Goal: Do a Pull-up

Hi friends! How’s the day going?? Hope you’re having a wonderful morning. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the upcoming move(s) and how nice it will be to eventually be in our own space again. It felt like such a surreal novelty when we lived in Tucson and could do whatever we wanted to our house. We could paint things (though we never got to the red wall), change hardware, add wood floors, build or transform whatever.

And have a pull-up bar and know that if it damaged the door frame, we could fix it, and it was our own door frame haha.

Pullup bar

We had a pull-up bar attached to the laundry room, and when we’d walk by, the Pilot and I would challenge each other. Spoiler: he would usually beat me. It was a while ago, but I think my max was 8 pull-ups? 

Me doing a pullup

Fast forward to now: I suck at them.

Assisted pull-up with the Pilot

I’ve been wanting to get back into the pull-up game, especially now that my hand is healed and my grip is much stronger. Pull-ups are such a functional and challenging exercise. There are a lot of ways to progress up to a full pull-up, and it is one of my favorite exercises to strengthen and sculpt beautiful lean arms and backs.

I thought I’d put together a little pull-up challenge if you want to join me. Just start with working towards 1 unassisted pull-up and go from there! My personal goal: make it back to 5 full pull-ups by Thanksgiving. I will be sure to Snapchat (username: Fitnessista) the whole thing. 

GOAL do a pullup. Tips and exercises to get there.

Tips for Perfecting Your Pull-up

What’s the difference between a pull-up and a chin-up? For pull-ups, your palms will be facing away from you and your arms are wider than your shoulders. For a chin-up, you’ll have a reverse grip (palms facing towards you) and your hands will be about in line with your shoulders. This is a great post that breaks down the differences.

-Get used to hanging from the bar with a strong grip. Think about really squeezing the bar with your hands the entire time. 

-Ditch the momentum. Something that can help to prevent swaying forward to back (or my least favorite: the “snake into pull-up” move. Groan), is to squeeze your glutes. This will help to give you stability and control. 

-Exhale on the way up. On the way down, inhale and control yourself to a hanging position. Come down completely so that you don’t start to depend on momentum to get you back up.

-Keep your core engaged. This will help to protect your low back and also prevent an extreme low back arch.

-Alter your grip depending on what feels good. You may need to move your hands out or in a little bit, depending on how your shoulders feel.

How to Strengthen the Pull-up Muscles:

Assisted pull-ups: this is one of my favorite machines at the gym. It’s a counter weight, so the heavier you set it, the easier it is. You can start off with a heavier weight (so it supports you on the way up) and decrease this weight over time. I usually like to do 3 full sets of 10-12 at my usual weight, but for the last rep of each set, I decrease it quite a bit so the last rep is HARD.

Another way to do assisted pull-ups is by using a resistance band looped at your foot. You can place one or both feet into the loop and it will help to pull you all the way up. 

You can also have a friend spot you, just like the Pilot is doing for me in the pic above. 

Lat pulldowns: really challenge the weight on this one because the movement is very similar to a pull-up; you just don’t have to hoist your body weight. 

Dumbbell lat pullover: think about keeping your core engaged the entire time and exhale as you bring the weight forward. 

Seated row: excellent for strengthening the back and biceps. Squeeze between your shoulder blades and keep your chest lifted for each rep.

Plank: this is an important one because you want to maintain this straight plank position and engaged core as you pull up.

Here’s How I’m Going to Progress

Use a solid strength training routine, and include the exercises above on my back and biceps day. Each time I train back and biceps, I’ll also do a pull-up challenge, and try to do as many unassisted ones as I can. I can guarantee the first time it will likely be 1/2 a pull-up, but I’m excited to see how I improve as I get stronger.

Can you do a pull-up? If so, any trips on improving strength?

Are you going to join in the fun? 🙂

Have a wonderful day and I’ll see you soon.




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  1. Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious on October 12, 2016 at 5:31 am

    I used to be able to do a couple unassisted before my surgery. Now I feel like jello and need to start back on the assisted ones again. Pretty crazy what a little thing like surgery will do to you!

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2016 at 9:19 am

      i feel ya on that. my surgeries weren’t nearly as intense as yours, but i was very weak for a long time afterwards

  2. Katie on October 12, 2016 at 5:46 am

    Good luck with your challenge…it is so badass to watch ladies bust out a set of 10 pullups!
    I can do them unassisted in 3s, and at some point I will focus on training them to get that number up.
    My theory on pullups is that I’m strong enough to do them (and I bet you are, too), its just a matter of teaching the muscles. So my advice is to do them often!

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2016 at 9:18 am

      i agree! when i see girls at the gym crushing them, i’m like YESSSSSSSS
      you’re right. it’s really just a matter of doing them regularly and practicing 🙂

  3. Laura @FitMamaLove on October 12, 2016 at 6:12 am

    Doing just one pull-up seems impossible to me, but I set the goal of doing one unassisted pullup by the end of the year. But since you are trying to go from 0-5 by Thanksgiving, that gives me hope that maybe I can get there by then too!

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2016 at 9:18 am

      yay, we can do it 🙂

  4. Jessica @ Semi-Sweet Tooth on October 12, 2016 at 6:46 am

    I used to be pull up obsessed, but I’ve DEFINITELY lost it over the years! But love the idea of a challenge to keep me committed in this colder season!

    Count me in! (Though I think I may also try for my right splits, too. #overachiever ha!)

    Thanks for the motivation!
    XO, Jessica

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2016 at 9:17 am

      yay so awesome you’re joining in the fun!

  5. Mary Carter on October 12, 2016 at 6:53 am

    I’ve been using the assisted pull-up machine at the gym regularly for 6 months and still I could no way do one unassisted. Maybe I should shoot to do one with only about 30 lbs. offset, which would be like doing one at a slender weight.

    You hop off the machine after say 9 reps and decrease the weight then get back on and do one rep, then hop off and increase it again, for all three sets? That’s a lot of on/off! Or maybe some machines you don’t have to get off and walk around to the side to change the weight.

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2016 at 9:17 am

      on ours you don’t have to go to the side or back of the machine; it’s right in the front, so it’s easy to adjust at the end of each set

  6. Bethany @ Dose of Discovery on October 12, 2016 at 7:18 am

    YES! I’m so joining in on this! I’ve been wanting to improve my pull ups and push ups for awhile now. I’m a wimp on both. 🙂 Excited to focus on more strength training this winter!

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2016 at 9:17 am

      so awesome you’re joining in!!

  7. India on October 12, 2016 at 7:40 am

    Yes! Love this. I’ve always wanted to do one. This was just the encouragement I needed! I recently did jump start pull ups and really enjoy it.

  8. Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed on October 12, 2016 at 7:44 am

    You know… we’ve had a pull up bar sitting in a box in our garage forever and I need to make my husband install it somewhere. Will it damage a door frame?!

    I’ve been working on kipping pull ups so much at CF (and trying to actually connect them), but I know I should be working strict pull ups as well. I can’t quite get one yet, but I do have a chin up!

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2016 at 9:16 am

      it can dent it a little, but usually isn’t anything noticeable.

  9. Morgan on October 12, 2016 at 7:50 am

    Perfect timing! About 2 weeks ago I put a reminder in my phone to go off right at the end of my workouts to do pull ups! We have a bar on our laundry room door and I only go in and out of there like 232343 times a day, yet somehow manage to forget the bar is there…? I feel like my back/core has suffered since pregnancy (15 months post partum) and I still am struggling to get it back. Push ups are no bueno 🙁 I used to be able to bang out 20! Now its more like 5 before I have to drop to my knees. Hoping to build strength with both pull ups and push ups!

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2016 at 9:16 am

      you will get there! it’s funny how strength comes back so easily in some ways, but is much slower in others. i feel the same way about a lot of things! xoxo

  10. Kelli @ Hungry Hobby on October 12, 2016 at 7:50 am

    The day I got the pull up was the best day of my life, sadly it is still a “kipping pull up” not a strict one. So I’m going to join in with you! I’m also working on my handstand push ups by just holding a handstand I feel like those goals somewhat compliment each other!

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2016 at 9:15 am

      oh that’s a great tip! you’re totally right- you’re still holding your bodyweight and keeping that neutral alignment to balance. love it!!

  11. Abby on October 12, 2016 at 8:18 am

    I LOVE this challenge! Any tips for pull up progression when you don’t have any equipment (besides a pull up bar, of course)?

    • Fitnessista on October 12, 2016 at 9:15 am

      yes! i used to put a chair under the bar and stand on the chair with one leg, so i was only lifting half my body weight at first

    • Amber @ Busy, Bold, Blessed on October 12, 2016 at 11:36 am

      I’d recommend purchasing some resistance bands. I can’t imagine they are very expensive and you can use them for all sorts of other exercises.

  12. Cassie on October 12, 2016 at 10:34 am

    Good luck! I bet yall will have a blast! I don’t even have a way to test out the theory of my ability to do a pull up… odds are not in my favor. haha. But I’m very focused on flexibility and back health right now. Carting that little around especially in the ergo for our 2 mile morning walk is taking its toll on my back and feet. Ugg. Any tips for that would be great! Right now, I’m just doing as much yoga as I can convince myself to do before diving into the vino and my sofa at night.

  13. Emily @ Sinful Nutrition on October 12, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Doing an unassisted pull-up has been on my bucket list for like a year now, so this is perfect! Makes it so much easier to go after when you have someone to do it with, virtual or in person!

  14. Julie on October 12, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Ha ha I’m the only one not commenting on pullups… #hangshead

    Just wanted to tell you I LOVE my red wall!!! Do it!

  15. katie on October 14, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Good timing with this post about pull ups because I’ve been trying to increase my pull up strength too! I have the exact same door frame pull up bar as you, I LOVE that it has multiple grips!! Right now I’m trying to do pull ups on the widest grip, so I love your tips on strengthening the shoulders and upper back. Just to offer my 2 cents, for pull ups I found that deadlifting actually helped me build enough strength to do a pull up (when you gain enough strength after recovering from a surgery anyway, I definitely couldn’t do heavy weightlifting soon after!) I currently deadlift at 135 lbs (I’m 5’2″, 120-125ish lbs), but I was able to gain enough pull up strength when I reached about 110 lbs or so when I could deadlift at a weight close to my own body weight. My husband thinks using a wider deadlifting-grip will help too, so I will experiment with that. Lifting the heavy barbell for deadlifts strengthened my hand grip and forearm strength too, which helps. I also take a power vinyasa yoga class 3x a week, which I believed helped strengthen my arms, wrists, shoulders doing all those dreadful plank exercises and chaturangas!

    • Fitnessista on October 14, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      these are amazing tips. thank you!!

  16. adrianna on October 14, 2016 at 8:33 pm

    this was one of my new years resolutions, to do a pull-up! and i have yet to do so… 2.5 months to try! # goals

  17. Cassie T on October 16, 2016 at 4:45 am

    Check out the Armstrong pull up program. I used it to train for Marine OCS pull ups!

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