Your First Pull Up – guide and program

5 steps to your first pull up

Being able to do a pull up can be daunting if you have never even been able to get close. Follow these tips below to help break through that plateau.

Step 1 – Build your back

The stronger your back is the easier the pull ups are going to be. Incorporate exercises like deadlifts, dumbbell rows and Pendlay rows into your training. As you get stronger and more efficient at these movements the likelihood is that pull-ups will become easier too. Not sure how to do any of these exercises? Follow the links below to our 180 Youtube page and check out the tutorials:

Deadlifts –



1 arm DB rows –



Pendlay rows ––3ppuRabfU



pull up strength

Step 2 – Learn how to engage your lats

This is probably one of the hardest parts of the pull up (apart from actually pulling up!). Lat engagement is super important yet quite subtle in the way it looks. The picture on the left is no lat engagement what so ever. Notice how my shoulders hang and round forwards. On the right my lats are engaged which means my shoulders are retracted back a little bit and my lats are firing ready to be used when I start my pull up.

So how do you do this? Try and use the cue of internally rotating your elbows a little, which means turning them in a little (about 20% of your effort) and pushing down with your little finger. As this happens you will feel the large muscle in your back “turn on” a little bit and as this happens that’s your trigger to start pulling.

You can practise this part of the movement a little while you are getting stronger at the whole pull up. This way when you are eventually strong enough to pull yourself up, lat engagement won’t be an issue for you.

Step 3 – Do assisted pull-ups

One of the best ways for you to get better at pull-ups is by doing pull ups. Shock right? If you can’t yet complete a full pull up then assisted pull-ups might be the way to go. There are two main ways to do this:

  • Change your body angle – This means doing inverted rows which causes you to have less body weight under the bar and to pull up. See diagram below (left). The straighter your feet the harder the movement and vice versa.
  • Change the resistance – By adding bands and hooking them round your knee or feet. This way the band takes a proportion of your weight at the bottom and less towards the top. See diagram below (right). Remember to try and periodically make the band lighter every few weeks as you get stronger yourself.

pull up strength

Step 4 – Do negative pull-ups

Another great variation to build confidence and strength in your pull up. If you are struggling with doing just one pull up, simply jump up to the top of your pull up then slowly complete the eccentric (the down phase) of the lift. If you still struggle with this then do the same thing but in an inverted row position instead of a full pull up. After a few weeks you will be able to control the down phase of the movement efficiently and it will get you more comfortable with the pull up motor pattern.

Step 5 – Progress and achieve your dream

Progression is the key to any good program. Make sure every week you try and increase your deadlift weight or decrease the resistance on your assisted pull-ups. As long as you are seeing progression in one or more of these variations you will achieve your goal of 1 or 100 pull-ups whatever it might be. Good luck and keep grinding it does get easier, promise!

The program

Day 1

Deadlifts – 5×5

Pendlay rows – 3×10

Deadhang with lat engagement – 3×10

Day 2

Assisted pull-ups – 1xmax reps

Inverted rows – 3×10

Negative pull ups – 5×5

Day 3

Deadlifts – 3×10

1 Arm DB Rows – 3×10

Assisted pull ups – 3×10


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