How To Do Your First Pull Up (in 4 weeks) – Beginner’s Progress Guide

Pull ups are one of the best exercises that you can do for developing back strength and core stability, but what if you’re not strong enough do a pull up yet? What if you’re not sure how to even start towards doing your first pull up?

It can be confusing and even daunting, but that’s where this complete pull up progression guide comes to the rescue!

We’re going to be looking at the step by step process that’ll get you doing pull ups in 4 weeks, even if you can’t manage a single pull up at the moment.

Here’s what this guide contains:

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Why you should be doing pullups

Tips for working towards your first pull up

How to build back strength for pull ups

Step-by-step pull up progression workout plan

Assisted pull ups

Your first pull up!

Common pull up problems and how to solve them

The bottom line about pull ups

 

Why you should be doing pullups

Pull ups might seem like an exercise that’s only good for sports class in high school or if you’re joining the military, but it’s one of the best exercises you can do!

One of the biggest benefits of including pull ups in your workout routine is that it’s developing functional strength.  This means that pull ups develop muscles and movements that can be applied in real life, not just in the gym or for aesthetics.

As with many other bodyweight exercises, pull ups are easy on joints and tendons.  This means it’s a great exercise if you’ve had joint trouble in the past and are worried about causing further injury with other back exercises.

Pull ups are also one of the most effective exercises for growing your back.  There are few exercises that’ll add width to you back as well as pull ups!

Here’s a great comparison photo of Julian Hierro, before and after he focused on growing his back.  His back workout routine includes pull ups for explosive strength and effective mass building.

pull ups benefits growth

Tips for working towards your first pull up

Before we dive right into the specific exercises and routines that are going to help you get your first pullup, we need to look at some other approaches that’ll make the whole process much easier.

Tip 1 – Lose body fat

Pull-ups require you to pull your entire body upwards, which means that the more body fat you’re carrying, the heavier your body is, and the harder it’s going to be to lift yourself up.

This doesn’t mean that you need to lose loads of fat before attempting your first pull up, but getting started on your fat loss process is going to help you a lot.

If you start eating healthy foods, you’ll see your body fat drop, it’s as simple as that.

There’s no need to be on the treadmill for hours a day, just keeping your diet in check is enough at first, and that’ll get you much closer to your goal of achieving your first pull up.

Check out some of our free fat loss resources to get you started:

Find out if you should lose fat or build muscle first here

Watch this video about the basics of fat loss:

Or watch this video about how to set up your own fat loss phase:

Focus on developing your back with pull exercises

This might sound weird, but to get your first pull up, you shouldn’t be doing pull-ups.

The key is to develop enough strength in large back muscles like the lats, as well as smaller stabilizing muscles so that you’ll be able to perform controlled pull-ups with proper form.

Pull exercises are the only way you’re going to get closer to your first pull up, so while you shouldn’t neglect other areas of your body during workouts, you absolutely must focus on pull movements for the back and implement them several times a week.

We’ll look into this in more detail in the step-by-step guide below!

Progress when you feel ready

This progression guide isn’t set in stone!

Although this pull-up progression guide is designed for a recommended period of about 30 days, you might already have some decent back strength, or you might feel yourself gaining a lot of strength in the preparation pull movements.  If this is the case, there’s nothing wrong with giving your first pull up a try.

The same goes for those who are starting with very limited back strength.  If you need an extra week or two beyond the suggested 30 days for this pull-up progress guide, that’s fine!

Just keep on focusing on increasing your back strength with pull exercises, keep your diet in check, and you’ll get there when you’re ready!

How to build back strength for pull-ups

Pull ups strength training

As I mentioned earlier, you shouldn’t be doing pull-ups at first, instead you should be focusing on increasing back strength with other exercises so that when you’re ready for your first pullup, you can do it with perfect form.

Form is very important with pull-ups to avoid injury and maximize gains!

Before looking at specific workouts, let’s talk about the type of movement you should be doing, and how often you should be doing it.

Vertical and horizontal pulling movements

While developing and strengthening your back muscles in preparation for your first pullup, you should be focusing on vertical and horizontal pulling movements.

Vertical movements are when your torso is more or less upright, and your arms are pulling weight downwards.

Examples of common vertical movements are:

Close grip lat pulldown

Standard grip lat pulldown

Wide grip lat pulldown

Parallel grip lat pulldown

Underhand lat pulldown

Horizontal movements are when you’re bent over or seated and pulling the weight towards your body from the direction of your feet.

Examples of common horizontal movements are:

Barbell bent-over rows

Seated cable rows

Single-arm dumbbell rows

Two-arm dumbbell rows

Hammer strength rows

Workout frequency and volume

To do your first pull up in 30 days, you’re going to need to workout for between 12-24 sets a week.

Half of your sets should be vertical movements, and the other half horizontal movements.  Assuming you’re doing just 12 sets a week to start off, 6 of them should be vertical movements and the other 6 should be horizontal movements.

You’ll alternate between two types of workout: One which focuses more on horizontal movements, and one which focuses more on vertical movements.  This lets us vary the rep volume for the different muscles in the back, targeting all the different muscle fibers and therefore maximizing the growth as much as possible.

Here’s what that’ll look like:

Session 1:

Horizontal movement 1 – 7-12 reps

Horizontal movement 2 – 12-15 reps

Vertical movement – 15-25 reps

Session 2:

Vertical movement 1 – 7-12 reps

Vertical movement 2 – 12-15 reps

Horizontal movement – 15-25 reps

How many sets should you do for each exercise?

pull ups how to guide for beginners

Good question! In your first week, do 2 sets for each movement, then increase it to 3 sets in the second week, and Iicrease it again to 4 sets for the third and fourth weeks.

Don’t do more than 4 sets, even if you feel like you could!  Once you can comfortably do 4 sets you just need to increase the weight that you’re lifting.

How much weight should I use?

I can’t tell you in specific numbers how much weight to use, because everyone reading this is going to be able to lift different weights.  What I can tell you is start off light, and if it feels too light, add some weight.  If it feels too heavy, lower the weight a little.

For the first exercise in each session, you’ll be doing just 7-12 reps.  You should be using your heaviest weight here, but you should still be able to complete all reps and sets.

If you feel that you can’t complete the reps and sets with that weight, lower the weight slightly.

For the second exercise in each session, you’ll be doing 12-15 reps.  That means you should be using a moderate weight, and you should be able to complete all reps and sets.

Again, if you feel the weight your using is too heavy, just lower it slightly.

For the third exercise in each session, you’ll be doing 15-25 reps.  This exercise should be done using light weight, allowing you to complete every single rep with good form

Don’t be tempted to go too heavy on this, remember that you have at least 25 reps to complete for 2 sets in week one, 3 sets in week two, and 4 sets in week three and four.

Get enough rest

Remember, resting is just as important as exercising, especially if your back muscles aren’t very strong yet.

 

how to do pull ups rest days

That’s why you should be resting your back muscles for two days between every back session.

So if you start your routine on a Monday, you’ll rest on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then have your next session on Thursday.  If you start on a Wednesday, you’ll then rest on Thursday and Friday, and continue your routine on Saturday.

Rest includes sleeping well (8 hours of sleep a night ideally) and eating right!

Step-by-step pull up progression workout plan

How to pul ups guide pull down

Ok, now we’re ready to get started with some exercise!

As I mentioned earlier, there are dozens of vertical and horizontal exercise movements that can help you build back strength.  We’re going to focus on some of the most popular exercises here, but feel free to choose any one of the exercises that I mentioned above.

I also recommend switching things up a little with different exercises every session.  This’ll help you hit your back muscles differently to iron out any strength imbalances that might exist across the various muscles.

Right, let’s get to it!

We’re going to start on a Monday but remember that this can be started on any day of the week as long as you leave 2 days rest between each session.

Monday week 1

Exercise 1 (vertical) – Standard grip pulldown 7-12 reps, 2 sets

Exercise 2 (vertical) – Underhand pulldown 12-15 reps, 2 sets

Exercise 3 (horizontal) – Seated cable rows 15-25 reps, 2 sets

Tuesday and Wednesday of week 1 are rest days for your back!

Thursday week 1

Exercise 1 (horizontal) – Barbell row 7-12 reps, 2 sets

Exercise 2 (horizontal) – 2 arm dumbbell row 12-15 reps, 2 sets

Exercise 3 (vertical) – Parallel grip pulldown 15-25 reps, 2 sets

That’s week 1 done!

Let’s move on to week 2.  We’ll be doing slightly different exercises here to switch things up, and we’ll be doing 3 sets per exercise instead of 2.

Monday week 2

Exercise 1 (vertical) – Close grip pulldown 7-12 reps, 3 sets

Exercise 2 (vertical) – Parallel pulldown 12-15 reps, 3 sets

Exercise 3 (horizontal) – Barbell row 15-25 reps, 3 sets

Tuesday and Wednesday of week 2 are rest days for your back!

Thursday week 2

Exercise 1 (horizontal) – Seated cable row 7-12 reps, 3 sets

Exercise 2 (horizontal) – Single-arm dumbbell row 12-15 reps, 3 sets

Exercise 3 (vertical) – Wide grip pulldown 15-25 reps, 3 sets

Week 2 complete!

Starting with week 3, you’re doing great!  We’ll be varying the exercises again, but we’re doing 4 sets for each movement instead of 3.

Monday week 3

Exercise 1 (vertical) – Wide grip pulldown 7-12 reps, 4 sets

Exercise 2 (vertical) – Underhand pulldown 12-15 reps, 4 sets

Exercise 3 (horizontal) – Hammer strength row 15-25 reps, 4 sets

Tuesday and Wednesday of week 3 are rest days for your back!

Thursday week 3

Exercise 1 (horizontal) – Barbell row 7-12 reps, 4 sets

Exercise 2 (horizontal) – Two-arm dumbbell row 12-15 reps, 4 sets

Exercise 3 (vertical) – Standard grip pulldown 15-25 reps, 4 sets

You’ve finished week 3!

We’re starting the final week, you’re doing great!  Again, the exercises will be varied, and we’re still doing 4 sets for each movement like last week.  Don’t do more than 4 sets.  If you feel you could do more sets, increase the weight a little.

Monday week 4

Exercise 1 (vertical) – Underhand grip pulldown 7-12 reps, 4 sets

Exercise 2 (vertical) – Wide grip pulldown 12-15 reps, 4 sets

Exercise 3 (horizontal) – Single-arm dumbbell row 15-25 reps, 4 sets

Tuesday and Wednesday of week 3 are rest days for your back!

Thursday week 4

Exercise 1 (horizontal) – Seated cable row 7-12 reps, 4 sets

Exercise 2 (horizontal) – Barbell dumbbell row 12-15 reps, 4 sets

Exercise 3 (vertical) – Close grip pulldown 15-25 reps, 4 sets

Well done, you’ve finished 4 weeks of strength training for your back!

If you feel like you’re struggling significantly to complete all 4 sets in week 4, then add one more week to the routine.  Simply repeat the same reps and sets as in week 4 but vary the exercises slightly while sticking to the vertical/horizontal movements that I mentioned earlier.

This will further build strength in your back, making sure you’re completely ready for your first pull up.

If you can comfortably perform all the exercises and complete all reps and sets in week 4 with proper form, then you’re ready to start doing pull-ups.

Before actually doing a pull up out of nowhere, it’s important that you’re used to the correct movement and form.

That’s where assisted pull-ups come in!

Assisted pull-ups

Assisted pull-ups will help you get used to the movement required to do a proper pull-up.  This makes sure you’re not doing any weird pull up variants with bad form, like those CrossFit pull-ups that are dangerous and look ridiculous.

Lots of gyms have an assisted pull up machine, which is a good option if you have it.  Here’s how to use one of those:

If you don’t have access to an assisted pull up machine, don’t worry!  Here are some great alternatives for assisted pull-ups.

Chair assisted pull-up

For chair assisted pull-ups, use either one or two legs to support your body weight, but use as much as your upper body strength as possible.  Use your legs for support only!

Partner assisted pull-ups

Again, your partner should not be lifting your whole weight.  You should be using your upper body strength as much as possible to complete the movement.

Resistance band assisted pull-ups

These are amazing for getting used to the pull-up movement and depending on the strength of the band that your using, it could either support your weight a lot or just a little.

Just be careful that the band doesn’t come flying off in the middle of the exercise, so follow the safety tips in the video!

Your first pull up!

How to do a pull up first pullup

Now that you’ve been working on developing your back strength, you’ve completed 4 weeks of preparation, and you’ve done some assisted pull-ups to get used to doing correct pull up movements, it’s time for you to fly solo!

Pull up form

Some of you might be wanting to do a chin-up rather than a pull-up, but we’re going to be focusing on pull up form here.

Just to clarify, chin-ups are when your palms are facing towards you on the bar.  Pull-ups are when your palms are facing away from you.

How to do a pull up with correct form

1 – Grab the bar with your hands at shoulder width, with your palms facing away from you.

2 – Hang from the bar, with your legs off the floor and your arms fully extended.

3 – Pull yourself up by pulling your elbows down towards the floor, keeping your grip firm throughout the movement.

4 – Continue pulling yourself all the way up until your chin is past the bar.

5 – Lower yourself slowly until your arms are straight again, and you are hanging from the bar.

For a visual of how this all looks in practice, check out this video:

CONGRATULATIONS!! You just did your first pull up!

If you feel like you could do more than one, go for it!  Just make sure to maintain good form.

Once you can do at least one pull up with good form, it’s time to start progressing until you can do several for more than one set!

Add pull-ups to your weekly fitness routine.  Here’s an example of pull up progression over time:

1 set of 8 pull-ups

2 sets of 8 pull-ups

3 sets of 8 pull-ups

3 sets of 12 pull-ups

3 sets of 15 pull-ups

4 sets of 20 pull-ups

Eventually, you’ll be so comfortable doing pull-ups, you could even do weighted pull-ups to really get some explosive strength and growth for a great looking back!

Common pull up problems and how to solve them

pullups - common problems

You’ll come across a lot of small hurdles along your fitness journey, even with a relatively simple exercise like pull-ups.

Here are two common pull-ups problems, and how to fix them.

Grip strength problems

If your back muscles are well developed, but you’re still having problems doing several pull-ups, then your problem might be weak grip strength.

If your forearms and fingers are not strong enough to hold on to the bar, then you’re not going to be able to do 4 sets of 8 reps without getting cramps in your arms or even just finding it impossible to hold on for more than 20 seconds or so.

To solve this problem, ass these two exercises to your routine two or three times a week:

Dead hang

Farmer’s walk

You’ll see your grip strength improve drastically in just a couple of weeks with these two exercises, and this should help you progress much easier with your pull-ups.

Shoulder pain

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain while doing pull-ups, it can be quite off-putting, but don’t worry!  Shoulder pain can easily be reduced by focusing on correct form and strengthening the shoulders with exercises and stretches like the shoulder hang.

Here’s a fantastic video from two of my favorite physical therapists on how to reduce shoulder pain during pull-ups:

The bottom line about pull-ups

By following the progression tips in this blog post, you should have no problems doing at least one pull up.

One thing that a lot of people underestimate is the importance of body weight and body fat.

Pull-ups are a bodyweight exercise, you’re pulling yourself up.  If you have a high body fat percentage, you need to take fat loss seriously if you want to be able to do pull-ups.  Even if you can lower your bodyfat by a few percents, the difference is huge when it comes to bodyweight exercises.

If you want to make sure you’re following the program correctly, eating right, and getting in the best shape of your life, apply for personal training with Julian Hierro.

He’s helped people like you with customized meal plans, personalized workout routines, and weekly video check-ups, getting them on the right track for a healthier lifestyle and a stronger, better-looking body.

Not ready for personalized coaching yet?  No problem!  Sign up to our newsletter below and get free fitness resources straight to your inbox.

What do you think?

Everyone has slightly different experiences when they start doing pull ups for the first time, so I want to know what’s worked for you and what hasn’t.

Leave a comment below telling me how you started doing pull ups, and let me know if I left any important tips out of this guide!

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