I'm a 5'11 18yo 79kg male, waist 32 inches (in the morning). I struggle with pull-ups, I think this is due to:

  • excess body fat
  • lack of muscle
  • my disproportionately long arms (I don't have specific measurements but I know they're longer than my height).

I am a beginner in fitness. I've been going to the gym for a month, but I ran long distances before that. On the Smith Bench Press, I can do 70kg for 5-8 reps, 3 sets (incl. bar weight), and Smith Squat 90kg for 10 reps, 3 sets (incl. bar weight). In terms of bodyweight exercises, I can do ~30 wide grip pushups, and ~12 narrow grip close-to-the-chest pushups (ie. to work my triceps more). I can do assisted pullups with ~30kg support, 10-12 reps, and 3 sets. All of these are, to the best of my knowledge, good form. However, I struggle to do even a single pull-up. I've noted that my arms seem to be my weakest point, even in bench/lat pulldown/etc, my arms fatigue far more quickly than my chest/back/anything else. I would like to do pullups so that I can do a full-body workout even when I don't have access to a gym (variations of bodyweight pushups, pullups, and squats). I see a few options to achieve this: lose body fat, and gain muscle. Which of these would be best in my position?

  • I am in a similar situation. I've started to hypothesis that the pull up, in some sense requires a good muscular structure in lower body too. So, I've started doing deadlifts and squats too. One thing that helped me do a pull up is bulking a bit more while benching a bit. Mar 4, 2023 at 11:16
  • 1
    @TrystwithFreedom Why would pull-ups require stronger legs? If anything, increasing the mass of your legs makes pull-ups harder by increasing body weight.
    – Thomas Markov
    Mar 4, 2023 at 14:24
  • My idea was that the lower body muscles are transmitting the force to lift the lower body, so they would also need to be trained. @ThomasMarkov Mar 4, 2023 at 18:34
  • @TrystwithFreedom That’s not how physics works, unfortunately.
    – Thomas Markov
    Mar 4, 2023 at 19:03

2 Answers 2


Traditionally, when you can't do a full pullup yet, people typically have you start by doing either negatives, or assisted pull-ups. For the former, start in the pulled up position, and then lower yourself as slowly as you can. You can repeat this multiple times in a row as a set. The second can be a bit more tricky in my experience. Some gyms will have a machine with a platform where you can set your knees, which will take part of your weight during pull-ups. You can also use a rubber band, but there are a lot of videos on the internet of what happens when the band slips, especially if you're male. Lastly, some people will do static hangs, getting up to that upper position and then just holding on as long as they can, as well as practicing hangs at the bottom with the arms extended, and intermediate positions. This can help to build up shoulder strength, although it doesn't train you quite as well for the full dynamic motion. Even when not specifically training these, you can make it part of your negatives, trying to hold a bit at the beginning, and then at the end.

Also, as per the answers to this question, exercise is you can do to improve your pull up strength generally involve your lat muscles and your ab muscles. In particular, they seem to be recommending kneeling lat pulldowns.

  • You should also mention general upper back exercises like various rowing movements.
    – Thomas Markov
    Mar 4, 2023 at 15:05
  • 1
    I believe what helped me personally was: 1- get generally stronger with back exercises and 2- banded pull-ups. I used to do the machine pullups before but it doesn't translate 1:1. Just put both feet on the band, legs closed, no dangerous slippage :)
    – Luciano
    Mar 6, 2023 at 14:10
  • 2
    @Luciano The answers to the other question I linked above suggest that band assists may actually help you at the long parts of the pull-up, but I'll admit to not being an expert. I just do a lot of googling.
    – Sean Duggan
    Mar 6, 2023 at 14:23
  • 2
    @SeanDuggan is correct. That is part of the problem with bands, is that they do not provide consistent resistance throughout the movement. Band assisted pullups will get the least assistance near the top where it is arguably the hardest part.
    – JohnP
    Mar 6, 2023 at 14:52
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    @JohnP but it helps getting you up there. As a novice it's hard to get past the first half of the movement. Bands are useful to help build reps with correct form, unless you have one of those assisted machines where you can stand up instead of kneeling.
    – Luciano
    Mar 6, 2023 at 15:00

There are multiple things that can help you here.

First off, many people don't know how to engage all the muscles properly that are used during a pullup. Activation of the scapula is an important part of the pullup that is often being overlooked. You trainthis by doing 'scapula pullups'.

Secondly, you can do multiple different variations of lat engagement to increase strenght to do your first pullup. Exercises like bent-over rows, inverted rows and lat pulldowns will strengthen your back and arms to a point where you can start doing either the eccentric part of a pullup (also known as the negative part of the movement) or assisted pullups.

After you master these, you can probably do atleast 1 pullup. You can start increasing reps from here by doing 1 or 2 pullups, and finishing the rest of the reps with assistance from a band.

One last tip; deadhangs will also help you in getting a better pullup, it helps in building proper grip strength!

Hope that helps, if you have any questions let me know.

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