With all feats of strength, comes the multiple paths of how to accomplish them. With multiple routes to the same destination available, it can be hard to decide which route is best for you. The pull-up is one of the most common chased after "feat of strength exercise", as it is just a purely body-weight exercise. A pull-up requires a well-rounded strength base before even being able to perform one single repetition. In this article, we cover how you can achieve your first pull-up without lifting weights, using machines, or even going to the gym.
The First Step
First, before attempting any pull-ups we must learn how to work our back. An exercise you can use frequently (even daily) that allows someone to work the back without excess nervous system fatigue (will not give you that "drained" feeling) or muscle overlap (can be done daily without sacrificing intensity in your other work outs) is the band pull-apart. With this exercise, it is best to perform higher repetitions with lower band tension (15-20 repetitions) and progress to heavier bands when muscular progress ceases (some will plateau faster than others, while others respond better to higher repetitions).
Scapula Strengthening Pt. 1
After developing the musculature of your back through performing band pull-aparts, it is time to focus on a part of any pull that most fitness enthusiasts forget to address. During band pull-aparts you can find it easy to bring your shoulder blades back, but what about when you are using a portion of your body-weight and focusing purely on scapula retraction? The next exercise we incorporate is the inverted-row scapula retraction. This can be performed with gymnastic rings, a broom over two chairs, or whatever you can hand from at a comfortable level. I personally find gymnastic rings to be the most beneficial piece of equipment there is on the market. For less than the cost of a gym membership you can actually buy the only piece of equipment you will ever need to train your upper-body (after passing the band pull-apart stage). This exercise can be performed anywhere from one repetitions to over twenty. The goal is to train your scapula for proper pulling when you get to the next stage. Once you feel as if twenty plus repetitions are not difficult anymore, it is time to take the next step.
Pulling Pt. 1
After building the musculature in your back and improving your scapula strength for rowing movements, it is time to incorporate your first official "pulling" movement. When working towards your first pull-up, after strengthening your scapula it is time to incorporate inverted-rows. Just like the scapula retractions, these can be done with various pieces of equipment. When working towards your strength for accomplishing a pull-up, it is best to work towards getting more repetitions until you achieve at least 10 repetitions. Once you achieve 10, you can change the angle of the pull in order to be pulling a higher percentage of your body-weight. This increases the difficulty and takes your strength one step closer to being capable of your first pull-up.
Scapula Strengthening Pt. 2
Much like the first part of scapula strengthening, part two is executed the same way...except for it is performed during a "hang position" of a pull-up. This requires more strength and strengthens the body furthers due to having you life your entire body-weight.
Developing Motor Patterns
After developing the strength necessary for your first pull-up, it is time to work on the actual pull-up movement. By utilizing a resistance band, you can perform band-assisted pull-ups. These give you the benefit of working your pulling muscles through a full range of motion without having to fight against your entire body-weight. The key to getting benefit out of this exercise is by challenging yourself, but not at the expense of compromising form. If your assisted pull-ups allow you to perform 10 repetition but they are with poor form, put your ego in check and get more assistance. By working on the movement, you give your body the ability to incorporate the right muscles (built stronger by the previous exercises) throughout THE ENTIRE range of motion.
Building Eccentric Strength
Like most exercises, a proper pull-up requires strength in both the concentric (contracting/shortening) and eccentric (stretching/lengthening) phase. Studies show that people have stronger eccentric strength than concentric. With this knowledge we can focus on our strengths in order to improve our weaknesses. By incorporating pull-up "negatives" we can focus on building the strength to handle our entire body-weight. By building up this strength, we can improve our strength in handling our body-weight and reduce the amount of effort needed to perform one full repetition. This will be the last step necessary for accomplishing your first pull-up.
Putting It All Together
How To Progress