4 Weeks to Your First Pull-Up

first pull-upIn 3 Steps to Your First Pull-up, we covered three key areas that need developing in order to get that first pull-up. Today, I will go into more specifics and give you a sample 4-week plan that you can follow. Although I’m a strong believer in tailored programs for maximum effectiveness, I realize that not everyone has the access or know-how. This plan serves as best of a happy medium that can be provided short of a tailored program.

The Plan: 4 Weeks to Your First Pull-up


This program can be followed in addition to another strength protocol. In fact, it’s recommended. Although this plan focuses exclusively on the movements you need to develop the pull-up, you should also be strengthening your entire body. It all translates in the end to better movements, including the pull-up. At the end of the day, the below template is not meant to be a stand-alone strength program, but a supplement.

This program is meant to be followed consistently. You will NOT get the same effect by only doing a day here and there.

Perform your main barbell movement of the day first; then the pull-ups, followed by the back and rear delt accessory work.

You don’t have to perform this program on Monday & Thursday, but it must be on days that are three days apart, for maximum recovery.

Whatever weight you use for each exercise, make sure it is enough for you to feel very challenged for those last 3 reps or so. You must challenge yourself if you want to see progress. Don’t be afraid to increase the weight a little with each time you perform a given exercise too.

Pull-up technique: this program is designed to improve the overhand dead-hang pull-up, although it will improve the chin-up as well. During the pull-up portion of this program, I recommend utilizing the overhand and/or the neutral grip. Heck, mix it up if you want.  Lock the elbows out at the bottom of the pull-up and pull until your chin clears the bar.  Focus on pulling with maximum force for each rep, don’t try to lolly gag it up to the bar. Mean business when you pull.

The Equipment You’ll Need for this Program:

If you attend a commercial gym, you should have access to most of the equipment needed. If you train at a CrossFit gym or at home, you will probably not have access to everything listed here. If you fall into the latter category, email me or comment below and let me know your equipment circumstances. I will give you some other examples you can use in place of the equipment listed below.

Stable Pull-up Bar

Make sure you have access to a solid Pull-up bar. Door gyms can be a bit sketch. Most gyms should have a good pull-up bar. If not, I’d definitely find another gym.
Resistance Bands

Get one red and one purple at a minimum (highly recommend these Jump Stretch FlexBand, this is the kind I personally own).  If your gym doesn’t have any, definitely get some of your own.

Seated Lat Row Machine
seated lat row

Like the machine to the left, you want to get a machine that is preferably weight plate loaded and that lets you load individual weight plates for each hand. That way, each side has to carry its weight, instead of your more dominant side trying to take over for everything. I prefer to use the neutral grip for this kind of machine (palm of hand perpendicular to the ground). This machine is great for training your back to move heavy weight. Make sure to squeeze you shoulder blades together at the top of the movement and to get your elbows as far behind your body as possible.

T-Bar Row

t-bar row for pullups This is a phenomenal piece of equipment that is very challenging for the back as well.  Load plates on the front and squeeze your shoulder blades at the top of the movement. Get your elbows back behind the body as far as possible for each rep. Also a great piece of gear to train your back to lift heavy loads.

Gymnast Rings or TRX

gymnast rings for pullups

These rings are inexpensive and are increasingly being found at most gyms, especially CrossFit gyms. If you don’t have access, you can also use TRX bands. Rogue Fitness makes some really great rings.

Cable Complex
lat pullThis is not a vital piece of equipment, but it’s nice to have and it’s found at pretty much every single gym.

Sled with a long rope attached

sled drags for pullups

A great piece of gear that’s inexpensive. It doesn’t have to be a fancy sled, just something you can load some weight onto and attach a rope to.

Weight Plates: self explanatory.

A note about resistance bands and gymnast rings: these are a great investment that every person should be able to make on their own, if you don’t have access to them. They’re inexpensive and you can find a multitude of uses for them again and again and they’ll last you for years. I use my bands pretty much every single day for something.

Without Further ado, here is the 4-Week Program to your first pull-up:

Week 1:

-Band Assisted Pull-ups : 8×2 @ just enough band assistance to get 2 reps at a time. Note: do not listen to the advice in the linked video on repetitions, follow the reps in this plan instead.
-Seated lat row: 4×10 @ moderate weight. Should feel very challenging the last 2-3 reps.
-Band pull-aparts: 4×20 @ red or purple band, whichever you can successfully complete the 20 reps with. Should also feel challenging those last 3-4 reps.

-Band Assisted Pull-ups: 8×2 @ same band assistance as Monday.
-Ring Rows: 4×8 @ body weight. If possible, perform these with your body parallel and feet on a box. If you cannot do that right now, place your feet on the ground. These examples are included in the linked video.
-Band Face-pulls: 4×20 @ purple band

Week 2:

-Band Assisted Pull-ups: 8×2 @ same assistance as last week.
-T-Bar Row: 4×12 @ moderate weight. Should feel very challenging the last 2-4 reps, really push yourself!
-Band or Cable Rear-Delt Rotations: 4×15 at very light resistance (it doesn’t take much for the rear delts. BUT you should still feel a burn through the back of your shoulder for the last 4 reps).

-Band Assisted Pull-ups: 10×2 @ same assistance as Monday.
-Sled Drag Pulls: 4×15-20 yard drags with moderate weight (you should be able to pull the sled along with consecutive pulls, but it should feel challenging by the end of the set)
-Band Pull-aparts: 4×20 @ red or purple bands

Week 3:

-Band Assisted Pull-ups: 8×2 @ decrease band assistance from last week.
-Lat Pull-downs: 4×8 @ heavy-ish weight (should be very challenging, yet still be able to string reps together)
-Band Face-pulls: 4×20 @ purple band

-Attempt pull-up, even if you have to kip a little*. If you can at least get a kipping pull-up, then do 4x max pull-ups with a slight kip. Rest a minute or two between sets.
-Seated lat row: 4×14 @ moderate weight. Push yourself, add on a little more weight than when you last performed this exercise in Week 1.
-Ring Rows: 4x max reps.

Week 4:

-Band Assisted Pull-ups: 8×2 @ decrease band assistance further, if possible. If not, stick with the same band strength.
-T-Bar Row: 4×12 @ moderate weight. Should feel very challenging those last few reps. Increase your weight slightly from when you last performed this exercise in Week 2.
-Band or Cable Rear-Delt Rotations: 4×15 @ light weight.

-Attempt pull-up, even if you have to kip a little*. If you can at least get a kipping pull-up, then do 4x max pull-ups with a slight kip.  Rest a minute or two between sets.
-Sled Drag Pulls: 4×15-20 yard drags. Increase your weight at least 10-20 pounds from the last time you performed this exercise.
-Band Face-pulls: 4×20 @ purple band.

Monday of Week 5:

Test your dead-hang pull-up and see what happens! Do this first thing in your workout.

*Note: by kipping, I don’t mean a big wild swing up to the top of the bar. No CrossFit style kipping pull-ups either, that isn’t the point here. By kip, I mean a slight knee/hip jerk action to assist you to the top a little.

I hope this helps those of you out who want to get your first pull-up and don’t want to wait forever and a day to do it. Let me know if you have any questions and let me know your results!


About courtlgreen

I'm an athlete, consultant, and a writer for the blog Ice Runner Strength in addition to blogging for Huffington Post Healthy Living. I love to write about and help people with strength training, fitness, athletic performance, and nutrition. I'm also a former Marine, Afghanistan veteran and a University of Alabama alum (Roll Tide!). I'm always doing something interesting and try my best to live life to the fullest extent possible!

Posted on October 12, 2013, in Barbell/Strength Programs, Women's Strength Training. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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