Picture me walking into the gym with a buddy of mine. "Hey! Try a pull-up!" he said. "Sure," I said as I walked over to the pull-up bar.
The humiliation I felt as I couldn't even move an inch was overwhelming. That immediately lit the fire in me to get my chin over the top of that bar.
Fast forward to today, and I'm repping out +40kg pull-ups. Check it out in the instagram link below.
But the funny thing is now I teach people how to get their first pull up every day and have helped hundreds of people master their body-weight with much more advanced moves within the discipline of calisthenics.
So here are my top 5 tips on getting your first pull up:
1) It's a skill, train it a lot. If you want a pull-up, or any skill for that matter, you're gonna need to train it a lot. That means about 4 times a week, but if your body allows you to, train it more. I couldn't do a front lever for years, but when lockdown hit, I just did a front lever every time I passed my pull up bar, and now I can hold it easy.
2) Do negatives. A negative is when you cut out the concentric part (pulling up on the pull-up) and instead jump up to the bar and lower down slowly. You can usually lift 130% of your max for an eccentric, which will mean you can lower yourself down even when you can't pull yourself up. Keep adding reps.
3) Use assistance. If you have a pull-up bar machine in your gym, use it, and use the weights as a means for progressive overload. Keep adding reps at the same weight until you get to 5 and then make it hard by lowering the assistance by about 5 kg. Work up to 5 again and repeat until the weights are gone. You can also use a band if you wish.
4) Work on scapula strength. What the hell is a scapula? Its the section on your back, specifically your mid and upper back where you can pinch your shoulder blades together. Do exercises like a TRX retraction (or can use rings) or hang from a pull-up bar and depress/retract your scapula.
5) Try a training program. There are plenty online for your first pull up, or ask an online coach (like me!) for a specialised program to match your current strength. The most common faults are people not being consistent (paying for a coach counteracts this and keeps you accountable), technique errors ( a coach can give you quick advice to help you on the spot) and bad programming (a coach can apply sports science principles from hundreds of previous case studies).
So there you go! Stop dreaming about your first pull up, take action. Write out a program, do some more research, message a friend and ask him/her to join you in your journey, or give me a DM/email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to guarantee to get your first pull up as fast as possible.