I can only do about 3 full pullups (from completely extended to head above bar). I hear that pullups are a great way to build muscle, but I wonder if this could really be true if you can't do very many yet.

Are pullups still a great workout if you can only do a couple at a time? Should I build my arms in other ways, like benching and pushups, then start working out with pullups when I am strong enough to do more at once?

  • How are you doing your pull-up program? Do you just do 3 full pull-ups and then wait until next workout before trying again? Or do you do several sets?
    – user4644
    Sep 28, 2013 at 23:51
  • @Kate I am not really on a program per se, I just have a pull-up bar in my house that I use from time to time. I'll generally do two to three sets of three pull-ups (or as close as I can get to three) with short rests of 1-2 min between them. Since it's at home, it's convenient, so I've been able to do this somewhere between two to three times a day, with occasional skipped days. Sep 29, 2013 at 21:55

2 Answers 2


Yes, Pull-Ups Are Awesome Even If You Can Only Do A Few

You should do multiple sets of chin-ups, using negatives to get a larger total number for the workout. If you can only do three pull-ups in a set, then do three--strict ones, good ones, all the way down and all the way up--and then do another three as negatives (jumping to the top and lowering yourself down as slowly as possible), then wait three minutes and do it again, then wait three minutes and do it again, then wait three minutes and do it again, then wait three minutes and do it one last time. If you can't get three every time that's fine. Use the negatives to get five or so in a set, and do several sets.

If you can't do even one full range of motion strict no-kipping pull-up, the lat pull-down machine, assisted pull-up machine, and bands would also be called for.

You should also do bench press or push-ups or dips to build the opposing muscle, for both health and looking big.

  • I came here to learn this very thing. I have the Lat Machine. Say I am 170 lbs, and can pull down 100lbs 20 reps. If I increase over time, and can pull down 170lbs, I trust when I go to a pullup bar, I'll be able to do nearly 20 pullups? Oct 21, 2013 at 22:06
  • @JoeTaxpayer I've heard repeatedly that 170lbs x20 on the lat pulldown is not equivalent to 20 pull ups for a 170lb person. Oct 22, 2013 at 5:16
  • Thanks for the note @DaveLiepmann - I was hoping to find more details on this subject. Is the pulldown of no value or just not equivalent? I could do 10 when I was younger, I'd like to get back to that level. Oct 22, 2013 at 10:33
  • @JoeTaxpayer I've heard the pulldown is useful to train towards a pull-up, as are negatives. Haven't tried it myself. Oct 22, 2013 at 10:56
  • thanks. A great experiment for this question. I'm on SE frequently, other groups, but will update here in a few months to offer my progress. FWIW, I am 51, have about 15 lbs to lose, and currently can't do more than 1 pullup. I'm in relatively good shape, running 800-900 miles/yr on treadmill, but just got universal for upper body strength. Oct 22, 2013 at 13:53

Yes, you should be building your arms by doing pressing motions, like bench press and overhead press.

However, they will have a negligible effect on your ability to do a pull-up. So, waiting until your bench press or overhead press is strong isn't worth it.

Ideally, you'd do pull-ups/chin-ups in a program that also includes bench press and overhead press movements as main lifts.

3 full pull-ups isn't a bad starting point.

  • Thanks. I actually didn't mean to imply I didn't also do bench press and other arm exercises already- I have done those for a while, I just didn't start pull-ups till recently. Sep 29, 2013 at 21:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.