How to Get Strong Enough to Do Pull Ups

by Judy Bruen

About Judy Bruen

Judy Bruen is a private certified personal trainer and wellness coach. She holds dual master's degrees from Boston College in clinical social work and pastoral ministry. She currently works with individuals on fitness, health and lifestyle goals.


Pull ups are challenging exercises that require strength, control and training commitment. Training specifically for pull ups is the key to performing them. Build strength in your middle and lower back, your biceps and your forearms. Incorporate the following strength training exercises into three workouts each week. Test your pull up capability after each week of training. Do the pull-down machine, bicep curls, assisted pull-ups and negatives to become strong enough to do pull ups.

Lat Pull-down

Step 1

Determine your appropriate setting on the lat-pull down machine--adjust the seat until you are able to extend your arms overhead and grip the bar. Bend your elbows slightly. Adjust the leg pad so it rest comfortably on the top of your legs. Start with a low weight, practice your form and increase weight as you gain strength.

Step 2

Lean back slightly and pull your shoulder blades down and together. Pull the bar down, bringing your elbows down towards your sides. Stop lowering when the bar reaches your collarbone.

Step 3

Slowly lift the bar back to straight and repeat until you complete 12 to 15 repetitions.

Bicep Curls

Step 1

Hold a dumbbell in each hand, arms hanging by your sides. Choose a weight that is challenging but that does not compromise your form. If you swing your arms or shoulders, the weight is too heavy. Bend you knees slightly, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and tighten your abdominal muscles.

Step 2

Tuck the tops of your arms to your sides and keep them there throughout the curls. Turn your fingertips towards your shoulders.

Step 3

Lift the weight towards your shoulders. Pause before the weights hit your shoulders, lower slowly and repeat until you complete 12 to 15 repetitions.

Assisted Pull-ups

Step 1

Adjust the pull-up bar so that it is three feet off of the ground. Sit on the ground, your hips under the bar. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the bar, palms facing away from your body.

Step 2

Bend your knees and place them on the mat. Tighten and straighten your back. Squeeze your shoulder blades down and together--maintain this tension throughout the exercise. Lower your back towards the ground behind you. Stop when your arms are almost fully extended and you are about to hit ground with your shoulders.

Step 3

Pull yourself up to bar, bending and flaring your elbows as you lift your chest to meet the bar. Lower and repeat until you complete 12 to 15 repetitions.


Step 1

Stand on an exercise bench directly below the pull up bar. Choose a bench that allows you to lift your chin over the bar while standing on your toes. Face your palms away from you and grip your hands shoulder width apart on the bar.

Step 2

Tighten your abdominal muscles, pull your shoulder blades down and together. Bend your arms, lift onto your toes and pull your chin over the bar.

Step 3

Lift your feet off off the bench and slowly lower your body towards the ground, extending your arms and legs. Hang with your arms in full extension for five seconds. Return your feet to the bench, rest and repeat 12 to 15 times.

Items you will need

  • Lat pull-down machine
  • Adjustable pull-up bar or bar 3 feet off of the ground
  • 2 dumbbells


  • Limit pull-up exercises to three times a week to prevent strain on your back and arm muscles.


  • Do not pull the lat-pull down bar behind your head -- it is dangerous and puts you at risk for injury.

Photo Credits:

  • Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or