I started training in September with zero pull-up capability, with my goal of having eight pull-ups by Christmas. I’m lagging a bit on that, but I’m happy with five. I was up to three by Thanksgiving, focused on my running a bit more in December, but continued to incrementally increase. Finally got my pull-up bar for the house.
Things that worked for me
Do all the exercises!
For women trying to do pull-ups, I don’t think there is any magic exercise. But you have to work at it, and include things that directly contribute to the specific muscle development that doing a pull-up requires. (I have a lot of articles on my previous post on banded pull-ups for muscle groups to target and some exercises for this) I read a lot of articles for tips that would always include things like.. ‘don’t do this! Don’t use bands! don’t do lat-pull down! Don’t don’t don’t! I’m a fan of Do. Do it all. Do lat pull-down. Use bands if you like them. People become paralyzed with trying to do it right exactly that they end up not doing much at all and wonder why they aren’t improving. Muscle development, even if it is not in the exact place you need it, is not a bad thing. (obviously people who are competing have a very strict regimen and structure, but that is not the average person trying to get stronger) Just make sure to do the other things too so that you don’t have an imbalance and include targeting the muscle development that you will need. I continued to do just my regular back / upper body workout which is different depending on the day, but core things I do a lot are: barbell row, dumbbell row, push press, cleans, dumbbell row, dumbbell snatches, kettlebell swings, lat pulldown, machine low row, deadlift. I also use the row machine to warmup for about 10-20 minutes. It was pointed out to me that I use a lot of pushing exercises, and for pull-ups I need to incorporate more pulling. That’s when I started incorporating the row machine, and more regularly the barbell / dumbbell row. Because of my running schedule, I’m only able to lift 2- 3x a week. Ideally two days for upper body, one day for legs.
Consistency and Routine
I don’t have a super crazy lifting schedule, but I doubt that there was a single week that I missed lifting at least once in the last four months. My coworker remarked to me that four months seemed like a long time. Is it though? It’s all about your frame of reference and of making it a way of life, not something to just focus on for a few weeks. To me four months was not very long. I might have made faster progress if I had been even more focused and dedicated, but this stuff takes time and it’s important to recognize that. Consistency helps prevent you from backsliding even when you are feeling low on motivation, and also routinizes your workout schedule. This to me is the single best thing to keep me on track. I thrive off of structure. It feels weird to have a day off, because it’s just imprinted in my brain that I will either be running or lifting every single day, rain or shine. It’s harder to make excuses when it becomes part of your weekly schedule.
Focus on Technique:
I know I still have work to do on my technique, but it is important do them correctly. This also can help you identify which part of the pull-up you are weak at to then focus on that part. I’m definitely the weakest at the top for the final pull. Other things I’m doing wrong:
1) At the bottom of the pull-up I shouldn’t go into a dead hang, but rather keep my shoulders engaged, similar to being at the top end of a scapular pull-up
2) elbows are flaring, they should be driving to the floor and end near my ribcage rather than out, which would engage engage my lats better
Here was a good article I liked about pull-up technique
How to Do Pullups with Proper Form: The Definitive Guide
Incorporate specific pull-up muscle development into your routine:
Regularly, even if I was doing a leg workout, I would do dead hangs, scapular pull-ups and negatives just for a few minutes as part of the warmup. Typically I would do 3 sets of 30-45 seconds for dead hangs, and 5 negatives in between sets, trying to hold for 5-10 seconds with arm at a 90 degree angle. I haven’t been using bands on the pull-up bar but not because I didn’t want to but because my house is old and strange and two bars I bought didn’t fit so I had just used the one at the gym. I now have one though. So my pull-up game is about to be upped. I think getting from five to eight pull-ups will be easier than from zero to three.
Lifting heavier weights:
My pull-up game also started to increase when I upped the weights for my back specific exercises. Sample back routine with the weight I’m at right now:
Lat pull-down 120lb 5×8
Dumbbell Bent over Row: 35lb 4×8, 40lb 3×6
Barbell Bent over Row: 65lb 4×8
Push press 20lb 6×6