The Importance of Pull-up Bar Training

This is a guest post from Al Kavadlo of

If you’re like me, part of the appeal of Primal living is the simplicity of it all. Modern society has a funny way of making things more complicated than they need to be. In studying the intricacies of healthy eating and proper exercise, we often get lost in the details and miss the big picture. You don’t need to know about antioxidants in order to know that blueberries are good for you. Likewise, you don’t need a degree in anatomy or kinesiology in order to implement a safe and effective fitness program. Unfortunately, much of the fitness industry is designed to make you feel like being healthy is a complicated and difficult objective. Modern gyms are equipped with lots of expensive, high-tech machinery in order to give the illusion that complicated exercise contraptions are more effective than timeless bodyweight movements requiring only minimal equipment. The irony is that many of these facilities, in spite of having three different types of elliptical trainers, dozens of different selectorized strength training stations and (my favorite in terms of the dollars-to-dumbness ratio) the vibrating power plate, lack the one piece of fitness equipment that I actually deem essential: the humble pull-up bar.

Pull-ups work your entire upper body, especially the muscles of your back, as well as your abs and your biceps. Thanks to pull-ups, I haven’t felt the need for crunches or bicep curls in years and I don’t expect to ever again. In spite of this, my abs and biceps are strong and well developed. Pull-up bar training is essential for the simple reason that gravity only works in one direction. If all you do for your upper body is push-ups and other floor work, you may develop a muscular imbalance, which can lead to poor posture, shoulder pain or worse. You need to pull against resistance as well to avoid these pitfalls.

Whether or not you are strong enough to do a pull-up, a pull-up bar is still the best piece of fitness equipment you could ever own. If you aren’t ready for pull-ups yet, there are three primary exercises that you can do on an overhead bar to help you get there: flex hangs, negative pull-ups and dead hangs.

Flex Hangs

A flex hang involves holding yourself at the top of a pull-up with your chin over the bar. It is best to start by using an underhand (chin-up) grip. Use a bench or a partner to help you get in position and then simply try to stay up. Think about squeezing every muscle in your entire body. If you can hold this position for even a second on your initial attempt, you are off to a good start.

Negative Pull-ups

Once you can hold the flex hang for several seconds, you’re ready to start working on negative pull-ups, which just means lowering yourself down slowly from the top position. In the beginning, it might be very difficult to perform a controlled negative, but with time you will be able to make your negative last for ten seconds or longer. Once you can do this, a full pull-up will be within reach.

Dead Hangs

If you are not strong enough to do a flex hang or a negative yet, your first objective is simply to get a feel for hanging from the bar. This will build grip strength and work your muscles isometrically. With some practice, you should be able to work to a flex hang fairly quickly. Even once you can perform flex hangs and controlled negatives, it is still helpful to practice dead hangs at the end of your training session when your arms have gotten too fatigued to do more negatives. When performing a dead hang, think about keeping your chest up and pulling your shoulder blades down in order to fully engage your back muscles.

Australian Pull-ups

The Australian pull-up (also known as a horizontal pull-up or bodyweight row) is another great exercise for anyone who is working their way up to a standard pull-up. The Australian involves getting “down under” a bar that is a little above waist height, with your feet resting on the ground. Keep a straight line from your heels to the back of your head as you squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your chest to the bar. Novices may choose to bend their knees and push gently with their heels in order to give their arms assistance if needed. When you get a little more comfortable with this exercise you can angle your heels to the floor with your feet pointed up and your legs straight. Just like the dead hang, be sure that you are not shrugging your shoulders up when performing Australians. You want to pull your shoulder blades down and back – never up. This is the case for all pull-ups. Start getting in the habit of doing this right away – it’s the most common error I see people make when performing these moves.

Pull-ups and Beyond

When you’re ready to go for the full Monty, it’s generally best to start with an underhand (chin-up) grip. Chin-ups put more emphasis on your biceps, while an overhand grip will recruit your back musculature to a greater degree. Though the muscles of your back can potentially become bigger, stronger muscles than the biceps, deconditioned individuals are more likely to have some bicep strength from everyday activities, while their back muscles will be nowhere near their full potential. With practice and patience, the disparity in difficulty between different hand positions should begin to even out. It can also be worthwhile to practice a neutral grip pull-up, which involves gripping two parallel bars with your palms facing each other. This can be a nice intermediate step between the underhand and overhand grips. The neutral grip may also be less stressful on the shoulder joints of people who’ve had injuries to that area.

Once you get the hang of full overhand pull-ups, there are still many challenges ahead, including the muscle-up, which involves pulling (and then pushing) your entire upper body up and over the bar, as well as the elusive one arm pull-up. In fact, there is much more that can be done a pull-up bar than just pull-ups. The bar can be used for dips, hanging leg raises and countless other variations on these moves.

For more information, pick up a copy of my new book, Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Training.

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    1. Same here. Al’s videos and their being pull-up bars everywhere in Rio (was there for a month) inspired me to buy his book on the subject. Just bought a pull-up/dip contraption for my apartment and I LOVE not having to go to the gym for every workout now. Gym is still needed for dead lifts, squats and bench, but I can do all of those lifts at the gym in one day, once a week.

  1. Nice post! Good to see there’s no mention of the dorky ‘kipping’ pull-ups.
    I would like to mention that using rings for pull-ups is easier on the shoulders and elbows since rings will naturally track your joint alignment.

    1. It might not be in the article, but Kipping pull ups have there place too if done correctly. A Kipping pull up is more of a core workout than a a bicep and back workout, but it will still give you tired last when done. The largest difference is that Kipping will add in an aspect of cardio that you won’t get with dead hang pull ups. I personally am a huge proponent of both and they are my main source of exercise.


    2. C’mon, man! Not all of us can do dead hang pull-ups quite yet. The less upper-body strength inclined just need to use a bit more momentum and coordination.

    3. Kipping pull-ups are a great way to get injured, not to mention they don’t build strength as well as a strict pull/chin up. Great advice on the rings Kishore.

      I’d like to add that the Australian pull-up is probably the single best exercise you can do to give you strong stable shoulders, and prevent shoulder injury.

      Maybe even combine it with rings?

    1. We just bought a great pull-up bar for $25. You don’t even need to screw it in. It fits in any 36 inch doorway over the molding. Works great for me at 110 pounds or my husband at 215 pounds.

    2. This is the only thing I use the Smith machine for at my gym. Put it up to the highest level, bend your knees and start pulling. 🙂

  2. many variations of pull-ups. strict (or “tactical”) gymnastic kips, butterfly kips, weighted, “L-Sit” + more. Here’s a good Pull-Up work-out- do 10 rounds of this: 3 weighted, 5 strict, and 7 kipping pull-ups. I’ve learned all of this from Crossfit. If you are still working on getting pull-ups, here are some movements: ring rows, jumping pull-ups, rubber-band pull-ups, & of course, the bar hangs and negatives descents. KEEP ON PULLING! IT WORKS!

  3. Somebody please help me out – I cannot find a pull up bar anywhere (not even the local play grounds)! Is there anyway I can use a TRx system to start with? Keep in mind I am at the very basic starting point as in, if I managed one real pull up I would die of happiness. Any help appreciated.

    1. The Australian pull-up Mark mentions is perfectly suited to the TRX–I think they call it a “body row”.

      I have not regretted the 19.95 I spent on my over the door pull-up bar.

      1. I want to correct myself. I credited Mark Sisson, but guest columnist Al Kavadlo deserves the props for a very clear and helpful column! I’m going to try the flex hangs and dead hangs although I’m now succeeding at pull-ups.

    2. has a great pull up bar for your home. I think it’s about $50.

    3. my hubs brought home an “iron gym” a few years ago (complete with the “as seen on TV” logo)- it’s a pull-up bar that fits in most doorways that have a door jamb. I’m not sure where he found it, but I’m glad he did! Good luck Jill!

      1. I found mine at Wal-Mart but I’ve seen them all over the place….Target, REI, even CVS.

    4. I found a nice one for under $20 at Aldi’s and then saw them at either Target or WalMart (forget which).

    5. Google “chin up bar”

      There are hundreds of commercially manufactured chin up bars on the market that install in a doorway in your home.

      Some don’t even require hardware installation. You simply wedge it in place. Tool-less installation.

      You should have no problem finding something suitable for your situation.

    6. you can get a good pull-up bar at Dick’s
      sporting goods. It’s the kind that doesn’t need brackets, just a good strong doorway.

      Incidentally, I am one of those who cannot (yet) do a pull-up to save my soul.

  4. Mark thank you for this wonderful web site and all the useful info that you provide.

    I would just like to say that although I can follow the primal lifestyle and have managed to shed 16 kilos in weight since my stents were put in, I am unable to follow all of your fitness program.

    Like most oldies my body is falling apart and I am unable to do pull ups as I have a full tear in the supraspinatus and a partial tear of the subsscapularis on my right rotor cuff. I am not in pain so surgeon won’t operate and if he did he would not allow me to do pull ups. Squats are also out of the question due to chondral fissuring at the back of both patellas.

    Can you please think about alternative fitness ideas for those of us whose bodies are not up to the rigors of your current fitness program.

    1. First, get a second medical opinion. If suregey is not an option than get physical therapy.

      Only after that would I consider pullups but with assistance. Try pullups with assistant bands, like the ones from Rubberbanditz. Different bands provide different weight supports.

      1. Thanks for the recommendation of the rubberbandz, I have bilateral torn rotator cuffs and cannot do more than 3-5 pullups.

    2. I agree with the recommendation for a second opinion and /or a physical therapist. I’m a 59 y o female with a history of joint injuries as well as multiple abdominal surgeries. I consulted with a PT, who was also a Stotts Pilates teacher, to develop a safe way to get back into shape. I have mastered the basic mat program that we developed and am ready for more. I feel better now about being aware of how to exercise safely but I am also prepared to make the occasional visit to the PT as I go along.

    3. I agree on the second opinion. I have seen a study done on the effectiveness of rehab vs. surgery in your situation and rehab showed better results.

      You should see Mark’s article on slow sets. Slow sets can be very effective and safe training for the elder population.

  5. So true! I feel the greatest indicator in the importance of the pull-up as a tool for overall strength is how many of the machine and chronic-gym users cant even perform one chin-up, much less a pull-up. It’s kind of astonishing!

  6. Thank you for this post. I’m a complete novice, but decided to try a few pull-ups when I took my kids to the park the other day. I was so excited to discover that I was strong enough to do three and a few neutral grip pull-ups after that. Now that you’ve explained a good progression of exercises, I’m ready to try a few more when we visit the park this afternoon.

  7. This post was awesome for me. I have very little upper body strength and we bought a pull-up bar for our doorway. It was inexpensive and needed a bit of elbow grease but despite my trepidations that it would bring the house down (literally ;-)) it has turned out to be the best thing.

    My kids can now do pull-ups, my husband is getting there but what I liked most about this post was the bit about in the beginning hanging from the bar and strengthening the grip. I haven’t seen that expressed as a starting point before and I sorely needed to hear that because that’s the point I am at. Thank you!

  8. I have a serious aversion to swallowing pills or capsules. Is there an alternative method for ingesting the contents of your supplement capsules? What about emptying them into water,juice or a smoothie of some sort?

  9. awesome, didn’t know there were so many variations. I’ve been working on mine, still trying for the kipping ones, but can do a few strict ones.

  10. I was once told to do 3 sets of 10 wide grip and close grip alternating (10 wide, 10 close, 10 wide, 10 close, 10 wide). Do it unassisted. Of course, I couldn’t do more than 5 of the first set. Still I was told, do it every other day. In one month, I could do all 60. Best work out.

  11. Fascinating, but I’d love to see more tips on pullups geared specifically to women. Like are there variations that work better for us? What are good ways for us to ease into it?

    1. I have a pull up bar that fits in the doorframe, a style some folks have already mentioned. What I do is (what I believe is called) assisted pull-ups. I have a stool which I put under the bar. Hanging onto the bar, the stool is at the perfect height for a deep squat. Then I pull up with the arms/back/core, and pretend that I am not also assisting with legs – but, the legs assist. I still cannot do any kind of pull-up or hang (except the dead hang, which I do) without the chair/stool to assist.

      I thought the video was fantastic, but agree that more information for women, and especially women like me with much less upper body strength would be useful.

    2. Yes, thank you for saying this. I was going to post the same thing.

      1. A woman’s body contains all the same muscles a man’s does. Just because you are starting out weak (relatively) does not mean you need different exercises than a man would. Follow the tip in the video – particularly the advice about the Australian Pullups and work you tails off, you’ll get there sooner or later.

        1. I’d have to agree. I’m a physically fit 22 y o female, and my mother is a 44 y o female, and I know many females older than that around where I live that are physically fit. There is NO reason for there to be female specific workouts unless you are wanting a routine to shape your body into a good, feminine shape, and those workouts are mostly toning of the butt area. Everyone, male or female, can start with an assisted workout, but the whole point is to force yourself to work past that, which can be done by following this “guide” that we are all replying on. 😀 It’s not as hard as it seems to be at first, you just have to want to do it! Keep it up guys!

  12. Thanks so much for the great article! I have been apprehensive to start using our pull-up bar because I didn’t know where to start and didn’t want to injure myself right out of the gate. Such helpful information!

  13. I loved doing pull ups and chin ups and I was getting good at them, eventually buying a belt with some weights. Unfortunately I don’t know if I can continue because of terrible pain in my bladder area and testicles. This happens after every session now. The pain disappears after a day or two. For some reason, the muscles down there just don’t agree with it. I even tried taking a month off and using no weight. No dice. Anybody else have this problem?

    1. See your doctor. Sounds like a hernia to me, too.

      I had inguinal hernia on both sides, and got them both patched at the age of 37-38 (two ops a year apart). The surgery is routine and takes a few months to recover fully from, if you are fit. Now I’m 40 and I hardly ever even think about it.

      Better to fix it sooner than later!

    2. Zach;

      When you do ‘chins’ with a weighted belt the issue is that you have to ‘cross the legs very tightly’ to maintain the hang weight in a static position as you move against gravity.

      If you start to ‘kip’ the bar ; then what happens is that you are rolling one testicle up and over the other one. This causes blood flow issues and a type of ‘strangulation’. You can also do damage to the soft tissue around the testicles.

      Can i suggest you allow the weight to hang from a vest or chest harness so the dead weight sits nicely against the fleshy part of the stomach. This will let your groin area maintain its normal symmetry.

      Cheers mate;


  14. Pullups – I love them and hate them at the same time! My current favorite variation is the Lever – doing 7-10 of those beastly moves wipes me out every time.

  15. Thanks Al for your informative pull-up info. I am truly pathetic and can only do the Australian pull-up. I can’t even begin to do the flex or dead hang. I need to get on this with more intention. This was a very nice reminder to get at it.

  16. I know this goes against the “no machine” concept of this post, but for all the ladies out there who really want to work up to full blown pull-ups, I had excellent success by starting with lat pull downs. I gradually worked up the weights, until I was repping a weight that was about 80% of my body weight. Then I was able to move to full pull-ups with ease (could do 1 or 2 at that point). In two months, I went from only being able to do 1/2 a pull-up to 12! I tried acheiving this with assisted pull-ups prior, and got nowhere – the lat pull-downs are what really worked for me, so I thought I would share.

    1. Our lat pulldown machine has a variety of attachable bars available, and I have been using grips that are closer together. I have worked up to being able to pull down half my body weight several sets of 10 reps.

      I have been experimenting with various grips. I am going to have to look for a pull up bar that will work at home. The Australians seem like something that I could do.

  17. For those of you hoping to get built up enough to do a pull-up in 2012, click the link on my name to check out this forum thread:
    ? ? ? Challenge Yourself: Do a Pull-Up in 2012 ? ? ?

  18. I have to admit I’ve grown to love the pull-up. Well…the chin-up. I’m working towards pull-ups. When I first started I couldn’t do two good ones. Now, seven sweet chin-ups followed by one half-assed chin-up and holding with elbows at 90 degrees for ten seconds before slowly lowering.

    Hey…wanna do a post on squats some time?

  19. Started Primal during the 2012 challenge & have lost right at 50 pounds & I am only about a 1/3 of the way to my goal…BUT my one big goal aside from weight loss is to DO A PULLUP. I have wanted to do one since I was in elementary school & couldn’t do it for the Presidents Fitness award and have never been able to. I am currently looking at shoulder surgert for a torn roto cuff, but I refuse to give up on this Primal goal..I so much appreciate your on going info to help with reaching this goal. I believe the “Australian” I will be able to do once I recoup from surgery…thx for all U do!

    1. To all above: When you hang from an overhead bar, you are engaging the new joint in the human body, the “acromiohumeral joint.” Whe you hang, you are stretching the CA arch, the arch of ligament (CAL) and bending the acromion. This stretching of the CA arch makes more room for your rotator cuff that should be strengthened by simple arm elevations with light dumbbell weight. All of this information is in my book “Shoulder Pain? The Solution and Prevention, Third Edition.”

      The pull-up exercise is optional for those that want to build muscle, but is not necessary for the health of the shoulder. Please do not do chin-ups: they are destructive exercises that punish the tendon of the long head of the biceps brachialis muscle and do not hang in the chin-up position.

      I just published and presented an E-Poster at the 1st Combined Australian/American meeting of the American Association for Surgery of the Hand in Kauai HI. The E-poster is available online at the ASSH site. The study that I presented showed that of 92 subjects with impingement, rotator cuff tears,frozen shoulder and glenohumeral osteoarthritis, 90 of the subjects were restored to comfortable activities of daily living by simply hanging from an overhead bar and lifting the light dumbbell weights. That’s about 98% success with no other therapies or surgery. And, importantly, there were no complications. The only two failures were those two that did not like hanging.

      Best to all,

      John M. Kirsch MD
      Director, Kirsch Institute for Shoulder Research

      1. I can attest to that problem with chin-ups. They bothered my elbow way too much. I switched over to neutral grip pullups and there is no pain or irritation. Just feels more natural. Cheers to all the pull-up fans!


      2. Convict Conditioning advises to “keep your shoulders tight” at the bottom, i.e. never to allow the pullup to act as though its pulling your shoulders out of their sockets.

        Dead hangs can be problematical for novices who think they’re supposed to be as released as possible.

        1. CC does things one way – Others do it another. If you want strength in the dead hang position, start from a dead hang. Working over the full ROM is never a bad idea 🙂

  20. I’ve used the Iron Gym at home in the past and it works great. Now I do Crossfit… plenty of pullup bars there! A good crossfit gym will have bands too in case you need assistance getting up there.

  21. Mark, a tip for more advanced pull-uppers: put the bar out of reach (mine is at 8.5′) and incorporate a jump into the process to workout the legs as well.

  22. Super article. I am currently on track to do 25,000 pull ups in 1 year. Starting 9/11/11 I am at 15,250. With other body weight, balance and irregular weight pieces, my work outs are building a “smart” neuromuscular system. We don’t need machines or crunches.

  23. I just started doing flex hangs every day to work my way up to pull-ups. My upper body has always been weak — here’s hoping some consistent effort will pay off sooner than later!

  24. I have been doing the chair assist pullups since Oct. 2011. I am frustrated by my lack of progress. I am definitely stronger now, but a true pull up is still in the future. Thank goodness for my stubborn nature!

    1. post-w/o, your protein needs are much higher temporarily; take advantage of that window of opportunity by eating a high pro diet for 4-24 hours after lifting. Reduce pro significantly outside the recovery window.

      more at my blog: how to sync diet & exercise (and keep coming back to MDA, of course!)

  25. Sisson once advertised a free standing pull up bard that breaks down by Trapezee Rigging.

    I do not have the luxury of having a park nearby, suitable low hanging tree limbs, or a home to mount a permanent bar. The door frame pullup bar was not working out either.

    So I purchased one. Yes, the cost was a lot for me but the quality is fantastic. I love that the free standing bar is portable. Sometimes I use it outside and I take it on road trips with me.

    Then I started thinking about the cost relative to other goods and services I consume. My cable/internet bill is over a hundred dollars. My pullup bar is worth way more to me than one month of dining out. Plus when I think about how my health is positively compounding the more I use my pull up bar, I am more able to generate more wealth and the pull up bar gets cheaper the more I use it.

    1. I totally agree about how fantastic the Elite XL Pullup/Hanging Bar is by Worth every penny. It is a beautiful piece of equipment and every time I use it (about 3 times a day), I feel like I had a great massage. I follow the bar hanging protocol advocated in the book, Shoulder Pain? by Dr. John Kirsch, M.D.

    2. Yes, Trevor Boswell Productions “Pull-up” bar is not only exquisitely beautiful but by far the best $ deal anywhere if you want an easily portable free-standing bar. But, and I will repeat this information once again for all who are enthused with bar exercises:
      the only exercise you need to restore and MAINTAIN the health of your shoulders is to simply hang (dead hang) from the bar and do light-weight dumbbell full arm elevations on a regular basis. Doing the full dead hang with the palms forward for 30 seconds x3 daily & the weights is all you need. Chin-ups are an unnatural and destructive exercise. The chin-up will over time cause destructive changes in the biceps tendon that must past over the humeral head in its groove as it inserts onto the glenoid tubercle. Hanging with the palms forward allows the tendon a straight line to its insertion. Same with palms forward pull-ups. But chin-ups force that poor tendon to take an angular course to it’s insertion like a rope over the edge of the cliff.

      The dead hang does this: it puts the humerus in position to lean against the acromion, stretches the coracoacromial ligament and thus restores the compliance of the CA arch allowing more room for the rotator cuff tendons to function without destructive pressure from the CA arch.
      This is all explained thoroughly and singularly in the book I wrote for the public: “Shoulder Pain? The Solution and Prevention.” I wrote the book for the public to EMPOWER everyone to restore and MAINTAIN the health of their own shoulders. No one needs to indulge in other useless therapies & seldom is surgery on the shoulder required; and NEVER for the subacromial impingement syndrome. Never. The dead hang solves the impingement problem, period. You may all write to me free for more free info at [email protected]

      Best Regards to every one possessing a shoulder,

      John M. Kirsch MD, Director, Kirsch Institute for Shouler Research

  26. Pull-ups are by far my favorite exercise, though I admit I prefer using a neutral grip (with palms facing each other), which makes them a bit easier than using a forward grip.

    Al’s suggestions are great. Six months ago I couldn’t do one pull-up. I’ve worked on them, though, and I now crank out sets of 20 while holding a ten-pound medicine ball between my legs. If you work on them, you’ll get stronger.

    1. Did it make any difference in terms of the size of your arms? I can gain strength the same as anybody I guess but my arms are always the same size.

      1. you may want to consider adding bent-over and/or seated cable rows, if not already doing. squeeze while holding the last rep per set..

  27. If this is the first time you’ve come across Al Kavadlo, you might be interested in knowing that he’s got a ton of material out there. Be sure to check out his youtube channel. Just go to YouTube and search his name.

    Also, I’d like to recommend the Iron Gym to anyone looking for a good indoor pull up bar. You won’t be able to do muscle ups on it, but beyond that it’s idea.

    Keep up the Great Work Al!

  28. “…dozens of different selectorized strength training stations and (my favorite in terms of the dollars-to-dumbness ratio) the vibrating power plate…”

    I actually got one of the vibrating machines for my handicapped mother, since she can barely walk due to Sjorgrens’ Syndrome. I spent $1000 for it, but I believe it was money worth spent. I actually use it on occasion as part of my exercise routine, and it does have some serious benefits. Obviously for someone like me, and you, and most everyone else here, it’s an unnecessary contraption. But for people who have limited mobility it’s awesome.

  29. I did my first technically correct pull-up a month(ish) ago. It was a proud moment! I finally conquered chin-ups last year with my first body-weight repetition, and now can do around 6 or 7 on a good day. These lifts have been huge struggles for me, but well worth the effort. Doing some resistance band work to activate muscles before the training session has helped me with muscle recruitment–also, smacking the lats before each set will help “wake them up.”

  30. Thanks for the post! This is exactly what I was looking for. I’ve been trying to do pullups since January, only to completely stress out my back. I started doing flexed arm hangs instead. I feel like a wuss, but your post gives me hope that it’s a progression. Thanks!

  31. Bookmarked this page! Thank you so much for the pull-up info, especially the variations for beginners. I’ve been thinking I will never be able to do a pull-up but now I feel there is hope, and soon! I am going to head upstairs to our pull-up bar in the door and try a flex hang, otherwise I will just do the dead hang. Feeling motivated!!

  32. I love doing pullups, but need to use a band to help me. Can you suggest any websites where these are available? I don’t even know what they’re called?


  33. anyone else be shocked to see this man shirtless at their child’s playtoy!

    1. Well, I tell yah. I was just watching the video, and my 9 year old comes up behind me and says, “Wow, Mommy. HE’S HOT.”

      So… Nothing freakin’ shocks me anymore. And yes, he’s hot.

  34. What a great way for people who are out of shape to work up to doing pull-ups!

  35. I recently purchased a pull-up bar (the type that is removable) from the local CVS, of all places.

    Money well spent.

    I can do a few reps of each grip, and wasn’t increasing, but I think that the negatives at the end of my workout are going to help tremendously. Plus, I’m sure that my form is completely out of whack when I am trying to get one more rep normally, while I can concentrate on tight form on the negatives….and I think that might help as much as anything because I am not cheating my ass off 🙂

  36. The former owner of our house installed a pullup bar in pur bedroom doorway, but it is so close to the top of the frame that it’s not terribly good for a real pullup. Flex hangs, yeah. Chair assisted pullups where you don’t go all the way up, Ok. But if anyone in the house actually got to the point where they were able to lift themselves where their top of their head got more than 2 inches above the bar top – thunk. And the door jamb bars damage our old door frame molding, I had to return the one I got.

    My new favorite work out tool for body weight lifting is the dance pole. Yes, the kind strippers use. 🙂 I’ve been taking classes since January, and it requires (and develops) so much upper body and core strength, even when you’re just starting. Plus it’s great support for stretching. A lot of the training moves are pullup-esque, but you hold the “bar” in front of you in a baseball bat grip. Instead of needing a chair for my leg assisted pullups on the bar, I can start in a squat, reach up for the pole and pull myself up.

    Hm, I wonder if a Primal Pole blog should be forthcoming… ?

  37. Pull-ups are great no doubt, but don’t forget about the almighty chin-up. I only recently incorporated pull-ups into my routine, so my top set is only +35lbs on a dip belt, but chins are getting beastly. I’m up to 4 @ +70lbs on a dip belt! Truly, deads, squats, chins, pull-ups, calf raises and benchpresses is all it takes to become a beast. Throw in some shoulder presses if you have time.

  38. Thank you for this article. I have been trying to do a pull up for 2 years (don’t laugh) and obviously I am not doing the correct exercises to get there. I am 5’5″, 120 lbs and can hang for at least 40 seconds so I am now going to work on the negatives. Do you have a guideline for how often/how many a day I should do?

  39. I live in a suburban home. My workouts tend to be in my basement (which has a standard height ceiling). Is there any type of pull up bar system that I can purchase. I have had success with the eating part of primal “living” and really need to incorporate the pull up bar training.

  40. Thanks for this useful blog, Al and Mark. I was just discussing pull ups with fitness pals and I just made a pdf of your fine routine to send over to them. I will also print it for my workout binder. Outstanding information!!

  41. I wish I had taken up the exercise of daily dead hangs years ago. If one has a desk job and uses one’s arm all day long to move the mouse (and do keyboarding), it’s important to keep the upper body and shoulders in great shape. I ended up (at age 62) getting a frozen shoulder problem. After prolonged research, I stumbled across Dr. John Kirsch, M.D.’s book, “Shoulder Pain?”. His book advocates bar hanging to keep a shoulder healthy and for repairing various shoulder conditions including mine. In just one month of bar hanging, I have had enormous recovery. It’s an amazing exercise. His book shows via X-rays and CT scans how this all works.

  42. Great post, Al! You inspired me to do pullups last year. In Jan 2011, I couldn’t do a single pullup. Through perserverance and practice, I did flex hangs, negatives, australians and within a few months could knock-out 10 perfect form pullups.

    My workout routine involves pullups and chinups 3-4 times a week. I do reverse pyramids, starting with sets of 15, then 12,10,8,6,5,4,3,2 for 65 total. If I go at it til failure, I can get about 25-30, but doing the pyramid gets me 65! I walk for 2 minutes between each set.

  43. It is my ultimate physical goal. I am ludicrously bad at this exercise.
    Can you say more about the power plate, Mark? I bought into it, and it does makes my muscles sore. It’s just that I hate doing it, even for 10 minutes,
    yours, K

  44. I bought a wall-mounted chin-up bar from Amazon, and mounted it above the door to my garage. Every time I go in or out of the garage, I rip off a few. I am 57, and at first could do only 3 good ones, but by now am up to 10. I also love the feeling of just hanging from the thing – very primal, and you can feel the spine stretch and relax.

  45. I’m following a Rippetoe barbell regime, slightly modified to replace the bench press with dips and chins. I do various combinations of the following 2 to 3 times a week.

    (1) Squat
    (2) Deadlift
    (3) Overhead Press
    (4) Power Cleans
    (5) Dips
    (6) Chins

    The barbell lifts are good way to improve upper body strength for chins and dips. The barbell can be loaded incrementally whereas you need to be able lift your own bodyweight to chin or dip.

  46. What are your thoughts on Crossfit’s use of the kipping pull-up?

  47. A $100 exercise. We are primates after all. It’s sad to think how digital man has lost the ability to pull his own weight.

  48. My wife and I have been faithfully doing PBF twice a week since the beginning of February. Doing a pull-up is also one of our fitness goals for this year. The Pull-up progression has been by far the most challenging and the one where we see the smallest amount of progress. My wife has started doing lat pull-downs as a way to make some progress, but I’ve been stubbornly hanging in there with the leg-assist variety.

    After reading this, though, I think I’m going to change the PBF progression for pull-ups to include Dead Hangs and Flex Hangs instead of the leg assists. And maybe I’ll incorporate some lat pull-downs for myself, too.

    Great stuff and very inspirational. Loving the mix-and-match free-form approach that Primal Fitness encourages!

  49. A timely post as I’ve recently been thinking about buying a pull-up bar for inside the apartment. I’m thinking of going for the Iron Gym Xtreme, but any other suggestions are welcome!

  50. Something I have done recently was invest in a doorway pullup bar and my strength has gone up in bounds. Would recommend to anyone to build up strength and confidence at home. Great article!

  51. A timely post as I’ve recently been thinking about buying a pull-up bar for inside the apartment. I’m thinking of going for the Iron Gym Xtreme, but any other suggestions are welcome!

  52. Good article. I have a set of Rings in my office that I use to do what you describe. The Rings give you that added dimension of instability. Also, they enable safe pronation and supination of the arms whereas a bar can sometimes lock you in, so to speak. I’m a Pilates Instructor, as well, and I disagree with the assertion that bodyweight exercises trump all other methods of safe muscular development. Exercises like pull-ups work the superficial muscles while Pilates(which does incorporate/leverage bodyweight at times) works on the deeper stabilizing muscles around the joints. I’m a walking example. I thought I was “strong” until I started doing Pilates and Pilates-type exercises. I’m not as “big” anymore but I feel more balanced and healthy. I’m not advertising Pilates, per se. Just adding to the discussion around how to be in the best shape of your life. I’m happy to contribute an article or two on Pilates if you think your community would benefit. Some Pilates exercises require equipment that is “high tech and expensive” while other exercises can be done with a mat and/or a few cheap props. Thanks for the opportunity to comment on this article.

  53. I love Al Kavadlo! He looks so badass but has such a bubbly personality.

  54. Pull-ups are great! I put a bar in my yard at 12 inches higher than I can reach, so everytime I use it I get some jumping exercise. I have been working on horizontal hangs and windshield wipers. They are tough! I also installed a thicker bar which makes things even harder, but better. Great article, thanks again.

  55. I love this cuz it’s cheap and simple! In fact I have one of those door frame bars I walk under everday. I wanted to start using but was discourage due to my lack of arm strength. But now I have a whole new perspective 😉

    Do you recommend any exercise equivalent for lower body?

  56. You’ve got some crazy pull-up skills going on there Al! 🙂 I hope to be as crazy skilled as you some day!

    About a month ago I added two pull-up routines per week to my workout schedule, and I can already notice a ton of body changes. I never realized how much the core is worked, especially with chin ups.

    Thanks for the tips my friend!


  57. Thanks for the info I’ll definitely try this. Although I follow the Primal diet my exercise is not very “primal”. I mainly do HIIT and weight training with little cardio (I consider walking my dog cardio) but I’m following a bodybuilding plan because I want to have a lean muscular body. The problem is I’m about go nuts trying to count the sets/reps and get the movements right. Since I’m a female it is very hard to gain muscles. I can’t get out of the gym in less than an hour and a half and I do weight training 5 days a week. It is obvious that this kind of an exercise routine is unsustainable in the long term.

  58. I’m strong enough to do pull ups, even with a weighted vest on, but they just kill my shoulders and elbows (chronic tendinitis).

  59. I have been training to do a pullup for a while, and I was making some progress with the assisted pull-up machine at the gym, but I’ve gotten stuck. I’ve got the classic strong-biceps, pathetic mid-back syndrome. My pecs and traps are so tight they almost don’t let my lats and rhomboids activate at all. It’s not so great when you’re trying to lift your bodyweight AND fight the antagonistic muscles (I literally feel them stretch at the top). So discouraging. I am the poster child for why it is easier to avoid muscle imbalances than fix them.

  60. Great article. I’ve since left the gym after starting bodyweight exercises. I just don’t enjoy going to the gym anymore.

    I may just go only for deadlifts and on rainy days, but I’ll be using my local park’s pull-up bars for my main regimen. What’s your opinion on weighted pull-ups after I’m able to do 20 bodyweight pull-ups?

  61. A pull up bar was one of the first pieces of fitness equipment I purchased when I decided I was done with the gym. That and my powerblock dumbells! Love them to bits!

  62. Hi,
    I had been told recently that one should never move to a complete hang position after a pullup, but rather stop with arms slightly bent. Apparently keeping arms bent reduces stress on shoulders. Is this true…?

    1. Yes; I believe that’s what was stated in Convict Conditioning.

  63. Pullups, handstand pushups, and riding my mtn bike up big hills—I love the simplicity of summer!

  64. Thanks for this great article! I’ve wanted to start pull-ups but haven’t been doing ’cause we have no place to put a pull-up bar in our apartment. Happily I recently found one in my local park but when I tried to do a full pull-up I failed miserably. I was ashamed because it was a very public failure. So I’m hoping these will get me to that first pull-up! One other thing – my boyfriend suggested assisting me (basically lifting me) in my pull-ups – is there any point to this or is it preferable to just do the exercises above? Thanks!

  65. I love pullups but can’t find a decent bar anywhere, goalposts are too thick to grip so I’m thinking of buying some gymnastic rings instead

    1. For more ideas on bar hanging (pullups or bar hanging), go here for the 3 directions/options they give. Google for “Kirsch Institute for Shoulder Research”. They have a DIY blueprint for making your own pullup/bar hanging free-standing setup. They also have a hanging bar that can hang from rafters. And last, they also point to TrapezeRigging for their Elite XL Pullup/Hanging Bar as the third solution.

  66. Just got some 15lbs dumb bells to work out the back muscles. Should make pull ups a lot easier.

  67. Pull ups are great and I agree that anyone who is doing push ups should be doing pull ups as well. When I first decided to stop being a softie I was doing only push ups, for probably the first year or so. This was good, but when I finally got a pull up bar several months ago I found I couldn’t do even a single one! Heck, I couldn’t even move myself one centimeter with an overhand grip due to having no back muscles. I don’t follow a routine (I only do them as the mood strikes me, same as with push ups), but I find that I can manage around 10 even using the overhand position and my strength has improved tremendously all over.

    I feel much better and more confident about myself now, and before starting pull ups I was never able to give my father a challenge in arm wrestling, I’ve actually beaten him once now (first time in my life). There’s also just something really fun about being able to monkey around and pull yourself up on top of everyday things, even if they aren’t a pull up bar. It’s also a good way to impress and inspire your friends as (sadly) most adults in this day and age can NOT lift their own weight.

  68. You can also use rubber tubing tied into a foothold for assisted pullups.

  69. I currently workout 3 times a week at a boot camp class that does complete body workouts as a circuit training. I want to do more pull ups and pushups the other days but am worried about over training. Can I do extra pullups the 2 or 3 times a week with the boot cam

  70. Wow, I had a dream last night that I was at the base gym and did a pull-up with 50 lbs. tied to me. LOL!

    It does remind me that in all this bodyweight training that I’ve been doing, I have neglected my pullups. That should become my new goal.

  71. I am currently using an assisted pull-up machine simply because one is available to me. I will be looking at trying these other methods when the machine isn’t available. 🙂 Thank you!

  72. As a 125 pound woman, I am pound to say that I can do 13 pull-ups, and used most of the techniques described in this article to get there. A few years ago, I couldn’t even do 1 press-up…let alone a pull-up…

  73. I’m 55 year old female…never done pull-ups, I am overweight but could I slowly build up you think to be able to do several?

  74. Hi I am a 55 year old female…can you teach an old dog new tricks. Can you work up to this at my age and being overweight. Looks like a great work out.

  75. Holy Cow did you hit the nail on the head on this one. I workout and I am in very good shape and everyone is always like “what machines do you use” I say the only 2 pieces of equiptment absolutely needed for total fitness are the ground and a pull-up bar. For some weird inexplicable reason the later is frequently absent from many gyms.

  76. You can also slide under your dining table and grip the edge for a beginner solution, although you could only use an overhand grip. I saw this in an Cirque de Soleil workout article years ago. I’ve yet to try it, I hate to say.

  77. Does Al Kavadlo system replace the Mark’s primal Blueprint Fitness pullup protocol?

  78. I’m female, 56, in great shape thanks to P90X and now P90X2. My husband just installed a pullup bar in my workout room. I sooo want to do pullups, but cannot yet. One thing is, that the inside of my right elbow hurts a lot when I try to do pullups.. Any suggestions anyone?

    1. I had that one. Then it progressed the forearm pain. Then one day, I couldn’t move my arm from a 90 degree angle. Not that it hurt when moved, it just didn’t move. Then it started hurting, a lot. A week of drugs, ice, and rest later, and lots of painful stretching, it went back to normal. If I type for too long or do high reps, it starts to come back, signaling me to back off.

  79. Slowly working on pull-ups myself, with a bar installed in a doorframe.

    What’s also helping a lot, is a step-stool underneath, but in front, so that I’m on an angle below the bar, and pulling up with my chin over the bar. Similar to an Australian pull-up, just not on the floor.

    I understand the frustration being a woman and attempting pull-ups, but goddammit, WE CAN DO IT!

  80. Pull-ups are fantastic. For those who are not year able to do a pull-up, consider the Pull-Up Revolution from Lifeline USA. Really a great tool for building pull-up strength and can be used for a bunch of other bodyweight movements as well. It attaches to any horizontal bar. Sorry to be such a salesman, no affiliation, just want to share something that I found works.

  81. Knees to elbows, toes to bar, weighted pullups, skin the cats, all kinds of stuff can be done on a pullup bar! Great article. PULLUPS!

  82. I own the e-book by Al.. It’s great and informative.
    Thanks Al and Mark..

  83. Big ups to BROOKLYN!

    Hell yes, Al.

    Don’t forget pull ups with a weighted vest or with rings!

  84. I can definitely attest to the value of performing pull-ups. They are so underrated, but really work your whole back; I find it to be a great exercise for sports training.

  85. Is there any way to minimise chest involvement? Both pullups and chins hit my chest so effectively that it blows up out of all proportion and I end up looking like I could wear a bra. As a man this is non optimal. Shame because they work my biceps and last like no other… Is there a way to take chest out of the equation?

  86. Still the best upper body strengthening exercise there is in my opinion.

  87. Yay! I’m so glad I now know how to work up to a pull-up since I am SO not there yet! I wonder what other body weight exercises I could do in “play” with my daughter to work up to the “regular” ones.

  88. I agree that pull-ups and their variations are amazing exercises, particularly for a healthy back.

    However, I just had a personal experience that was not outright positive. Couple of months ago I challenged myself to do a pull-up. I approached it very slowly with just dead hangs several times a day, maybe 10 seconds each. I knew that I had had back pain once in a while I wanted not to overdo it. A few weeks later I started having pain in the thoracic area of the back with slight numbness in my left hand and leg during the night.

    I went to a neurologist and it turned out that I have a digenerative disc deasease with herniation in the thoracic spine. Apperently, dead hangs made it worse. How it works? When the discs have been previosly chronically6 damaged and “dried out” in some way, the pull power of a dead hang makes the outer lining of the disc more susceptible to further damage and herniation.

    So what I learned is this: if the back is already weak, better not do dead hangs or pull-ups and work on slowly regenerating the discs- swimming, pilates, walking, etc. Only after years of this regenerative work can I think of a pull up and only if my doctor allows.

    For me poor posture, years of sitting jobs and excess weight led to this back problem. I guess I should also work on those too. Not sure if I ever do a pull up after this. But I hope that those of you with healthy backs enjoy it!

    I did not kno

  89. Love the article as the pull up is a staple in my training and a ton of my clients set the pull up as a performance goal. For advanced pull up training I like to use explosive pull-ups where you explode up above the bar, actually let go, then catch yourself on the way down. You can even progress this advanced movement to clapping your hands before catching the bar. For my clients who are working their way to completing their first body weight pull-up – we do train a lot of negatives and also include the good old hanging hold. But we emphasize squeezing the butt and retracting the scapula.

    Thanks for the post!

  90. Guys, check out Bogdan VS. Hannibal youtube video, there are also other Eastern European dudes who kick some serious ass on the turn bar 🙂 it is amazing

  91. Thanks, this could be just what I need (successful lifetime pull-ups = 0). For some reason I can’t access Mark’s pull-up videos. Now I will try starting with the dead hang – and hope I can progress from there.

  92. It’s wrong to start pull-ups before you are strong enough. You wouldn’t go and bench press your bodyweight on a first attempt, so why would any untrained person think they can safely do a pull-up or a dead-hang or whatever?

    Progressive resistance training is the key. Use a barbell to do squats, deadlifts, presses at a weight you can easily manage. Progressively increase the weight. If you weigh 170lbs and you can bench press 140-150lbs then you can start to think about pull-ups, chins and dips. Not before.

  93. Two pull ups, that’s all i could muster. PATHETIC! this does explain why my back hurts since I’ve been doing only pushups for a year now.

    Thanks AL and Mark.

  94. Al, I’m so inspired by your video. I now actually want to do pull ups, and believe I can build this 51 year old body up to it.

  95. How often should one do pullups? daily, twice a week? I hear different advise. one says do set to failure every time you pass your pullup bar at home, others say not more than twice a week

  96. Great job explaining! As a personal trainer, I find one of the hardest things to get newbies to do is set their shoulder blades (pull shoulder blades down), but it’s soooooo important!

  97. A couple of years ago I pushed way too hard with push ups, boxing, and related exercise associated with the martial arts school I attended and taught at. I did this too often, and ended up with tendinitis so bad I couldn’t lift my arms for weeks. Now it’s chronic (the tendons in my shoulders inflame easily). I also have permanent back and shoulder tension that gets so bad at times, my arms fall asleep. Long story short, pull ups are difficult for me to even begin to work up to for the damage I’ve done to myself in the past. There’s a very fine line between working out and injury. I despise it, get frustrated, and try constantly, but am afraid of injuring myself further. Any suggestions to work around this?

  98. you dont need to buy anything. for pull ups, fold a towel over a door.

    for the “down under” pull ups, aka upside down push ups, body rows, just lie down under a table and grab the edge. for more resistance, find something to put your feet up on.

  99. Just getting started on a new program: You are your own gym. First discovered it here, then bought the book/iphone app.
    Basic premise- do 30 minutes 4X a week of bodyweight exercises such as pullups.
    The killer- there are dozens of different exercises and variations, so it never gets old.
    Considering killing my gym membership for good.

  100. I started doing pullups about a year ago, using all these methods without much success. After several weeks, I still couldn’t do one from a dead hang. I then started using the pullup assist that we have at our gym at work. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a pull up bar, but has a counter-weighted bench you rest you knees on, essentially decreasing the weight you have to pull up. I only set it at 30 lbs (lifting 170-30=140), and did as many reps as I could. The biggest part was getting the movement down, building the muscle memory. It’s not as natural a movement as it might seem. Who would have thought that you’d use your abs in a pullup? After less than 2 weeks of that, I could do a pull up from a dead hang (without assist). After 2 more weeks I could do 5 in a row. I can do many more than that now. The pullup assist is a great machine, because it doesn’t act like your typical weight machine.

  101. I see these door-jamb pull-up bars all the time at Ross/Marshall’s/TJMaxx for far lees than they would cost in regular retail stores. My 17-year-old has been using one for years and has a great V-shape physique.

  102. I am doing research for my blog and i just want to say ty for providing specific data and explaining few types of pull ups

  103. I love pull-ups, they are great for building muscle, getting toned and losing weight. Thanks for sharing

  104. This chin up craze has gotten out of hand. I was in Golden Gate Park staring at some Oriental Garden, and, as often happens in these Zen moments, I popped a rock hard boner that sproinged flew straight out of my open fly and stood at attention at about a 60 degree angle. Some chin up nuts jogged by and stopped to do some chin ups on the damn thing. They started yelling at me as it began drooping and I had to close my eyes and think of Loni Andersom real hard so they could finish their work out. This happens at least five times a week.

  105. Nice article. The thing about pull-ups is that they are so natural to the way humans and animals work. Pulling and pushing is involved in every activity we do.

    And as you pointed out, the fact that it’s a compound exercise and works many muscles just makes it the king of all upper body exercises.

  106. Is there any tips you can give me on the flex hang as I have been trying to do these for 5 months now and still cannot keep my chin above the bar for even half a second. It is becoming very frustrating not seeing any progress.
    P.S. I am not overweight just very weak.

  107. Pull ups can be done by staying at home. its importance lies in the fact that a person remains fit and its muscles becomes strong enough to bear pains ..
    Iron Gym Total Upper Body is bestest among all .. It can also be installed within few minutes and at door way.. without being harm to the door way or anyone else

  108. Hi, all. Are pull ups good or bad for back osteoarthritis . Can they make the spine worse pulling away the spinal cushions between the bones.

    I was doing squats and they really hurt my back. I think they are really dangerous and will never do again. I think they are deadly for tall people and probably made really for short stocky men who often learn towards lifting weight natural. Probably their natural role in the tribe. We all want to that body type or so we think

    I am tall and slim and starting appreciate what I have.

    I am drawn to some build so pull ups seems to make sense . But don’t want any more pain to gain or hurt to gain. Some Effort is ok

    Fed up with this addict hurt yourself culture. No more for me.

    Be gentle with self and what about joints and bones when older? Don’t wear them out!

    I would do 20 x 3 pull ups maybe later 30 x 4 and no more with variations of the other moves 20 x 2. if under 25 then more. If over age of 40 I would do what I have suggested for long term good straight and health. Avoid the addicts they just go from drugs and drink to the gym don’t copy them. love da body mind and Spirit.

    Any ideas? please add

  109. Hi, all. Are pull ups good or bad for back osteoarthritis . Can they make the spine worse pulling away the spinal cushions between the bones.

    I was doing squats and they really hurt my back. I think they are really dangerous and will never do again. I think they are deadly for tall people and probably made really for short stocky men who often learn towards lifting weight natural. Probably their natural role in the tribe. We all want to that body type or so we think

    I am tall and slim and starting appreciate what I have.

    I am drawn to some build so pull ups seems to make sense . But don’t want any more pain to gain or hurt to gain. Some Effort is ok

    Fed up with this addict hurt yourself culture. No more for me.

    Be gentle with self and what about joints and bones when older? Don’t wear them out!

    I would do 20 x 3 pull ups maybe later 30 x 4 and no more with variations of the other moves 20 x 2. if under 25 then more. If over age of 40 I would do what I have suggested for long term good straight and health. Avoid the addicts they just go from drugs and drink to the gym don’t copy them. love da body mind and Spirit.

    Any ideas? please add ..

  110. Dead Hangs – Fight against gravity -Set the stopwatch to 3 minutes from the start-cry in pain but dont leave the bar-see the difference in a week..

  111. Great intro to pull up bar training, i definitely have seen great success with negatives with beginners. Keep up the great content!