icon-account icon-glass

Join the community!

We'll keep you up to date with interesting news, product information and offers so you never miss out.

No boring newsletters and we'll never share your address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Popular Products

The Lean Protein
Whey protein powder for weight-loss.
The Energy Booster
Pre/intra-workout powder with BCAAs.
The Glow Booster
Collagen supplement for skin.

How to Master The Pull Up

25th February 2021

25th February 2021

By Shivraj Bassi

If you’ve ever tried to pull yourself over a wall, out of a swimming pool or tried out the monkey bars in your local bar and failed massively, you don’t need us to tell you how hard pull-ups are. They’re one of the toughest bodyweight exercises out there, placing huge demands on your arms, shoulders and back. Your own bodyweight works against you here - the heavier you are, the more weight you’ll need to lift. 

However, it’s worth mastering this tricky move. It’s an incredible way to improve your core strength, and as it works out your entire upper body, it’s a relatively simple way to target all those upper body muscles you want to focus on. Even better, pull-ups require nothing other than you and a bar above your head, so it’s easy to practise at home with a pull-up bar or at an outside gym. 

This move targets your rhomboids, traps and lats. If you’ve never tried it before, this is our guide to pull-ups for beginners. We’ll walk you through pull-up technique and show you how to master this notorious upper body exercise even if at the moment all you can do is hang limply from the bar, your arms screaming in pain. 

Why are pull-ups a great upper body workout?

This exercise is a true test of upper body strength. Plus, it’s one of very few moves that works both your biceps and your back at the same time. If you can get the hang of how to do a pull-up and get a good pull-up technique down, you’ll know that your upper body strength is in tip-top shape. Plus, it’s great for impressing that person you’ve had your eye on at the gym. 

Photo by Larry Crayton on Unsplash

Pull-ups for beginners

This is one of those exercises where every rep counts. A good indicator to look at is the Potential Royal Marine Course, a course designed to assess a candidate's suitability for entry into the Royal Marines. To be considered, you have to be able to do three full pull-ups, with 16 reps snagging you the maximum number of points available. Even if you’re not quite at the level of applying to such an elite organisation (or you’re fine in your office job but just want to know you could apply if you wanted to), this is a good baseline to aim for. 

A person in good shape should be able to do six slow, controlled pull-ups. Once you’ve mastered that, you can start looking at variations and adding ankle or belt weights to keep yourself challenged. 

What if I can’t do any pull-ups?

Firstly, this is a no-judgement zone, and know that this is a hard exercise to master. Concentrate on building up the strength in your arms and shoulder (we have some great exercises for this here and a few more here if you need some inspo). You can also try doing some lat pull-downs and other similar reps to build your endurance. 

It’s also crucial to work out your back muscles for this upper body exercise. Exercises such as bodyweight rows and dumbbell rows will help with this. It’s worth noting that your gym may well have a special machine for helping people master the pull up, with a platform you kneel on that raises you up a certain amount depending on what weight you set it to. Resistance bands can also be useful tools here - try placing your foot or knee in one to take some of the pressure off of your upper body.

To begin perfecting your pull-up technique, start by holding yourself in a dead hang as long as possible. Don’t even try to pull yourself up - it’s all about getting used to the movement you’re trying to achieve. 

For a version of the exercise perfect for pull-ups for beginners, try ‘eccentric’ pull-ups, where you jump into the top position of the rep and then lower yourself back down as slowly as you can. This isn’t cheating and will help to build up your muscle to master the real thing, so this is a great training exercise. 

How to do a pull-up

  • Firstly, make sure you're fully warmed up. This helps to prevent injuries, lets you know how hard you can push yourself and prepares your nervous system and muscles to perform in the most optimal way. 
  • Jump up and firmly grip the pull-up bar with your hands shoulder width apart, and your palms facing away. Hang there with your arms at their fullest extension. If your feet are dragging on the ground, bend your legs at the knee. 
  • Keeping your core engaged and your shoulder back, slowly pull yourself up to the top of the bar. Keep your mind focused on using all of the muscles available to you in your upper body, as every one of them will help you get to the top. 
  • You should aim to move yourself upwards until your chin reaches a level above the bar. Once that’s achieved, begin to let yourself slowly move downwards until your arms are straight again. 
  • Aim for 10 reps - but don’t be surprised if you can’t get there on your first try. 

Product Spotlight

Need Expert Advice?

Other Insights

Fun Workout Activities for Couples: Strengthen Your Bond While Getting Fit Together!
Beginners Guide to the Gym
Beginner Workout Advice Embarking on a new fitness journey can be both exciting and challenging. To get you motivated, we're here to help you understand the science and benefits of joining your local gym or fitness club and to provide you with a basis for a beginner gym workout plan to help you understand how to start working out in the gym. Benefits of getting started in the gym: Regular exercise has many benefits for both the body and mind. On the physical front, getting started at the gym and completing consistent workouts can contribute to enhanced cardiovascular health, promoting a healthy heart and aids blood circulation. Regular exercise is also great for maintaining a healthy weight, managing muscle tone, and strengthening the skeletal system.The cognitive benefits of regular exercise is equally impressive. Scientifically, physical activity of even just 10-30 minutes can stimulate the release of neurotransmitters such as endorphins, which contribute to an improved mood and reduced stress levels. Exercise is also associated with the growth of new neurons in the brain, fostering enhanced cognitive function, sharper memory, and better overall mental power. A basic beginner workout for the gym: Basic Bag Prep: Double check you’ve packed everything you need for your new gym-venture. Think: water, lock, music, towel. Cardio Warm-up (10 minutes): Start with a brisk walk, jog, or cycling to elevate your heart rate and warm up your muscles. As a little hack, this should be at a pace you still feel comfortable to talk at. Follow this up with some basic dynamic stretches, if your stuck on ideas, there’s some great programmes and YouTube content out there. The worlds your oyster! Resistance Training (20-30minutes): Try an incorporate compound exercises like squats, lunges, and bench presses for a full-body workout. Begin with bodyweight exercises if you're new to resistance training and focus on nailing technique. Cardiovascular Exercise (15 minutes): Engage in activities like running, cycling, or rowing to boost your endurance fitness. Choose activities you enjoy to make it more sustainable, and even pair it up with a new gym playlist to help you enjoy getting a sweat on. Cool Down and Stretching (10 minutes): Conclude your first gym session with some additional stretches to improve flexibility and reduce any muscle soreness you may feel the next day. Focus on major muscle groups and hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds.   Things to remember as a beginner working out in the gym: Nervous is normal: Stepping into a gym for the first time can be nerve-wracking. Understand that it's normal to feel a bit anxious, as you're pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. With consistent effort, confidence will naturally grow.Quality over quantity: This is crucial in fitness. Short, focused workouts can be highly effective. Overtraining can lead to burnout and injury, so prioritize consistency and rest for sustainable progress.Motivation fluctuates for everyone: Acknowledge that it's normal to have off-days. Even a lighter workout is better than none. Remember your initial goals and the positive impact exercise has on your well-being.It's Okay to Fail: Failure is an integral part of growth. If a workout doesn't go as planned, view it as an opportunity to learn and improve. Embrace the challenge, for it is through overcoming failures that true progress is made.Gaining a helping hand: Don't hesitate to ask for help from gym staff or fellow gym-goers. Asking for help is a smart way to learn the correct techniques, making your workouts more effective and reducing the risk of injury. Risk, Reduction, Repeat… Making sure we are keeping ourselves safe in the gym is king, especially when getting the most out of our new regime. Begin each session with a dynamic warm-up to increase blood flow, preparing muscles for activity and reducing injury risk. Prioritise technique over weight, ensuring proper form to prevent strain and reduce the risk of injury. Incrementally increase exercise intensity and duration to avoid overexertion and reduce the risk of injury. Follow a structured program that gradually challenges your fitness level, preventing overtraining, and ask your local personal trainer for what this might potentially look like if you’re unsure. Allow adequate time for rest and recovery to prevent overtraining, reducing the risk of injury. Listen to your body, pay attention to early warning signs, and schedule rest days between intense workouts. Remember, consistency is key. Begin with manageable intensity and gradually progress to more challenging workouts. Always consult a fitness professional or healthcare provider before starting a new exercise program, especially if you have pre-existing health conditions. Enjoy the journey to a healthier, stronger, and sharper you! Read more