Gymnasts have long been darlings of the Olympics. They captivate us with the power, grace, precision, strength, awareness and body control…
“I CAN’T do a pull-up!”
Does this comment resonate with you? Well, you are not alone. In my opinion, there are three big reasons most females (and some males) have a hard time doing pull-ups:
First, you have listened to someone tell you that you can’t.
Second, you have convinced yourself that you can’t!
Third—and probably the only real reason you cannot currently do pull-ups—is that you are not training them regularly enough or not training them properly.
We have been hearing that women can’t do pull-ups—and all the “reasons” why—for far too many years, but that is a myth!
More and more women are catching on to the importance of strength training, and getting excited about proving this myth wrong. In October 2012, the New York Times started a ruckus by publishing an article titled “Why Women Can’t Do Pull-Ups!”
I was in your shoes for many years and believed this to be true until I dove seriously into strength training. I actually achieved my first unassisted pull-up by accident in June 2008. I was at the gym and a friend swore that I could do a pull-up. I said, “Look, see I can’t even do one”, all while jumping up, getting on the bar and knocking out my first pull-up in shock!
I was completely astonished and truly believe the only reason I achieved it that day was because I had gotten strong and lean. (To be clear, you don’t have to be lean to be able to do a pull-up, but common sense tells us that the lighter you are, the easier a pull-up might be.) I had been doing kettlebell training for a year at that point and was the strongest and leanest I had ever been.
When training with kettlebells, the military press in particular, we use an active negative by pulling the bell back down after each press (mimicking the pull-up movement) to increase back strength.
We also use planks to build core strength, plus the top of many kettlebells moves finish in a standing plank. These moves teach full body tension and strength. Guess what happens next?
I believed that I could do them, I became addicted, and I began to train them regularly.
I also began adding more pull-up training in for my students. I began testing many drills and progressions with them and tracked which struggles I saw the most and which progressions worked the best.
Remember, if you want to do pull-ups you must practice them often!
You cannot expect to get a pull-up if you are not strength training or never get on a pull-up bar.
An added bonus is that pull-ups are one of the quickest ways to change your body composition. You will get a nice strong defined back and shoulders, while also defining your whole body if you are doing proper pull-ups.
I use the following progressions to fix the above listed problems and gain strength to obtain your first pull-up, increase your current pull-up numbers, or to advance to weighted pull-ups.
Before we get into the specific exercises to help your pull-up, it’s important to understand the difference between a pull-up and a chin-up. Here is a video demonstration I put together of each.
As you can see, in a pull-up the palms face away from the body, whereas in a chin-up the palms face towards the body.
NOTE: Each of these progressions will be discussed in the brief video at the end of this article.
For a FULL instructional video of all 10 Exercises to Improve Your Pull-ups, watch this video to see demonstrations from Coach Karen.
After training many students and testing many drills I have found that on average if a female works up to a 30 to 45 second flex arm hang that she normally can do at least one chin-up. Once she has at least one chin-up, I would have her start “GTG training” (greasing the groove) daily with chin-ups. After she has multiple chin-ups, I would then add training ladders into her program.
For example: 3 chin-ups, 2 chin-ups, 1 chin-up. Rest and repeat.
Once she achieves three chins-ups she will normally have one pull-up. At that point I would either have her train GTG pull-ups until she has multiple reps, or add the pull-up into the ladder.
For example: 3 chin-ups, 2 chins-ups, 1 pull-up. Rest and repeat.
At Girls Gone Strong, we want you to feel confident knowing that what you’re doing to look good, feel good, and feel healthy and strong are not only based on tested, reliable, and safe information from trustworthy sources, but that it is also effective and efficient.
That’s why we developed our flagship training system, The Modern Woman’s Guide To Strength Training (AND IT’S ON SALE RIGHT NOW! UP TO 40% OFF!)