed to do different things.

    I, for one, would not call Shaq O’Neil unmanly even though — given his length of arms and weight — he probably can not pump out multiple pull-ups.

    Yep.

    -Joe

  64. chin up monkey October 9, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    LMAO at this” If you suck at them people will laugh at you and your manhood will always be questioned.”

  65. dan October 31, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    ehy guy i need a way to improve my improve my pull up im a 20 yeras old and wiegh 83 kg i need some help to improve them at the moment i doing between 4 and 5

  66. Jason Smith December 8, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Hey Jason, I can do a max of 16 strict pulls, 25 kipping pull up and I’m using a dip belt with various kettle bell when I’m training strength. but I really would love to do a one arm pull up (I only ever met one young man who could, he was an Israeli commando) do you have any tips on training myself to being able to do this?
    thanks Jason

  67. tofique December 14, 2012 at 1:06 pm #

    is this pull ups increase our height

  68. abdallah January 11, 2013 at 12:30 pm #

    i can do 15 pull ups and im 13 years old! im gonna try these ways next time i train

    • Dragon August 11, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

      Try them when you are in mid 20s or 30s then get back to us. Here is the key, don’t stop doing them.

  69. dylan January 23, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    What do you suggest for condyle & stress in the anconeus and flexors. mine are fvcked :( Have adjusted my grip to hang [not grip hard], doing grip rotation, bicep, over grip, and under, still jacked. Im just got Voodoo compression/tack bands to help dont care if I look stupid but even picking up random stuff up hurts now…. any suggestions mang?

    havent seen you for a minute hope youre good brutha

  70. Phillip March 22, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    I can only do 12 what reps should i do for my sets?

  71. Wyatt March 26, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    I am a Poolee for the united states Marine Core this website was very informative for me and my squad dead arm hang chin ups are an everyday occurrence for our PT I can do 21 pull ups there’s much work to do.

  72. Nick April 2, 2013 at 8:32 am #

    Hey guys…I can’t even do a single pull up. its not because i lack strength…actually i never tried these…and now i can’t do a single…iam 22 yrs old…6’2 and i weigh 190 pounds…any help would be appreciated…

    • dylan April 2, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

      Organize your scapular complex into retraction. Overhang your grip. Also use a elasto band to get the motor and muscle recruitment on point at first till you can go unassisted. Pull to the chest and keep your jaw loose which relaxs the neck.
      Im 220 and 6’2″ and started doing them 4 months ago and now do 100 nite [in reps of 5-10] shvt will get you wide!! GL buddy

  73. Brendan May 27, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

    Hey guys Im 14 and i can do 18 pull ups, i go almost all the way down also. I will try and use these techniques. Thanks!

  74. Brad June 20, 2013 at 11:50 pm #

    Can’t do one. Shoulders won’t let me. Any test that requires pull-ups should be replaced with deads.

  75. minon July 16, 2013 at 5:02 am #

    Hi. A ‘real man’ is a thinker. That’s why humans are superior to animals (that and the opposable thumb).

    In almost every other way we’re physically inferior. A great ape would rip a heavyweight champion’s head right off. A rino would squash us. Compared to the beasts, we’re like little squirrels. It’s not our strong point.

    Fish swim, cheetahs run, birds fly… humans think.

    It’s the brain, it’s all about the brain. Look at the atomic bomb, game over. Brains win.

    • Robbie August 12, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

      Working out will make you physically strong and mentally strong. Your comment is bashing strength training which is ridiculous because you’re on a strength training website. Your brain is not going to help you if you’re being attacked by a muscular rapist. Think about that smart guy.

  76. Brad August 20, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    I can do a set of 28 pull-up’s, and have set a goal of 40. I only do pull-up’s twice a week (usually weighted, sometimes off rings), and am a big fan of plenty of recovery time. Should I increase my frequency to reach my goal?

    GREAT article!

  77. Matt October 10, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

    Hey guys,

    What I have done to increase my pullups is pretty simple, but I didn’t notice anybody talking about it. It’s a weightlifting technique called muscular endurance training. It’s all about increasing the number of sets, not reps. This, in turn, increases the number of reps you can do per set.

    For example:

    If you can only do 2 or 3 pullups (like me a couple months ago), start by doing 10 sets of 1 (1 x 10) taking between 60 and 90 seconds rest between each set.

    If you get to the point where you can’t do another whole pullup, get your chin over the bar with help from a chair and lower yourself down slowly (count to 4). Finish your sets this way.

    Do this workout every OTHER day, not every day. If you want to get stronger and build muscle you can’t work that muscle everyday. Doing so overworks it and it will actually get smaller. Your body needs a lot of rest to build muscle.

    When you can successfully do the 10 sets of 1, you can probably bump it up to 10 sets of 2 or 3. When you get there bump it up to 10 sets of 5 or 6. You want to be forced to doing negatives. Push yourself. Before you know it you will be doing 10 sets of 10 (100 pullups!), and you will probably be able to do 25-30+ pullups in one set!

    The basic rules for muscle/strength building:

    1. Lift a lot of weight. If you can’t do a lot in one set, spread it out. Do negatives to finish your sets.

    2. Fuel your muscles immediately after working out. Take your creatine, protein, and carbs right after you workout, within 30 minutes.

    3. Get a lot of sleep and a sufficient break between working out the same muscle group. If you can’t do more/lift heavier this workout than you could last workout then you didn’t take a long enough break, add another day of rest. This is extremely hard for most people, but you will thank me for it when you bust through your plateaus because you let your body heal properly.

    That’s it. Go get it.

  78. Ren October 15, 2013 at 1:39 am #

    I can do 20 dead hang pull ups but i can’t seems to improve any further. Do you think it will work by training with a weight vest ? Thanks =D

  79. Ruwan October 23, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    I am 14. This helped me tremendously I can now feel the tension in my muscles. I just want to say thank you for your tremendous help.

  80. a.b January 3, 2014 at 5:23 am #

    i cant do a single chin up…i can do 25 pushups but not even a single chin up….give me some tips so that i can manage to do atleast 3 chinups in 2 months…

    • Total Arnold February 22, 2014 at 1:52 am #

      Check first the article above(the first point is VERY important, do not go to failure!). Then I’d recommend machine or band assisted pullups, something that makes the movement a little easier. You could also ask someone to assist you with the reps, but the gradual progression would be a little tricky to implement: maybe he/she would first help you with two arms, then with one, the with a weaker grip and so on :D
      If strength is goal, increase the load/decrease the assistance after you can do 6 CLEAN, full range of motion reps. For more hypertrophy, do the same after 12 reps.
      I wouldn’t recommend negative reps or static holds as they can easily burn out CNS(longer recovery times for the nervous system even if the muscles would already have been recovered from the workout) and because they ignore the most important part strength wise, which is the concentric portion of the lift. Try to find a way to do full range of motion reps, personally I haven’t found partial reps to be that useful on chinups.
      Shoulder wide underhand or neutral grip chinups are safest for the shoulders.