Believe it or not, a client goal that I come across a lot is to do an unassisted pull-up. This is pretty common when people have a goal to get stronger. The best way to measure that goal is to choose one or a couple of lifts or exercises and track your progress.
I fall in the population of people who wanted to do one unassisted pull-up. Now, it is my goal to do ten (yes, 1-0) unassisted pull ups in a row. How did I build up to unassisted pull-ups? Here are my recommendations.
Almost every single gym has a lat pulldown machine, or you can even do them with a cable machine. This is essentially the same movement as a pull-up, when you think about it, except that you are pulling the weight down to your chest. I almost always superset narrow grip with wide grip pulldowns.
This is where instead of being bent over the weight or having the weight in front of you, you are using your own body as weight and rowing it. You will be essentially belly button to the sky on a TRX or under a barbell that is racked closed to the ground.
Once you are strong enough, or when you feel like you’re ready to try, you can move on to modified pull-ups! There are a few ways to do this. My favorite way to do modified pull-ups is with a resistance band. You can attach the band to a bar and then put your foot through it. This will help you use the resistance that the band provides to do the pull up while creating that muscle memory you will need for an unassisted pull-up. Here is a video of this exercise from CrossFit Ares to demonstrate this exercise for you.
Another way to do modified pull-ups is to use the machine at the gym. You can put your knees on the platform and set the weight to help you out. You want this to still be challenging for you. To figure out how much weight you are pulling up, you would take your body weight and subtract the amount of weight you set the machine to. This is how you can track your progress here.
Unassisted Pull-Ups Til Muscle Failure
After you’ve been doing modified pull-ups for a brief period of time, you can start doing unassisted pull-ups. I recommend doing them until muscle failure, whether you can do one or ten until reaching it! Rest for about two minutes and then try again. It is totally normal to do less than you did on your first set. I recommend doing this about five times. Even if you don’t do more than one each time, the point is to build up your strength!
Another important aspect of gaining strength is to pay attention to your nutrition! I will dive into this topic more in the future, but just make sure that your diet is balanced and that you are eating enough protein to allow your muscles to recover after your workouts.
If you can do unassisted pull-ups, let me know how you built up to them!
I wear a lot of hats: NASM Certified Personal Trainer, Weight Loss Specialist, and Fitness Nutrition Specialist. A writer with a B.A. in English and Professional Writing. A fur mom and a wife. A mental health advocate and a septic shock survivor. An Airman and an athlete. I live in South Florida and am in love with the ocean. People can typically find me either in the gym or at home, writing or reading.