Can't Do a Pull-Up? Here Are 5 Ways to Improve Your Chances

man doing pull-up


The pull-up is one of the most difficult moves in the world of fitness. It separates the men from the boys and the women from the little girls. If you can't do a pull-up and are struggling just to hang from the bar, don't worry; you aren't alone. The majority of Americans over the age of 18 aren't able to do a single pull-up and the older you get, the less likely it becomes you'll be able to do one. The exact percentages aren't known, but I've seen it estimated that only 10% to 15% of men can do a pull-up, while a paltry 1% to 3% of women are able to do one.

Pull-ups are difficult in that they require you to pull the entire weight of your body up until your chin is above the pull-up bar. They work all of the muscles in your upper body that are responsible for pulling, including the biceps, back and the forearms. If you can knock out just one pull up, consider yourself in pretty good shape. If you're able to do 10 or more in a single set, consider yourself an elite pull-up athlete.

If you're one of the many people who have stepped up to the pull-up bar with high hopes only to have them dashed while your chin stayed well below the bar, the tip that follow may be able to help. We've looked high and low and have gathered 5 tips to help you improve your chances at finally making your way to being able to do the pinnacle of exercise moves.

#1: Gravity Sucks.

Unless you're richer than Tony Stark and can afford your own space shuttle or anti-gravity machine, gravity is reality you're going to have to deal with. Gravity pulls down on your body while you're attempting to pull your chin up and over the top of the bar. In the vast majority of cases, gravity wins, leaving you huffing and panting, unable to pull yourself to the top.


There is one way you can tilt the odds in your favor when it comes to gravity and it's something most of you know you need to do regardless. If you've got extra pounds packed onto your frame, losing that extra weight could be the difference between falling short of your goals and finally being able to do a pull-up. The more weight you lose, the less weight you have to lift up and over the bar.

Look at the bright side of things. At least you aren't on Saturn. You would weigh more than twice what you do now if you were trying to do a pull-up on Saturn.

#2: Learn How to Hang First

In order to do a proper pull-up, you've got to be able to hang straight down from the bar and then pull yourself straight up. If you're one of the many people who grab onto the bar and start swinging wildly back and forth trying to gain momentum, you aren't doing yourself any favors. Getting some hang time in and learning to hang in a neutral position will build the groundwork for being able to do a pull-up. It'll also strengthen your shoulders and grip strength, which are two of the key elements required to do a pull-up.

#3: Skip the Kip

Kipping is a method used by advanced athletes in order to allow them to get more pull-ups in at the end of their set. Kipping works well as the athlete pops their hips and does a controlled swing in order to gain momentum and pop their head up over the bar. The key word in that sentence is "controlled." If you can't do a dead hang pull-up, there's no way you're strong enough to control your body while kipping. Learn how to a dead hang pull-up before you attempt the kip.

#4: The Assist

When done correctly, assisted pull-up can help you build up the strength required to do an unassisted pull-up. If you can't do a pull-up on your own, try using exercise bands or simply stand on a chair and use your feet to help push you up and over the bar. When using an assist, it's important you use the bare minimum amount of assistance you need to push that final little bit over the bar. If you're using your legs to do the entire pull-up, you aren't doing pull-ups...You're doing squats and that isn't going to help.

It's also important you maintain proper form while doing assisted pull-ups. Using bands and swinging your legs back and forth wildly may make you think you're putting in work, but all you're doing is creating bad habits and putting yourself at risk of a serious injury.

#5: Step Up Your Mental Game

If you arrive at the gym every day and tell yourself you'll never be able to do a pull-up, there's a pretty good chance you never will. You aren't likely to be willing to put in the work necessary to build up the strength required to do a pull-up if you don't think you'll ever be able to do one. You'll just be going through the motions.

Instead, show up every day planning on working your butt off toward attaining your goal. Work on your upper body, biceps, forearms, shoulders and back and keep pushing forward. Pull-ups aren't impossible, but they dang sure aren't easy. If you can't do a pull-up now, but want to be able to do one in the future, you have to be willing to put in the required work. Get off your butt and get to the gym. You aren't going to learn how to do pull-ups sitting in front of the computer.