T Nation

Cant do one pullup


I'm curious as to how I can train my friend to be able to do one pull-up with just a bar to hang from, and nothing like building up to such a level with gym equipment like a lat pulldown or a pull-up assistance machine.

I've tried to place a chair underneath the bar and have them leap up from that and just do negatives. But they can't get a hold and control their descent.

They can't hold themselves in a contracted position for one second. I was thinking I could help assist them do the pull-up by holding and pushing up on their legs.

Anyways, I need ideas. Just think...extremely little equipment in terms of what to work with.

Thanks for any replies I get.


I have seen this situation before. Before I give a goos suggestion, however, you would have to tell us a little bit about that person...in more detail (is he/she really out of shape, are only pullups a problem...). From what I hear, I can recommend placing a swiss ball or chair or something stationary below the pullup bar for the person to use as a 'help'.

If you put a chair there, let them grab the bar and place their shins/feet on the chair. While going up, they should be able to use their legs in assisting them up. I recommended a swiss ball for this as opposed to a chair because it is round and more comfortable to use for your purpose.

It'll might take a while, but good luck!


I also need more informaton on your "friend." Male or female? How much do they weigh? Have they been training long? What is their approximate body fat percentage? Age? What are his/her goals relative to Pull-ups?

Forget the Lat pulldown machine or the gravity machines. To my knowledge there is no machine that can do what a simple bar can't do better! If you are trying to get better at horse back riding you learn to ride a horse! Same with Pull-ups. If you want to get better at Pull-ups or Chin-ups you have to actually work at that specific movement.

Depending upon how you answer the above questions, I would start with the person simply hanging from the bar. This does many things, not least of which improves gripping for that particular movement, and gets them used to hanging from a bar, which is essentially what occurs when you are performing Pull-ups.

If they are unable to hang for at least :30 we know we have a grip problem, relative to their weight. Perhaps their grip is not strong enough to support their weight. As I do not have that information as yet, I cannot make a judgement.If the trainee has no problem hanging from the bar then we can move on.

I would suggest that he/she perform half reps. As I have no idea of knowing where the trainee is the weakest in his pull I will suggest that they begin with pulling from mid range to the Pull-up bar. Get a chair and place it under the trainee, so that when he/she stands on it they are half the distance to the bar than normal. Then have them attempt one half Pull-up to the bar. If they need it you may spot them by pushing on their lower back slightly.

This will accomplish a couple of things. The first is that they will get a huge mental advantage in having touched their chin to the bar. The second, they will begin to build muscle and technique relative to that specific movement.

Finally, I would suggest that you begin by having them turn their hands around. Grip the bar underhanded, this is called a "Chin-up." I make this suggestion because more "Chin-ups" can be accomplished compared to "Pull-ups." This is because the bicep muscle is more activated with a Chin-up.

As of this date (1-2-03) I am able to perform 34 dead hang Chin-ups, while I can only do 30 dead hang Pull-ups. This means that I can do only 88% as many Pull-ups as I can Chin-ups. Actually, this is not bad, the ratio is not usually as good as this, perhaps between 65% and 75% as many Pull-ups as Chin-ups.

Post your friends statistics and I will try to be more specific relative to an actual training schedule.



instead of jumping into position, is it possible to get a chair that is high enough to allow them to settle into the top of the motion? Bands or bungee cords? static holds at the top? Lots of work if they cannot do 1 negative. Either extrememly weak or morbidly obese or both??




I use a green jump stretch band and stretch it across my squat rack on level 12. I then put my knees on it and do pull ups. This offers assistance for warm up sets. Also I would suggest jumping to the top position of a pull up and slowly lower to a hang position. When he can lower himself for 30sec he can do a pull up / chin up.


Work on isometric holds at the top position. Work up to holding that position for 30 seconds, then lower slowly in 10-15 seconds. DO the isoletric holds everyday and if possible 2-3 times a day. Once you can do one rep, do a few sets through out the day and then gradually build up the reps.

Mike Mahler


1. Female
2. 150lbs at 5'7
3. 19 y/o
4. Completely unathletic, never particiapted in any sport or real training until less than 6 months ago.
5. Goals? The ability to do one pull-up or since it's easier, chin-up.

I'll try the grip strength test to start. From last I saw, she can barely start the movement, maybe moving an inch or less before she can't do anymore.

Thanks for the replies. I'll be applying the methods most definitely to get her on the right path.


hi Lemen,
I used the Charles article method
and took 9 weeks to do 6 pullups
from scratch (nil!). Also started with
a too fat body and no grip strength too.

I was lucky that he did not charge me
$199 per pull :slight_smile:
Look at his article and someday your gal friend will be as successful as the russian gal.



There is absolutely nothing wrong with the pullup assistance bar if he can't do pullups on his own. In fact, its likely that after using the pullup assistance bar for a month or so he'll suddenly be able to do a few real pullups.

Have him start out light on it, but do wide grip and try to get 8 reps out. Pretty soon he'll not be using any assistance.

Saying you don't want to use the pullup assistance machine is a lot like saying you don't do lat pulldowns; they are simply a simulation of a pullup that could either be with less than or more than your body weight.


I start off with my female clients by doing arm hangs. Which if you remember in High school girls did this as part of thier PT test. Basiclly, an arm hang is when you have the person grab the bar and pull up so their chin is above the bar and let them stay there.

I would assist them with by holding their legs ect.

Most of my female clients can do at least 5 pull-ups now. I make sure they can do one. I think its one of the most functional exercise one can do male or female.

In Health,

Silas C.