If doing a single pull-up (or more) is one of your goals in life, you're in luck. Here's a game plan you can follow, even if all you can do is dangle like a sack of meat.
That's me! Image by Karen Hong Photography.
While it's true that your upper body needs to be strong, pull-ups actually use your whole body. You need to keep tension throughout, including in your abs and legs, to keep from swaying and cheating your way to a pull-up. This pull-up program from Jennifer Blake and Jen Sinkler breaks down what you could do right now to start seeing improvements in as little as two weeks. We've written plenty about helping you train pull-ups, but this program is fairly easy to follow and includes exercises that we haven't talked about before.
The actual program addresses common weaknesses that most of us have when starting out. They are: Learning to contract the right muscles in a pull-up, being able to create tension throughout the body (to keep you from swinging too much), building up the actual pull-up motion, and increasing overall strength in your upper body. You likely won't go from zero to pull-up hero in two weeks' time, but Blake and Sinkler point out the importance of first establishing a baseline, writing:
Grab a timer and head to the bar. Can you dangle from a bar with an overhand grip. Great! You can do a dead hang. Can you do the same while keeping your shoulder blades pulled down in your back pockets and your abs engaged? Awesome, you can do a hollow-body hang! How about hanging on with your chin over the bar, your elbows bent, and your abs engaged? Sweet, you're flexed-arm hangin'. The point is to check what you can do right now so that when you check again, you can see what's changed.
Do the proposed exercises two to three times a week and test yourself again after two weeks to measure progress. Don't be disheartened if you can't do a full pull-up after two weeks. It takes time, and progress in any form is exciting!
If you're like me and want to do more pull-ups, increasing vertical pulling and upper body strength still apply. In fact, Lifehacker's push-up extraordinaire Beth Skwarecki will be trying out this program herself in her continual pursuit to get from one to two (or more) pull-ups. If you want to join her, hit the link below for more details.
Do It Better: Your Path to Bodyweight Pull-ups [Unapologetically Powerful]