One of the most important and rewarding exercises is the pull-up.  Add pull-ups to your exercise routine for a stronger grip, a slimmer waist, and more defined back, arm, and shoulder muscles. Plus, mastering pull-ups means you are physically fit enough to enlist, something one in four U.S. men and women are too heavy and unhealthy to do, the CDC continues.

Doing a pull-up without pain takes practice. Build up to it. Use good form. Treat your body with care, so you can continue reaping the benefits of this impactful move. Use these five exercises to learn how to get your first pull-up.


How It’s Done

  • To begin, position your chin above the bar. Use a step or solid object or jump up to get into position.
  • Tighten your core and glutes and tuck your tailbone. Assume a standing plank position.
  • Keep your elbows tucked in by your sides.
  • Hold this position for 3-5 seconds.
  • Maintaining good form, slowly lower yourself down from the bar.

The eccentric or negative pull-up targets your lats, arms, and core muscles, all the same muscles you will ultimately use to do a full pull-up. This variation is suitable for all skill levels.


How It’s Done

  • Use a closed-loop resistance band. Place the band over the top of the bar. Pull one end through the other. When you’re done, there should be a tight loop secured around the bar, and a much longer loop hanging down by your midsection or feet.
  • Pull the resistance band tight. The top should be securely attached to the bar.
  • Put your foot at the bottom of the long loop. Make sure your foot is stable.
  • Place your hands on the bar with a wide grip, slightly wider than your shoulders.
  • With your core and glutes tightened and elbows tucked, pull yourself up to the bar.
  • Pull until your chin is above the bar. Briefly hold this position.
  • Slowly lower yourself into starting position, maintaining good form.

Repeat at least 10 times with proper technique and form before swapping out the band for one with less assistance. Do banded pull-ups to work your lats, arms, upper traps, serratus, biceps, and forearms. Once again, this exercise builds the strength you need to do a full pull-up when you are ready. It is a great way to get your body and muscles familiar with the proper form required for your first pull-up.


How It’s Done

  • This exercise requires an assisted pull-up machine or a lower bar with rig attachment to complete.
  • For pull-up machine
    • Kneel on the cushioned platform. Adjust to your desired amount of weight. The more weight you add, the easier the assisted pull-up.
    • Grab the handles or bar with an overhand grip. Begin with your arms completely straight.
  • For low bar attached to rig
    • Kneel on the floor with backside resting against your legs. Adjust bar overhead to fit arms so that arms are fully extended.
    • Grab the handles or bar with an overhand grip.
  • With your core and glutes engaged, pull yourself up until your chin is above the handles on each side.
  • Slowly lower down into starting position, maintaining good form and control.

Kneeling pull-ups target your forearms, biceps, and lats. The machine helps support your bodyweight giving you the opportunity to build foundational strength for a full, unassisted pull-up.


How It’s Done

  • Stand squarely facing the lat-pulldown machine. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Using a cable stack, attached desired weight or use bands and a PVC pipe to simulate this movement.
  • Take hold of the lat-pulldown bar with an overhand grip. Use a wide grip.
  • Start with the bar at shoulder-height, knees bent slightly.
  • Engage your core.
  • Keeping your arms extended and straight, pull the bar down to your thighs.
  • Slowly release to the starting position with control.

This exercise will help you complete your first full pull-up by targeting and strengthening your lat muscles. Strong lat muscles are an important foundation or precursor for a full, unassisted pull-up.


How It’s Done

  • Start in a regular pull-up position with your arms straight and your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  • From a full hang, bring your scapula or shoulder blades down and then together.
  •  Do not bend your elbows. Your body will rise up, but only slightly.
  • To achieve proper form, think of the move as a reverse shrug.
  • Hold your shoulder blades together for a few seconds.
  • Return to the starting position slowly and with control.

Scap pull exercises target your shoulders and scapula, Men’s Health writes. Targeting and isolating these muscles promotes shoulder mobility, drastically decreasing your chances of injury when you move onto a full pull-up.

Still Need Help Getting Your First Pull-Up?

Perform these five exercises to target muscles, promote mobility, and increase foundational strength to prepare for your first pull-up. If you are trying to get that first pull-up, then check out our Zero to First Pull-Up training program! The program is designed to help you get your first pull-up in 6 weeks. Exercises are programmed for 3 days per week to help you achieve your goal as fast as possible!

About the Author

Dr. Andrew Junak is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board-Certified Orthopedic Specialist. Dr. Junak received his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Walsh University and completed his Orthopedic Specialist training at the Cleveland Clinic. He is the owner of Peak Physiotherapy and Performance, a physical therapy clinic in Canal Winchester and Blacklick, Ohio. He serves the local communities of Lancaster, Grove City, Blacklick, Pickerington, and Columbus. Dr. Junak is passionate about helping people solve their problems in order to get them back to doing the things they love.