I know what you’re thinking; you can’t do a pull up. And unless you spontaneously turn into a superhero someday, you never will.
But the truth is, if you’re one of the majority of people who can’t do a pull up, it’s probably more of a mental issue than a strength one.
Most assume they can’t ever do a pull up. As in, they truly believe it’s physically impossible. Pull ups are the ultimate bodyweight exercise. Seriously, pull ups are insanely, incredibly and irrefutably awesome.
Admittedly until recently, I had only ever made a half-hearted attempt at an assisted pull, so of course I sucked at pull ups. But monkey bars have always been my nemesis and so I made it my goal to be able to complete them at the next OCR.
Pure and simple, they work your arms, shoulders, back, and core muscles wonderfully. With one small movement, you are getting an almost full body workout. Plus, I love telling people I can do pull ups
It’s a progression of exercises that will pay dividends if you can just stick with it.
Starting from the very beginning—a.k.a. you can’t even imagine the sheer possibility of ever doing a pull up in your lifetime, you’ll want to begin rows.
Rows will build up your back and shoulder muscles and prime your upper body for all those pull ups you’ll eventually be doing. They can be done using dumbbells, a barbell (with or without weights), a heavy medicine ball, even just a duffel bag filled with books or heavy objects.
To complete a row:
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.
Squeeze your abs and bend over slightly
Pull your shoulders back and bring the weight toward your chest
Return weight towards the floor and repeat.
Working triceps is also crucially important and reverse push ups are great for this as they can be adapted to all levels.
Using a dip bar or a sturdy broom across two chairs, or even just using the underside of a table and pulling yourself up.
To complete a reverse push up:
Get yourself under the dip bar
Holding the bar/table with both hands and with arms fully extended pull your shoulders back, raise yourself up as far as possible.
Lower back down and repeat.
Another great way to gain strength and continue your pull up progression is to use a resistance band for assistance.
To complete a band assisted pull up:
Stand with a pull up bar directly above you.
Loop the resistance band once around the pull up bar so that it’s secure when you pull it.
Grab on to the pull up bar with one hand on each side of the band and put both feet in the bottom of the band.
Starting with your arms fully straight, pull yourself up to the bar so that your chin ends up over the bar.
Lower back down and repeat.
If you’ve ever tried either you know that chin ups are definitely easier than pull ups. It’s because they allow you to use your biceps more to pull you up than pull ups do, and because most people have fairly strong bicep muscles, chin ups are just more manageable.
Saying that, chin ups are still no mean feat. So, if you’re at this stage then I applaud you. I almost stopped at this stage thinking that monkey bars were so achievable, but I had come so far and I needed to reach that ultimate goal.
The Coveted Pull up
Stop saying that you can’t do pull ups. You can become a pull up master. Like anything else, you just have to practice.
And even if you’re starting at the very beginning, if you keep working at it, you’ll get there, eventually. It's not easy...however remember, its not impossible either!
And as for me, well I’ll be swinging from bar to bar with a smile on my face. Throw me a banana 🍌