4 Exercises to Train for Your First Pull-Up

Training for your first pull-up can be a frustrating experience. After all how can you get better at something when you can’t even do a single rep of the thing you want to get better at?

The good news is their are a ton of variation exercises for you to try that can help build up your upper back strength to the point where you’ll not only be able to get your first pull-up, but rep out an entire set.

All that’s going to be required out of you is your time, effort, and a positive attitude. if you are really looking to fast track your progress I’d recommend training the following variations 3 to 4 times a week, giving yourself a day or two of rest between variations, until you can finally rep out normal bodyweight pull-ups.

1. Pull-Up Negatives

Pull-Up negatives are the lowering portion of the pull-up. You can either choose to jump up into your pull-up position or start from an elevated platform to complete your reps.

Your goal will be to lower yourself from the top position of the pull-up to the bottom position as slowly as you possibly can. When you first start that may only be a quick 2-3 seconds from top to bottom. Don’t let that discourage you, after training for awhile these can quickly turn into upwards of 30 second burner sets.

Pull-up negatives are one of the best go to’s if you are trying to get your first pull-up, and as such can make up the meat and potatoes of your pull-up training.

2. Band Assisted Pull-Ups

If you’re getting bored of constantly hitting negatives, or you just want the “feel” of a real pull-up, try hitting some band assisted pull-ups.

You can either loop your band into the middle of your pull-up bar and let it support you from your foot or knee, or if you have a power rack, you can use the pins to attach the band and build yourself a “pull-up trampoline” of sorts.

The goal here isn’t to make it feel like you’re doing pull-ups on the moon. You should have just enough assistance that you can bang out maybe 6-10 reps, but these should definitely still be challenging reps.

Your goal over time will be to shoot to use less and less band assistance.

3. Inverted Rows/ Ring-Rows

Inverted rows can be performed off a barbell in a power rack, or if you are lucky enough to have gymnastics rings you’ll be able to perform ring rows.

While you’ll be moving on a slightly different plane doing inverted rows compared to pullups, you’ll still be building up the upper back strength you need to complete your very first pullup.

With inverted rows the more vertical you are the easier the reps will be, while the closer you are able to get your body to be parallel with the ground the more difficult things will become for you.

These can be a great switch-up from the monotony of constantly training pull-up variations and you may find you add inverted rows into your routine even after you are able to complete your first pull-up

4. Isometric Pull-Up Holds 

Isometric Pull-Up holds are similar to the pull-up negatives.

Only in this case instead of slowly controlling the lowering portion of the movement, you are going to be holding the top position for as long as you possibly can.

Think of this as the plank equivalent of a pull-up. You’ll set this up the same way you would the pull-up negatives, either jump yourself into the top position or start off an elevated platform.

Again, don’t be discouraged if you can only hold the position for a handful of seconds to begin with. You’ll quickly find yourself able to support the position indefinitely with some consistent training.

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.