4 Tips To Improve Your Pull Ups

So, you want to do more pull ups huh? Or maybe you just want to be able to do ONE. I don’t blame you, because pull ups are badass.

Not only are they badass, but they are fully functional should you ever find yourself running from a rabid dog or say… a pack of zombies. If you can’t pull yourself up and over a wall or fence, those zombies dogs will get you every time.

Needless to say, not only are pull ups a great test of upper body strength, they’re also an excellent life skill. And although the ever popular kipping pull-ups from Cross Fit can be equally as functional in times of danger, what I’m talking about here are true, dead hang pull ups.

None of that “use your whole body for momentum” crap. (Sorry Cross-fitters)

I have had several readers send me questions on pull ups, and how I have been able to increase mine. The answer is really more simple than people think: Do More Pull-ups.

“But how can I do more pull ups if I can’t even do one yet?” you might be asking. Last summer, I could do 2 unassisted chin ups and zero unassisted pull ups. Now I am up to 8 chin-ups and 3  conventional pull ups. The methods I used are listed below, and these are methods that can be helpful to anyone looking to increase their pull ups/chin ups. I’m still working on mine, and I still include these methods in my workouts, although I’ve had to take a slight hiatus lately because of my decreased grip. I’ll be back at it soon though, and hoping to get to 10 chin ups and 5 pull ups by the end of this summer!

Bands – Resistance/Assistance bands should be your best friend, especially if you can’t do at least one pull up on your own. You can buy a heavy duty band, hook it up to a pull up bar, and you’ve got everything you really need to begin your path to pull up domination.  How to use them: Loop the band around a pull up bar. Put either one knee, both knees, or your feet in the band and pull away. Make sure to keep your core engaged, control any excess swinging from the band, and lift yourself in a controlled motion bringing your chest toward the bar.  Variations: Holding your position at various points will help your body to build strength at various points in your lift. Try holding at your top position for 1-2 seconds before lowering, making sure to really engage the lats. When to include them: Bands can be used at any time! They are a valuable tool for those who can’t yet do a pull up, but they’re also a valuable tool for those who can already do pull ups, but want to work on increasing reps, or strengthening a weak point in their lift.


Here’s me doing some assisted chin-ups last summer. I have one knee through the band, as that’s most comfortable for me. 

Negatives: Pull up negatives are devils in disguise. The idea of them sounds quite easy, but the execution is far from simple. To perform a pull up negative, jump up into your top  position, hold for a second, and then lower your self very slowly to the bottom dead-hang position. How to use them: When I say lower slowly, I’m talking anywhere from 4-8 seconds to lower all the way to your dead-hang position. The key is to keep your lats and upper back engaged without letting your shoulders creep up around your ears. This should be a very controlled motion, and when done correctly, should either leave you wimpering, nauseous, or curled up on the floor begging for mercy. When to include them: Negatives are great on their own or as a way to finish out a set. Try doing them on their own with 3 sets of 8 nice slow reps. Or you could do what I do, and finish out my sets to my goal rep range. For instance, it’s my goal to do sets of 8 neutral grip pull ups. When I’m at the gym, I’ll do as many unassisted neutral grip pull ups as I can, which at this point is 4. I’ll then finish out the set with 4 negatives, to end up at 8. The next set, I may only hit 3 full pull ups, so I’ll finish that set out with 5 negatives, and so on.

Repetition – If there is one thing that will help you be able to do more pull ups, it’s doing more pull ups. If you want to increase your reps, you have to be doing them more than once per week. If you’re doing 3 sets of 3 once per week, it’s going to be damn near impossible to add more reps without a little magic. If you’re mixing in high reps with the bands, sets with negatives, and just plain old hopping on the bar whenever you get a chance, you better believe you’ll increase your reps! I can’t stress this enough: more reps will lead to more reps. It’s really pretty simple.

Accessory Work- To be able to do more pull ups, not only do you need to up your reps, but you also need to get stronger in all of the right places.  Your Lattissimus Dorsi (or Lats, or bat wings) is the prime mover in a pull-up, along with a smaller muscle called the Teres Major. You get significant help from other muscles such as biceps, triceps, trapezius, pecs, and others throughout the movement as well, depending on your hand position.  Rowing motions will help to strengthen your back musculature, as well as the accessory muscles in your arms and will be the most beneficial. Including inverted rows, or “let me ups” in your programming  is a great way to get yourself used to lifting your own body weight.  These will also help you increase your grip strength on the barbell (which will transfer to the pull up bar).

Bonus Note: If you really want to increase or improve your pull ups, your first order of business needs to be buying a pull up bar. Having a bar in your house will allow you to work on your pull ups all the time, not just when you’re at the gym. Plus, when it’s staring you in the face day in and day out, it’s harder to ignore and avoid it! 

Now get out there and do some pull ups!  Do you have any other tips for increasing your reps on this badass lift?

12 thoughts on “4 Tips To Improve Your Pull Ups

  1. I’m going to attempt pull ups tomorrow, and I’m absolutely dreading it. Before my accident I was at 4, but I can’t even see myself getting one at this stage!! Thankfully, I’ve taught myself to improve once before (negatives and daily reps for the win!) so it shouldn’t be too difficult this time around. I want to install a pull up bar in my house but something tells me my landlord wouldn’t approve…

    1. My husband and I got an Iron Gym total upper body workout bar. It wedges above the door frame and doesn’t need to be screwed into the door frame or anything. It can easily be taken off and put back up. It is really stable and it is easy to get a couple parts at home depot to adjust the width if your door is wider than a regular door. We love it and there’s no reason your landlord would complain! (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001EJMS6K/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B001EJMS6K&linkCode=as2&tag=acvwilsonme-20)

      1. Thank you!!!! I always thought those things needed to be screwed in. I’m seriously surprised that it could hold my weight without falling – I’m ordering one right now 😀

    2. Yay I’m so excited for you that you’re back to lifting!! You’ll get those pull ups back before you know it, especially cause you worked so hard for them in the past. Negatives will just have to be your best friend for a little while! And yes I agree with the commenter below — our pull up bar doesn’t screw into the wall either. I Highly recommend one!!

  2. This is awesome! I was just telling my husband yesterday that I wanted to start trying to do pull-ups – these tips are a great help. Thanks!

    1. Awesome, I hope these help! The bands are a great place to start, to really get your muscles firing in the correct patterns. Good luck!!

  3. i’ve just recently decided to make pull-ups my new mission! i can do 4 parallel-grip, but conventional grip are way harder for me. i never thought of doing negatives, i’ll definitely add them in!

    1. Conventional grip are way harder for me too, hence why I’m only up to 2 on a good day! Negatives have really made a HUGE difference for me. There was only so much progress I could make with the bands, but once I added negatives in I started seeing some great progress. Good luck!

  4. I’m so happy I stumbled upon this! One of my goals for 2014 is to be able to do a pull-up, so thank you! I am totally guilty of the whole repetition thing. Pounding out a few with a band once a week is NOT going to get me where I want to be!

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