Do you want to do a pull-up? Can you already do a few, but want to move forward from here? In our series of year-end fitness benchmarks, here are several levels of pull-up oriented tests to gauge your progress.
If you can’t do one yet
If you can’t do a pull-up, we’re going to do timed hangs. The easiest way is to set up your phone to video you, and then you can check the time you hung onto the bar. Or, take it old school and just watch a clock. (Don’t count Mississippis, though: we don’t always keep a steady count under stress.)
Take your pick from these versions, or do more than one. I’ve ranked them easiest to hardest.
Dead hangs: just grab a pull-up bar, and hold on as long as you can. This works your grip and gets you used to hanging from a bar. (If even this is too advanced, rest your feet on something, like a bench.)
Active hangs: After grabbing the bar, engage your back by pulling your shoulder blades down and toward each other. End the timer when you can’t hold the position anymore.
Flexed arm hangs: Get into the top position for a pull-up (you can jump or climb up there), and just stay in that position with your chin over the bar as long as you can. You can make this a bit easier by reversing your grip so your palms face you.
If you modify one of these exercises, make a note of how you did it (feet on a step for dead hangs, for example). Compare your time to what you did earlier this year, if you have a previous benchmark, and save your results to look at next year.
If you already do pull-ups
First, congratulations! No matter your fitness level, even doing one pull-up is a major accomplishment. Here are three ways to benchmark your progress; use the one that feels most appropriate to you.
Count your pull-ups. More is better.
Count your assisted pull-ups. This is a good option if you can only do a few full pull-ups, since the gap between one and two is so vast. Use a resistance band or the pull-up machine at the gym, and count reps. Make sure to note which band you used or what setting on the machine.
Find the maximum weight you can add and still do a full pull-up. If you’re doing more than 8-10 pull-ups, approach this as a weighted exercise instead. Most gyms will have a belt with a chain that lets you hang weights from your waist. You could also add weight with a backpack or by holding a dumbbell between your feet. How much can you lift?
Again, take appropriate notes. If you do weighted pull-ups, consider noting your body weight along with the added weight, since after all you are asking your muscles to move the whole you + weights system.
Write down what you did, compare to last year if you have the numbers, and look forward to a strong 2020!