4 Ways To Build Your Pull-up Prowess

Master the ultimate upper body exercise

Up until about 3 years ago, I was struggling with pull-ups. For a long time, I just did them using assistance bands and sort of came to terms with the fact that I just wouldn’t be able to do more than one stand alone rep.

Then I started doing some research and saw a couple of my fitness colleagues rocking them for multiple reps. I made it my mission to start crushing pull-ups and chin-ups. Now I’m rocking 8-10 reps for multiple sets and 3-4 reps with a weight belt for multiple sets.

Why Are Pull-ups Awesome?

• They are a bad ass exercise.
• They sculpt your upper back and give you that V shape that men and women both love.
• That sculpting effect makes your waist look smaller (bonus).
• They are a great fat burning exercise (they work a lot of muscles in the body which means more calorie burn)

Building Up To A Pull-Up

Today I wanted to share a few progressions that you can use to build up your pull-up prowess.

Isometric Hangs

This may seem totally “unsexy, ” but this is one of the best ways to improve your grip strength and get your body comfortable being over the bar. It also strengthens your biceps and lats to hold you in that top position, which is the toughest to achieve.

How it’s done:
– Jump up onto a pull up bar. Make sure you’re not working to get up there. The work is done on the hold portion.
– Set your hands shoulder-width with palms facing away from you.
– Set your head above the bar and hold yourself in the top of the pull-up position.
– Hold for 5-10 seconds and then drop down.
– Perform 3-5 reps and try to add 2-3 seconds every week.


This is another great drill to improve grip strength, body control and strengthen your lats, the major muscle needed for a great pull-up.

How it’s done:
– Jump up onto a pull-up bar. Make sure you’re not working to get up there. The work is done on the hold portion.
– Set your hands shoulder-width with palms facing away from you.
– Set your head above the bar. Instead of holding the position as you did with the Isometric Hangs, you are going to lower your body down with a 5 second count until your arms are straight
– Jump back up (don’t use an extra energy on this part) and repeat for 4-5 reps.
– Perform 2-3 sets of 4-5 reps using the 5 second count on each rep.

Use Band Assistance

I’m not a fan of the Pull-up Assisted Machine that you see in a lot of gyms. Also, I don’t love having a partner helping you, because the resistance is not consistent. Using a band under your knee or foot (I’ll explain more below) will help to reduce the amount of your own body weight that you’re lifting on each pull-up, while still giving you the true feeling of a pull-up.

Here’s how it’s done:
– Take a resistance band and loop it over a pull-up bar and slide it through so it makes a loop. (You can get bands from EliteFTS or Perform Better – the thicker the band, the more assistance provided. So if you have a few bucks to spare, I recommend getting a thick one, a medium one and a thin one to accommodate your progress.)
– Put your foot or your knee in the loop.
– If you put your foot in, straighten your leg and wrap your other leg around it to tighten your abs.
– If you put your knee in, this gives you less overall resistance, but it is sometimes easier to get into if you don’t have a partner to pull it down for you.
– Once you’re in the band, set your hands shoulder width on the bar and palms facing away from you.
– Squeeze your shoulder blades together and visualize driving you elbows down to your rib cage as you come up over the bar.
– Lower down slowly and repeat for 5-10 reps.
– Complete 2-4 sets of 5-10 reps.

** See the video below for a demonstration of using a band for assistance. However, in this video, I am performing a chin-up (palms in) rather than a pull-up (palms out).

Add Resistance

For those of you that can perform multiple reps and need a challenge, add some resistance to your pull-ups

Here’s how it’s done:
– If you have a weight belt, strap a dumbbell or kettlebell to the chain and perform your pull-ups.
– You can also use a thick resistance band a loop it through a weight plate or dumbbell for the same effect as above.
– Other options: chains or weight vest.

In conclusion, the pull-up is one of the best exercises to sculpt lean muscle, improve your athletic physique and burn fat over the long run. It’s intimidating and often hard to progress, but now that you have some basics, give it a shot!

Callie Durbrow

Callie Durbrow is the owner of Durbrow Performance Training and the author of Strong and Sexy in 25 Minutes.

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