Pullup progressions – how to do your first pullup

Who doesn’t want to be able to do a pullup?  They are awesome!  I class the pullup as a Keystone ability…If you can do them, it’s an indicator that you can’t be in that bad a shape!  But they are tough.  You need a good amount of strength.  And not just in your arms, where a lot of people think.  In fact, if you are thinking of the pullup as an arm move, you have already started off on the wrong foot.  Think of it as an upper half of the body move.  So while that does include your arms, it must also include your shoulders, your back and a hell of a lot of your core too.  

So we made a series of videos that take you through some of the steps to help you to do your first pullup.  We take you through various progressively harder exercises.  Each one will take you closer to the ultimate goal of a full pullup.  But don’t forget, pullups are tough to do!  Depending on your starting point, it usually takes plenty of time and practice to grow not only the strength, but also to nail the technique.

So while you work your way through these progressions, practice the “little and often” way of training.  A common mistake people make is to throw themselves into it 110% a couple of times, then either:

  • Get injured
  • Get bored
  • Get disheartened

And then give up.  Don’t be that person!  Instead, I want you to find a progression that you can currently do successfully.  Then practice doing it 1-5 repetitions only.  Don’t do a million reps!  Only 1-5 reps…but I want you to practice it about a dozen times a day.  That is an example of “little and often”.  Think of taking your exercise medicine in lots of small doses, instead of one huge poisonous dose!  After a week or so, try the next progression up, but again, only in lots of small doses of 1-5 reps, about a dozen times a day.

Pulling prep.

So before you even start, we need to talk about your setup.  As with most things in life, the setup can make or break a thing.  And for all these pullup progressions, the pulling preparation is the setup.  Watch the video below where I talk you through it…

Stage 1 – Resistance band rows

Starting with the easiest progression, we have the resistance band row.  It gives us a chance to build strength, but most importantly it gives us a chance to practice and drill home the pulling prep setup.

Stage 2 – Inverted Row

Same principles as the seated band row, but we are actually starting to move the body about now.  You will also start having to switch on and use your “core” to make this work.  Get used to getting some tension throughout your body, because it will come in handy in the future steps…

Stage 3 – Jumping pullups

So far all the progressions have been steady, controlled movements at relatively easy resistance settings.  This is your first chance to have a go at an actual pullup for real.  But with the assistance of your legs, it will be easier than a regular pullup.  But it also runs the risk of it being a lot less controlled.  So as soon as you get your head around the idea of the jump and pull, get used to controlling every aspect of the return move as soon as you can.

Stage 4 – Negative pullups

More work on the control here.  No flailing about or ugly moves.  We make sure your body knows exactly where it wants to be.  This stage is also very important to get strong when our arms are nearly straight.  It’s in these ranges that we are usually weakest.  Take your time and make sure you control your descent all the way down so your arms are straight.  Trust me on this, you won’t regret it later on!

Stage 5 – Band assisted pullups

We are nearly there now!  This stage is where we are putting all the pieces together and actually doing a pullup…only making it slightly easier with the help of the bands.  Now we are basically perfecting our technique and building strength…

Stage 6 – The Pullup!

And we made it!  The final stage!  An actual pullup from a dead hang!  Congratulations!  It’s OK if your first attempt is not the best looking thing in the world.  Because the second time is always better than the first time.  So continue practising little and often, and it will just keep getting better…


So here is a playlist of all the above videos stitched together.  If you know anyone who is working towards a pullup, please share this page or the following playlist with them and tell them good luck!