How To Build The Strength To Do A Pull-up (And Why You Need To Do Them)

//How To Build The Strength To Do A Pull-up (And Why You Need To Do Them)

I love pull-ups. It's actually my favorite upper body exercise.

Years ago when I was just starting out training, I hated them. I hated them because I couldn't do any and felt like a pussy. I saw other guys doing multiple sets of them and wondered why I couldn't do a single one.

I thought I was doing the right things to build back strength. I was doing my lat pulldowns, cable rows, and pullovers. It was only years later that learned that those exercises are not great for creating enough strength to do pull-ups. And while they do have a place in an exercise program, they are not the best choice for building direct pull-up strength.

I've seen guys who can pull the entire stack on the lat machine, yet cannot do one pull-up. It because there are many more muscles required for the pull-up and it's very hard to cheat on them (scerw you CrossFit kipping).

Why Are Pull-Ups So Great??

Well for starters, it requires you to hoist your entire body weight off the ground and above the bar. Regardless of your weight, it's not an easy feat for most.

Second, it requires a great deal of muscle recruitment in order to do them. About as far from an isolation exercise as you can get, the pull-up uses many different upper body muscles to complete.


The pull-up is a compound movement, meaning it uses multiple joints and muscle groups, and thus increasing strength and endurance at a higher capacity.

Also, just to be clear, there is a difference between a pull-up and a chin-up, but for the sake of this article, we are going to assume they are one and the same. For all you technical people, I understand there are different muscles responsible for each exercise, but looking at the bigger picture, they are very similar.

How Not To Build Strength For Pull-Ups

Most gyms have one; the Gravitron or assisted pull-up machine. You either stand on a bar or kneel on a platform and use a certain amount of the weight stack to offset your bodyweight.

This machine is a piece of shit and should not be used because it eliminates one of the key muscle groups required for proper pull-up strength; the abdominals.

Yes, you need a strong core to be able to do good, clean pull-ups and most men don't have that. In order to build core strength directly related to pull-ups, try the following exercises:

  • Hanging knee raise
  • Hanging straight leg raise
  • Hanging L holds
  • Planks
  • Supermans

If you are serious about adding pull-ups to your routine, I'd suggest backing off the isolation exercises and cable/Cybex machines. You want to use as natural a movement as your body allows and being forced into a fixed movement pattern by a machine is not great for your joints, ligaments, and tendons.

Most gyms have resistance bands that are perfect for taking some weight off of the movement. If not, just buy one and take it with you. These bands are a good choice.

How To Build The Strength To Do Pull-Ups

In today's video, I demonstrate 5 regressions you can do with minimal equipment that will help you build strength in the right muscles that will allow you to start doing full pull-ups.

The best way to build strength for them is to use your body weight at a reduced capacity while still using the same muscles required for a full pull-up.

Keep in mind that it may take some time, especially if you have a really weak grip but you WILL get there with persistence.

The exercises demonstrated are:

  • Suspension trainer 45 degree row
  • Suspension trainer low row
  • Band assisted Pull-up
  • Pull-up negatives
  • Horizontal bar rows

There are dozens of additional exercises that you can use as well, but these 5 are some of the most beneficial.

And if you have a YouTube account, feel free to subscribe to the Fit Dad Nation channel and get alerts when I post new videos!

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  1. davidd June 24, 2015 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    Very cool! Thanks for these tips for working toward accomplishing a pull-up or chin-up.

    I’m not usually a fan of “exercise equipment,” but the WOSS suspension strap trainer looks worthwhile… even though it’s basically nothing more than a rope with handles on the ends. The simplicity, adjustability, and comfortable grip seem like they’re worth the thirty bucks or so the system costs. Definitely convenient if there aren’t any low bars for the horizontal rows in the neighborhood.

    • Steve Roy June 27, 2015 at 10:02 am - Reply

      Yea David, the WOSS is awesome. It’s weighs virtually nothing and can be stores almost anywhere. The exercises you can do with it are near limitless as well. Hopefully it will help you (if you get it) build them muscles!!

  2. Leg day May 8, 2017 at 11:09 am - Reply

    There are also muscles in your lower body to work on. Fyi.

    • Steve May 8, 2017 at 1:17 pm - Reply

      What a great comment, I never thought of I am only doing pullups all my life and now I understand there are other muscle groups…thanks for your help.

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