Flat out I can do maybe 1 pull up. What can I do to improve my pull-up rep count other than "doing more pull-ups"? What muscle groups are used for pull-ups?

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    This is not the answer you are looking for, but doing 1 pullup is quite enough to exercise by "doing more pullups". The problem is that you need a pull up bar at home. If you've got one, then just do a pullup (somehow!) whenever you pass by under it, even if you are jumping up every time. Once you can do a few (eg. 5) you can focus on perfecting your form.
    – VPeric
    Commented Jul 31, 2011 at 21:23
  • @VPeric thanks. It isn't that I don't want to do more pull-ups, but was looking for alternatives. I don't have a bar in my house and I think I need to get one. Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 14:35
  • have you got anything else which could work. i used to have a bike rack lodged in the rafter of my garage roof, so i'd pop in their now and then and do whatever i could. VPeric is right about just doing the 1 you can currently manage more often. it worked for me. at my rowing club there was a bar and i'd do whatever i could manage. i went from struggling to doing 1 to being abble to do over 20 Commented Aug 3, 2011 at 17:54
  • Actually, the kids have a swing set, I could use that I suppose. I could put a pulley on it and mimic the machine at the gym with counter weights then work my way up. Commented Aug 3, 2011 at 18:06

3 Answers 3


Since you can do only a single pull-up, I would suggest more reps with some sort of pull-up progression. Some examples are: jumping pull-ups pullups with your feet on the ground in front of you, leaning backwards assisted pullups (from a machine at the gym, with a rubber band, or by tying a rope to a weight that goes over the bar) Finally, you might look into kipping pull-ups, which require a little bit of skill, but allow you to do more repetitions, and therefore improve your dead hang pull up as well.

You can use the same sort of rep scheme that you would use for any other lifting exercise.

Dead lifts and lat pull-downs may help as well, but the above will probably be more effective.

  • 5
    Add in negative pull-ups. They're also very effective in developing the same muscles when you can't do very many (<5 regular pull-ups) Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 12:07
  • Agreed; the eccentric part of the exercise is very beneficial.
    – michael
    Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 15:42
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    @michael - Do you have any sort of evidence that kipping pull-ups help with dead-hang pull-ups? Tamara Cohen (CrossFitter, Olympic lifter) disagrees: "Kipping pullups without having the appropriate amount of shoulder strength is a good way to end up with a shoulder injury. If someone can only do 2-3 solid dead hangs, that tells me that they need to improve their shoulder strength before they even think about kipping." Others who kip agree that stricts help with kips, but not vice-versa. Commented Aug 19, 2011 at 21:04
  • @Dave: Only anecdotal. I've been crossfitting for 1.5 years, and we do many of the exercises I listed above, including dead-hang and kipping. I am a proponent of the idea that a variety of similar movements is better than a single movement. I can't say for sure that kipping pull-ups directly help dead hang, but there are many similar muscles used, and everyone at my gym has improved dramatically over time. I will agree that you still need to do dead hangs to improve dead hangs, but you should do other things as well. IMHO, exercise is like nutrition, you benefit from variety.
    – michael
    Commented Aug 20, 2011 at 1:25
  • @Dave: Regarding potential injuries; I'm sure it can happen, but I know about 40 people of different backgrounds, sizes, experience, etc, who do kipping pull-ups, and none have ever been injured by it. In fact, I started crossfit with a healing dislocated shoulder, and I found pull-up exercises of all sorts to improve my shoulder, rather than to harm it. An experienced coach to teach technique is always helpful, which I am fortunate to have.
    – michael
    Commented Aug 20, 2011 at 1:28

Start out doing negatives. (basically start with your chin at the bar and slowly lower yourself)

  • +1 for the answer. I feel that this should be the correct answer to the question. I started doing negatives and can now do 5x6=30 pullups. IMO Negatives are the single most effective means to increase pullup count. It might sound trivial but if you can't do a single pullup try doing 10 Negatives, the 10th will be very shaky ;-)
    – Geek
    Commented Aug 23, 2011 at 9:04

The lats are quite involved with pull-ups. Also the biceps and a number of muscles of the upper body.

I went from be able to do exactly 0 pull-ups to doing 11 in one set and ~33 throughout a 90 min training session (among other exercises) in about a year, and that includes some holiday breaks and injuries that slowed me down considerably. I got the sense from reading about it and my own experience that there is NO exercise better for developing the strength to do pull-ups...than pull-ups themselves! (That said, any arm/shoulder/back strengthening will probably help some, and you should be doing that anyway).

What I did was first to just strain there at the halfway point for a while. Then I would do sort of "mini pull-ups" where I just pulled myself up a few inches and then back down for as many as I could do. Eventually I was able to do one. Then kept with that, and then eventually 2 and so on... I think patience is very needed for this project.

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