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Trouble Doing Pull-Ups

About 10 years ago I was lucky to be able to do 4 or 5 chins or pull-ups with palms facing me with narrow grip. Recently I have been trying to do just one chin and can’t get close to the bar. I have always sucked at chins! My chin bar has a palms facing each other grip about like a mustache bar. I’ve been trying about 3 or 4 positive efforts and 3 negative 30 second descends . Any suggestions ( other than lose weight ha ha ) on a better routine to get me up to the bar for one or two reps ?

Hate to say it, but dropping some weight will help. (At least it did for me…)

Can you do an isometric hold at the top position? If so, try holding a contraction at the top before doing the negative, and then work on extending that hold.

Most of the programs that I’ve seen on the internet for increasing pullup numbers involve accumulating a lot of volume with not-to-failure sets. That’s not really the HIT way, but that is a common recommendation. Since you can’t do a full range pullup, maybe you could built up some volume doing lat pull downs with less than body weight. If you don’t have one of those machines, maybe buy one of those pull up assistance bands and try to build up volume that way. Main risk is that you give yourself an elbow tendonitis.

When I could do 4 or 5 reps I weighed about the same. I used to do tons of pull downs and I remember thinking I’d be pretty good at pull-ups but they didn’t seem to help at all. Early on I did lots of dumbell rows , seated rows , pullovers and pull downs . I looked fairly muscular compared to someone who didn’t workout and then one day I was standing there after a workout and a friend commented that I had no lats. He was right, my lats sucked. No matter what I did after that for years it seemed I still had no lats. Of course now at 68 it’s to late to build them up but I got nothing to lose trying!

I’m the same age as you. When I was a young lad, and pretty skinny (140lbs) I could do about 15 pullups, without having trained much for it. By my 50’s, at 170 lbs, I could get about 9 or 10. At 68, and 170 lbs, I can get 6 or 7. I haven’t tried doing the high volume thing, because it would almost certainly cause me elbow problems. Lacking that option, I just settle for what I can get, and hope that by the time I’m 85, I can still get a couple.

Maybe you just aren’t built to do pullups. If you’ve never had lats, you aren’t going to suddenly get them now.

I did read recently (Bill DeSimone?) that exercises like dumbbell rows aren’t all that effective for the lats, they are more for the mid back. So maybe focus mostly on pulldowns and pullovers? At one point Dan John recommended ab wheel rollouts as an assistance exercise for pullups. Can’t remember the reasoning, but you might be able to find the article via google.

Just for perspective: I’ve always sucked at overhead presses, and have never been able to build up my delts very much. Pretty sure those two things are connected. I’ve given up on the idea that that will ever change. I settle for what I can maintain.

I go through these spurts of muscle building interest for a few months like I am with the pull-ups and then when I don’t make much progress I move onto some other interest like building my triceps and back and forth, ha ha. When I workout I never have thought much about making actual gains. I wouldn’t know what to do with a real gain if it hit me in the head , hah hah ! I just workout because I love the feel of pumped up muscles and seeing that I can still lift what I used to or a tad more which gives me a little confidence .I love pushing myself as much as possible on an exercise, it’s a great feeling whether I get stronger or not. Every now and then when I’ve stuck to working out for 4 or 5 months or so consistently I may move the pin up for a little more weight on a machine but something always comes along that distracts me from working out for a while and then I’m back to square one right away. I’m a terrible example of consistency but other things in life ( believe it or not, ha ha) are really more important than building muscle.

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Is there a particular part of the movement where you always fail ?
If so you could practice doing 15 second reps in that particular third, and see if that helps.
Otherwise, as you so rightly say , what does it really matter and just do some Pulldowns instead !


I usually fail about 3/4 of the way up. I’ll try what you suggest. I’m just interested to see if or how long it might take me to get back to a few reps of pull-ups . On other exercises I can generally get back to the same weight I previously used after a layoff pretty quick but not with pull-ups .

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In high school I weighed around 165 at 5’9”. Since I was pretty muscular the wrestling coach wanted me to go out for the team but I foolishly didn’t join because it might effect my bodybuilding aspirations. As Arnold would say “big mistake”! There was this wrestler who could do 35 behind the neck chins like nothing but he weighed about 115 and had stick legs and a very muscular upper body. I never usually did chins but when I tried them I could only do about 5. After seeing that kid do 35 reps I think I gave up on chins and stuck to pull downs which I found didn’t help me with chins.

Jeff Cavalier claimed keeping keeping your body in a perfectly straight line ( no bending the knees or at the waist while struggling for a rep ) would get you a couple more reps and for me that worked … first time I paid attention to keeping my legs straight I got two more reps.

More good advice came fro Turpin. I mentioned that I was doing a set of 10-12 reps to failure but no matter what , a second set would never result in more than two or three reps. His suggestion was since I could do 12 reps in one set, to do multiple sets of 4 or 5 and avoid failure. That worked very well too … hardest part of that was making myself stop short of failure.

My goal has been to get three sets of 7 with my usual 20 seconds between sets. I’m currently stuck at 7,7 and 6 but I’ll eventually get it.

Also for me a parallel grip or one like you describe is my strongest position. Supinate grip hurts my right elbow and palms away I’m weak as hell .

Best in your training :+1:

Have you tried weightlifting wrist straps? I do lots of pull ups and Chin ups…when I use the weightlifting wrist straps I can get a few extra reps as compared to without the straps

I think I can hold on long enough for at least 2 reps if I could do 2 . Years ago I tried straps for something I was doing, maybe I’ll try them again? Thanks.

Average Al,
It probably was Bill DeSimone that you read. He does however recommend inverted bodyweight rows as being good for the lats.It seems because the hardest part of the inverted row is the start, where the lats are in their strongest position, it matches the strength curve nicely for all the musculature involved, unlike a normal barbell / dumbbell rowing movement. As you row yourself up to a more vertical position, the lats become weaker at the same time as the row becomes easier. It seems more congruent than a barbell row. You can progress on those by starting at a high incline and progressing to becoming more horizontal over time.
It seems to me that we all have our strengths and weaknesses in terms of strength and / or hypertrophy. It is the rare person that does not possess what we mere mortals would consider weaknesses. Genetics are practically everything. All you can do is train and let the cards fall where they may. No “tweaking” or “focus” will do much to change what God or nature has left out in my opinion.

Inverted rows!! Now that’s something I’ve never tried!! Wow, I can’t wait to try them! Thanks!!

I was doing inverted rows on my thick dipping bars
when this Covid bullshit began and the gyms closed. Before I started them I wondered how I was going to add weight go make them hard enough.

I didn’t have to be concerned as they were plenty hard enough following TBDL’s. I couldn’t believe how difficult they were with such a short range of motion and only bodyweight.

Brian Johnson told me about these on the old forum when I asked for advice about pull ups but never gave them an honest try until I was stuck at home to train. It’s a great exercise.

If we’re talking carryover to pullups, you’re gonna have to do pullups. Inverted rows are a great exercise - especially as a finisher, but don’t expect much carryover. The best way to be able to do lots of pullups is to do lots of pullups. Grease the groove, whatever you wanna call it, there’s an adaptation that your body needs to go to in order to feel accustomed to pulling your weight up vertically.
Pick a number, and do that many pullups every day for a couple weeks. Take time off as needed, rotate grips as needed. Start with something like 10-15 per day if you want. The goal is to be able to do it in as few sets as possible, but if you need to spread it out and do one per hour to get 10 pullups in a day, then do that. There’s absolutely nothing special about being able to do more pullups, and no reason you can’t.
In the Marines we all had to do pullups, and from all different walks of life and all different body types, we all were doing lots of pullups eventually, because we all had to do a lot of pullups - it wasn’t an option. Try not giving yourself so many other options, and you’ll be able to do more pullups.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, if you are worried strictly about developing your back, there are plenty of other (and possibly better) ways to do that. I’m just answering the original question.


That Dan John article I was thinking about can be found on T-Nation. Might find it interesting: https://www.t-nation.com/workouts/how-to-increase-your-pull-up-power

I’ve often thought of how the marines train in relation to pull-ups and I’m sure they don’t allow the soldiers to take time to recover from a workout like we do. Oh sorry sarge , I need a few days to recover, ha ha. I’m just guessing as you say they do it practically every day and yet they don’t self destruct. If I recall correctly years ago I started a routine where I did some every day but can’t remember why I stopped? Anybody else have a thought on this? I’ve heard weight lifters sometimes train every day and they get stronger? Maybe I’ll give it a shot.

When you are 19, you can abuse your body and get away with it. At 68, not so much.

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Have you tried negative chins only

I straight up missed that the guy was 68. I wouldn’t worry that much about needing to do pull-ups in general at that age, not that it can’t be done.