What to do if you have no pull ups and are miserable

19 Oct

Once you have a few pull ups, its ‘easy’ to keep adding to them. The real hard one is  getting that 1st pull up. I’ve struggled for 3 months to post a genuine article about getting your first pull up. This is my first public draft.

I hope it helps.

If you have no pull ups, here are some essential things you must do:

  1. Get a pull up bar at home. I’d say this won’t guarantee success, but not having one at home will guarantee failure. Do not rely on getting to the gym, or to us for that matter. Also it’s a private matter between you and the bar: basically you have bar “issues” and sometimes its best to deal with “issues” in private
  2. Understand that a pull up is not a rubbishy exercise like all those silly piltates wiggles and squirms that you do. Pull-ups are a predictive happiness test. If you have no pulls ups (and this is especially true of ladies) no-one of quality will want to marry you. If you refuse to get that first pull up, stop reading this and go and get some cats. That’s all you will be good for.
  3. Look honestly at your weight. Pull-ups will be harder to get if you are over-weight. That does not mean you wait until you are the “right weight”. Get going now. It will be harder, but as I often say: “you ate it, now hump it”.

(If you are overweight don’t set yourself the task of losing a few pounds before you do anything; start living your life now. If you are overweight, and are miserable because you are lonely and boyfriendless/ girlfriendless/ loverless, put your details up on the raunchiest BBW site that your morality can stand, and hold on to your hat! Big girls and boys are always in demand. You can only lose weight if you are happy. Fending off would-be lovers with a stick is  a very practical and measurable marker of happiness. Sitting at home feeling fat and ugly, makes you fat and ugly.  Sorry, that not really about pull ups is it.)

Let us begin…

      • Objective 1: can you hang from the bar with your palms facing towards you (for those in the know, this is the ‘chin-up’ grip that’s a bit easier to begin with)?
      • Objective 2: can you hang a bit longer?
      • Objective 3: can you hang a bit longer than objective 2? (can you see where this is going?)

To save a lot of time, can you get to hang on your bar for 10 seconds? When you can, shout “woohoo” (loudly so as to annoy your neighbours) and start on working out how to do your first negative.

Your first what?

Well in highly technical terms, right, there’s the pulling up bit (right?) and then there’s the lowering bit.


At the moment you are not strong enough to do the pulling up bit, like, but if you were kind of already up there, maybe you could, er, lower yourself down a bit?


Does sort of rather beg the question of “how do i get up there?”…

Well here is the Andrew Stemler “Getting it up guide” (apparently this is a good title that always sells):

      1. Jumping. Grab the pull up bar but instead of trying to pull yourself up, jump up so that your chin is above the bar. This can be easier said than done
      2. By standing on something. Just stand on something that is high enough for you to start out in that already-pulled-up position. A bench, a chair, whatever. Anything you can use as a mini-ladder would be perfect. Perhaps even a mini-ladder?
      3. Stand on something “version 2”.  Grab the bar and make your loser boy- or girlfriend  (perhaps the one you got from the BBW site) grab your ass and push you up

Now, once you’re in that top position, you’re ready to do the negative part of the pull-up. So, lower yourself down as slow and controlled as you possibly can. Focus on keeping really tight. I don’t mean “refuse to lend people money or get drunk”, I mean “have lots of tension in your body”. Squeeze (your own) bottom together. Brace your abs, squeeze your legs together.

Your first lower (we will call it negatives from now on) will either be agonisingly slow and hurt like hell, or you will fall straight through as you discover you have no strength at all.

Once you have lowered yourself, pop off the bar and reflect. Negatives are very taxing. You need rest between each one and you should never do more than 6 to 8 in a session.

So here is you beginner “CHIN-UPS FOR HAPPINESS” programme

Day  1: neg, neg, neg, neg, neg ( 120 secs rest between each negative)

Rest a day ( drink, eat cake, take all sorts of drugs. Smoking is especially good for you these days as it gets you out in the fresh air

Day 2: neg, neg, neg, neg, neg (90secs rest between each negative) It’s the same but with less rest!

Rest a day (put your own joke in!)

Day 3: neg, neg, neg, neg, neg (120 secs between each negative)

Rest one day

Day 4: The next workout needs you to get that loser boyfriend/girlfriend again. Basically they are going to try and help you pull yourself up and down. They get behind you, grab you…somewhere….(experiment) then they assist you to do….three sets of as many reps  as you can with 120 seconds between. So they grab you, and haul you up and down as many times as you can. Could be 1, you could do 2 or 6. The set is over when they cannot push you anymore, not when you feel like it. You will want to stop early as it feels as it you are not doing the work: in fact it’s mainly you.

Rest 120 seconds. Do it again 2 more times.

It’s my way of getting your body to see what the actual task is. No, a lat pull down machine is not a good substitution.

But, what if you cannot get anyone to help you? Well thats beyond this article: but ideas could be to go next door and bug your neighbour, call up your ex-wife. Perhaps the guy selling the Big Issue fancies a couple of quid extra. Get creative, and find someone. Join a religious group and offer to host a scripture reading and slip your set in before you start as “movement prayer”

Rest 2 days.

Day 5: neg, neg, neg,neg, neg (90 secs rest)

Rest 2 days.

Now it’s the big test. Get someone to help you do 1-2 easy, supported reps. Rest for 2 minutes. Then do your 1 chin-up (woohoo!) or hang there trying for a full 7 seconds. Then with 120 seconds rest neg, neg, neg.

If you get that pull up come and talk to us about getting more. If not return to the beginning and start again. If you are very weak it could take many passes through to get your first pull up. But this regime works.

Feel free to suggest improvements or funnier/ruder quips to comments.

13 thoughts on “What to do if you have no pull ups and are miserable

  1. “objective 1, can you hang from the bar with your palms facing away from you ( for those in the know, this is the chin up grip thats a bit easier to begin with)”

    I guess you mean palms facing towards you.

  2. Good article. Like a lot.

    Out of interest why wouldnt you recommend a girl just loses weight pre starting a pull up programme? I never really get why crossfit tends to tell everyone who needs to lose weight crossfit +paleo or zone diet. Maybe because I come from a running/footy background my perspective is skewed (or I’m a little old school) but this isn’t the way I’ve seen people drop weight quickly. Pre season if you were tipping the scales you’d embark upon a shed load of running and cut calories a little. Or you’d cut calories more in off season and cut down your exercise.

    Is aiming for quite a tough bodyweight exercise at the same time as dieting not a little overambitious for most people? The beauty of running is it doesnt necessarily need to be fast/hugely exerting.

  3. Great point pat. This is my observation from too many years of weight loss consultancy . Too many people who have a weight issue, decide to loss some weight 1st, before doing anything ( ill start when im a size 14…, i couldn’t possibly go dancing/to the gym/go out until im a size whatever)

    Most people would benefit from starting something, not weighting.

    For more advanced athletes, who dont have weight issues, its fairly easy to manipulate weight in the ways you outlined.

    but, very overweight people will have a few months worth of challenge getting to the 10 second hang, let alone a negative. The hang alone strengthens the grip and starts the body changing.

  4. The weight v pullup stance is bang on. I got my first pullup at Easter, got up to 2, then went back to 0, then to 1 etc etc – all at the same time as losing and gaining the same 7 lbs. Frustrating!

    But I havn’t consistently trained for pullups (negatives are awful and I’d rather drive nails into my head) which means I’ll just have to man up and get on with it. Will let you know how I’ve done by Christmas.

  5. I agree with Andrew – being overweight is a perpetual cycle of ‘waiting until you lose x lbs before…insert all life activities here’ Clothes shopping. Running. Online dating. Whatever. Don’t ever tell anyone struggling with their weight not to start something until they lose a few lbs as its playing into the thought cycle that has made them fat and will keep them fat. Pull-ups aren’t going to be what gets you to your goal weight, and of course if you gain a bit of weight you might lose the pullup you had…but I think we can all agree if an overweight/obese person wants to try, encourage them. We all start somewhere.

    There is a bit of a gender thing here too (or perhaps physiology difference) – we don’t discourage our more burly males from attempting pullups despite their spare tyres, so we shouldn’t discourage women!

    Andrew – I would add into the very beginning, that once you can hang for 10 secs you should practice what I call the shoulder ‘boost’ – ie: there is a difference in just hanging, and hanging while you engage your lats and push yourself up a bit. This will help move from hanging baskets to knees to elbows, but it will also make your hang stronger and you can hang on for longer.

  6. I’m working, I’m working … Petrified no one of quality will want to marry me! 🙂 🙂

  7. From a perspective of someone who could barely hang on a bar some three months ago and now has a freshly acquired one chin up I totally agree that if you care about getting a pull up you should buy a pull up bar for home. I got some cheap copy of the IronGym doorway bar for less than 10 pounds. Once you have that don’t jump into negatives too fast. If you are very weak and/or heavy initially the gravity will be winning by a wide margin and you have a pretty good chance to pull some muscle. It did happen to me. If it happens to you too wait till it heals and then spend more time on the hang. You can also try to hang at different positions. Not necessarily upside down but just have your arms bent at different angles and try to hold yourself there. Once that becomes doable move on to negatives. They are horrible and I could never sustain doing them in sets so I adopted the greasing the groove strategy. Once I could do my negative REALLY slow I started experimenting with partials, i.e. trying to pull myself up just a little bit. Getting out of the bottom of the hang was impossible for quite a while so initially I was starting with the arms bent while trying to slightly increase the angle with every attempt. This is what I would suggest to those like me who do not have anyone around the house to help them travel up and down and are too shy to ask the postman. Another alternative would be using the bands or offsetting some of the weight by having the feet on the ground or on a chair depending on how high your bar is. Well, and then one memorable day it will happen, you will pull your chin over the bar and you will be miserable no more.

    If you want to make the memorable day come faster remember Andrew’s words about keeping tight or in other words staying in “THE POSITION”. For those who wonder why the heck the trainers like to torture us with the hollow position, a pretty recent video series in Crossfit Journal by (my coaching hero) Carl Paoli and Kelly Starrett of San Francisco CF gives a very insightful explanation. Like many exercises we do pull up is about much more than a few upper body muscles and as shocking as it sounds even your a** can help you get your chin over the bar so make sure you employ it!

    Regarding the weight issue, I think one should start exercising to lose weight and not lose weight to exercise. I found that Crossfit + Paleo works wonders. You are never hungry so energy for workouts is not an issue and the added benefit of starting to hang there heavy is that you will teach your body to deal with more weight than what it eventually will have to pull once that extra flab is gone.

    Now back to Andrew. So, now that I have one how do I get to 10 pull ups?

  8. Pull-up bars.
    Would absolutely love to get one to become a happy pull up machine however, I have narrow doorways and doorframes, and need to be able to close all the doors in the house ie. I can’t use the pull up bars that screw in. Any suggestions on other types? Can’t use ones that clip on from the top of the doorframe either as there ain’t much to clip on to..
    I know, tragic. Any ideas?

  9. we have a free standing. lightweight, demountable pull up bar at the gym that you can borrow.

  10. from now on, our instructors will add this to the skill warm up session ( assuming you dont have loads more pull ups to come in the wod), or allow you to use a quiet corner at the end of the WOD ( does depend on the type of class!!)

    mention that you dont have any pull ups.

  11. Grip training is important as well – what you can’t grip you can’t pull and for most people the grip fails before the larger pulling muscles. Fat bar (or add fat gripz to a normal barbell/dumbell) rows and all the usual grip exercises are worth throwing in as well.

  12. Adrienne got her 1st pull up on the 10th november, 19 days after her comment above.

    3 people have asked her to marry them.

    She has a kitten for sale

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