T Nation

I Want To Do a Pull-Up!


Hi all,

I want to be able to do an unassisted pull-up. What is the best way to train for this sort of strength gain? 5x5 cable pull-downs? Negative reps every other day? Something else? TIA!!


The most similar exercise is probably a lat pull down. You probably know that lats and biceps are the muscles needed to do a pullup, so any exercise that would train those would help. I had the same goal a little while ago and lat pulldowns are my favorite exercise now.


it doesn't seem that long ago that I could barely do one. Now I'm doing them w/ extra wt. hanging off me. i didn't employ any specific strategy. i just know i got stronger all over. pullups employ so many muscles, i would imagine bringing up your upper back, biceps, forearms, grip, and even abs would help. i did alot of heavy grip work, heavy curls, rows, pulldowns, face pulls.

also just hanging from the bar for as long as possible will strengthen some of those muscles and prime your body for getting used to hauling your own bodyweight. obviously, if you are over-fat, shredding some unwanted bodyfat and excess weight will help as well.


one of my fortes...5x5 cable pull downs is a start...one of the best ways is static pulls....pull yourself up and hold yourself up as long as you can. Negative reps is also another one. This time pull yourself up and come down as slow as you can....I am assuming you can't do one pull up so you have to assistance in getting yourself up and holding (static) or the negative...

Keep in mind pull ups is different from chin ups....i would recommend doing chin ups (palms facing you) first. The most you should go is shoulder width (for now). I highly recommend going close grip (narrower than shoulder width) when you do the aforementioned routine.

3 times alternating between shoulder width apart and narrower than shoulder width....the reason emphasize the narrower than shoulder width is to strengthen your arms more....I know I'm probably forgetting something if you have any question feel free to PM me.

when you do cable pull downs try to work up to your body weight...if you want a specific program for this (pull ups0 I can write you one...my friend lisa is doing 10 on her own now...


Don't forget to eat "good" protein every 2 to 3 hours ie, egg whites, fish, whey ect. Protein from wheat and oats doesn't count. This is the biggest reason people don't get stronger when training.


You could always buy a #2 or #3 band to get good at assisted chins. Once you get good at assisted chins, graduate up to regular chins.


The band can go around a bent knee

or around your foot with leg straight

That allows you to use lighter of heavier bands.


The only problem with any kind of cable machine is that you have a resting inertia of all the cabling pulleys to overcome anytime you want to get the weight moving. What this means is you have to lighten up your load to compensate for friction in the mechanism.

This isn't such a big deal on the positive part of the lift because the friction makes a resistance to pull against but on the negative part of the lift where you are always stronger you are dealing with a reduced load because you are no longer fighting friction. So what you end up with is the opposite of what you want.

Pullups are the best way to go. Try assisted pullups. What you do is have a partner stand behind you and place their hand on either side of your waist and help you up to the bar, then all they have to do is push forwards and up on your back. This will lighten your load so you can complete a rep and it will also put you into a better position to work the back.

Another thing you can do is when you get to the top position hold it for a second or two then slowly lower yourself and emphasize the negative, also your partner can give less help on the negative making that more effective.


Wow, thanks for all the great tips!

Can anyone recommend how many days/week I should do negatives and/or pull-downs?


I like to do them twice a week. Sometimes I'll hit them 3 times a week if I'm feeling strong. That is probably too much though.


I almost never leave the gym without doing at least one set of chins.

And if you're running after a goal, you should probably be working on that goal every day, or close to it. If you want to get good at basketball, shoot hoops, if you want to get faster, run, and if you want to do pullups...

That being said, I'd recommend alternating between assisted pullups and negatives, every other day.

When I was in my "I want to do a pullup" phase, I did one set of assisted pullups on 'A' days, and one set of negatives on 'B' days, in addition to whatever else I was doing that day.

I don't know if this applies to you, but losing 30 pounds also helped a lot.


Ok, I just looked at your profile, and since you're clocking in at 130 pounds, please do not lose 30 of them.


One of the issues with "starting out" is that volume can be very low. If you can only do 1, and only once or twice, you aren't getting much volume!

If you do get a lot of volume, via negative reps say, you have to "respect" the effort that negative reps entail. You'll want to make sure you are strong enough to control your negative reps. Maybe read up on negative reps, if you haven't done any before, before just throwing them in.

If you are stuck with the pulldown, and haven't been doing much pulling work, do a week or two of fairly high rep work to start out. Maybe a couple sets of 10-15 reps with as much as you can manage. Your grip, your biceps, your shoulders and your back could all be very untrained to start out.

Once you've given your body fair warning, bring in the lower rep sets, perhaps alternating between them, such as high rep set monday, low rep sets wednesday, etc... until you can handle negative reps. As soon as you can, switch to the real thing for strength days. You can do a lot of sets of one pullup if needed.

A lot of "ifs" in all of that, but I don't know where you or your pulling training currently is or what equipment you have access to.

Oh yeah, you'll probably want to work these at the beginning of your workout, after your warmup.


I remember in high school I couldn't do a pull-up, what I did to get better was to get a pull-up bar. I put it up in a doorway in my house and just tried to do a pull-up every time I went through that door. Just pulled myself up as far as I could a few times. Didn't really worry about trying to do any specific exercises, but I was able to do 5 before too long.