Everything You Ever Need To Know About Pull Ups, Ever!

Getting your first pull up can be an arduous task.

But it’s well worth the effort.

Over the years I’ve come across a great many programs and techniques that are supposed to get you to your first pull up, others that promise huge increases in numbers.

Truth is, nothing is perfect and somethings work well for some and other things work better for others .

It’s never a simple linear line.

So when an online client dropped into the gym and asked me about building the pull up last week, I gave him that lecture and then broke down all the stages we commonly go through while making it clear that the logical order presented here rarely pans out in real life and we usually find some stages are unnecessary, some counterproductive and some are pure magic. It all depends on the individual

Here’s the mirror writing, its a little hard to see so I’ve written it out and expanded on each stage below.

1: Inverted Rows Inverted rows are without a doubt one of the most underrated exercises going . From a shoulder health perspective they are awesome, helping to balance out all the pushing, punching, throwing etc. The focus should be placed of the movement of the shoulder blade. The pull should initiate by the shoulder blades pulling back and down towards the low back, then the elbows will begin to bend. To encourage this, start by relaxing back into a stretch, sink the chest and feel the upper back muscles load up like stretched elastic. Where you feel the stretch is where you try to pull from. This should take the scapula through a large range of motion waking up and strengthening the very often underdeveloped lower and middle traps, the rhomboids as well as the lats.


Karolina in the video here is showing an extra scap pull between each full rep, this is optional, and recommended. Notice how she works to keep the neck long.

Recommended standard to achieve: 4 sets of 8 reps, with the straps hanging vertically.

2: Passive Hang Passive hanging is simply a relaxed hang. There are many potential benefits from this, the primary goals though are strengthening the grip and allowing gravity to decompress the spine and shoulders.

While I’ve listed this as number 2, it really can and probably should be used way more often, simply for the spinal decompression effects, its a nice way to end any training session or simply get a good stretch.

The rider is if the lats, thoracolumbar fascia and / or neck extensors are over tight, you may experience pain symptoms. If this is you, don’t to this step. I recommend getting a handle on these problems prior to continuing on your pull up progress. Thegoa after all isn’t just getting good at an exercise, but to to be able glean the benefits of the exercise and become fitter and stronger in the process.

Work up to 30 second hangs, 3 sets with 30 second breaks. Over time aim to achieve >60s in a single hang.

3: Active Hang If the passive hang is relaxed with the shoulders right up by the ears (think shrugged), then the active is the opposite, shoulder blades pulled back and down as far as they’ll go so the chest lifts out (think military attention stance)

If the passive hang was giving pain symptoms, this may potentially alleviate them, but still, get checked.

Recommendations same as the passive hang.

4: Active to Passive aka Hanging Scaps Now we have established and developed strength in both the passive (bottom position) ad active (top of first pull), it’s time to join the dots. From the passive hang, engage and pull with the scapula until you achieve the active position, do NOT bend the elbows at any point . Pause at the top for up to 3 seconds before lowering with control to the passive position. As soon as you reach the bottom position initiate the next rep. Move smoothly with control at all times with this drill, as soon as quality drops, terminate the set.


Aim for 3 sets of ten reps, each rep with a 3 second pause at the top (active) position

5: Eccentric Emphasis aka Negatives Now we start exploring the full range. The hanging drills are what we term “straight arm work” This is the first of the “bent arm work” (except the inverted row of course) Why not start with straight arm? Because most folk will pull up using everything BUT the back! We see shoulders shrugged and rounded forwards with the biceps and upper traps doing the lion’s share of the work. So learning scapular control, positioning and strength via straight arm work is key to long term progress and injury free practice.

To perform the negatives we need an assist to get up to the bar. Use a step or get your buddy to give you a leg up. The top position has the chest fully expanded and touching the bar, basically it’s the same top position as the inverted row except you are off the floor.

Keep the scaps back and down as you descend they only start to release once you come down to the active hang position and then continue to passive

Build up to 5 sets of 5 reps with consistent form.