The Ultimate Guide To Becoming A ‘Pull-Up Person’

The pull-up is one of the most recognized and respected upper-body strength exercises on earth. If you’ve ever seen a training montage in film or television, you’ve probably seen the lead character crushing a whole bunch of pull-ups. It’s one of the most accessible workouts around and difficult as hell.

For as effective and easy as they are to incorporate into a training plan, I’ve run into quite a few people in the gym who can’t do a single pull-up. There isn’t any definitive research on the subject, but a study was done with a survey size of 142 people, and over 30 percent of people said they couldn’t complete a single one. As a trainer, “I want to be able to do a pull-up!” is a very common request to hear from someone starting their fitness journey.

So what makes the pull-up so difficult? For starters, you are relying on some of your smaller muscle groups, like your core and arms, to lift your entire body weight. Depending on how intensely you’ve trained those groups beforehand, it can be a lot to ask of your body to be able to handle that kind of resistance. The bigger problem is that it’s so demanding that often people try, find they can’t do it, and then immediately give up. Sometimes for good.

But this is a petition for those individuals to stick with it. There are a lot of great benefits that come with becoming a “pull-up person.” The laundry list includes an enhanced core, toned muscles, calories burned, improved grip strength, endurance, better bone density, and if you have a jungle gym or a doorway, this all comes without the price of a gym membership.

Recently, a few individuals have taken being a “pull-up person” to a whole new level, starting with former Navy SEAL and motivational speaker David Goggins who set the world record for most pull-ups in 24 hours with 4030 reps. Since then, that record has been overtaken by Truett Hanes with 8100 pull-ups in a 24 hour span. Uproxx sat with Hanes to share strategies on how to get that first pull-up, make it a ritual, and find your inner pull-up person.



Before we get into all the ways to start and improve your pull-up game, let’s break down the movement itself, so you know what we’re aiming for.


The starting position is hanging from the bar with an overhand grip just over shoulder width. The elbows should be locked and your arms should be fully extended with your shoulders back. Keeping your elbows pointed to the ground, begin to pull yourself up with your arms and back muscles until your chin goes over the bar. Once you do this, hold that position for two seconds before bringing yourself back down in a controlled manner while inhaling.

There are a few key concepts that you should keep in mind while doing your pull-up. Remember that it’s quality over quantity here, and if you aren’t doing them correctly you’re better off stopping for rest before doing any more.

Grip the bar right with your knuckles pointed towards the sky — your whole palm should be in contact with the bar. Be sure that you aren’t relying on your fingers to bear any of the weight. Be sure that you are gripping the bar as tight as possible.

Keep your core engaged all the way through, studies show that when done properly the core muscles are the ones most engaged during a proper pull-up. So if you aren’t using them, odds are you aren’t doing it correctly and you aren’t doing it as effectively as you could be.

Don’t swing around on the bar. Despite what you may have seen online or in some CrossFit competitions, while you might be able to do more pull-ups while using momentum to swing yourself up, that’s not proper form. That means the right muscles aren’t being used, and the benefits aren’t being gained.

Hit your chest and not your chin. Since many people are thinking about going past their chin, often people will accidentally contact their chin on the bar when you’re engaging your back muscles better when you are bringing your chest up.

Keep your legs straight down rather than bent or crossed behind you. This is a great way to control any swing that might happen as previously mentioned. This is also a way to make sure that your core and all the other muscles that need to be engaged are.

Find your tempo and stay with that tempo. The best way to do a pull-up is to be explosive while keeping perfect form. Allow your back muscles to be engaged. Once you get your chin over the bar, pause for a moment. Descend back down to the starting position in that controlled manner. Make sure that you are feeling it in your arms as you do the slow descent.

Don’t forget to breathe out while lifting yourself up and breathe in while bringing yourself back down the starting position. Getting proper oxygen to your muscles is critical to performing any exercise, especially a demanding one like the pull-up. This is also the best way to maximize the cardiovascular benefits that come with this particular exercise.



One way to have a great first attempt at a pull-up is to find ways to improve the same muscle groups with less weight. Here are a few exercises that will help you build up the strength you need for pull-ups.

Dead Hangs:

This is a great way to build up your grip strength and prepare the arms for getting that first rep. Simply jump or step up to grab the bar, recreating the starting position given for the pull-up above. Jump up your ability by doing one arm at a time is a great way to build even more.

Negative Pull-Ups:

This is the next step in building up the strength for your first pull-up. By using a stepping stool or bench or simply jumping up on the bar, get to the top of the pull-up where your chin is above the bar. Then do the second phase of a pull-up, where you are descending back into the starting position in a controlled manner over a count of five.

Band-Assisted Pull-Ups:

Loop a resistance band around the pull-up bar so that a long loop is hanging down below. Step onto the bend with one of your feet and use the band to help you execute the pull-ups.

Lat Pull Down Machine:

If you have a gym membership, the lat pull-down machine is a great way to build up the explosiveness that you want. Grab the bar overhand with a wide grip when you sit down and set the weight to around half your body weight. In one smooth yet quick movement, bring the bar down to just below your chin while exhaling. Squeeze your shoulder blades at the end of the movement and hold for one moment. Then let the bar go back up while inhaling. Lean slightly back while keeping your torso straight and your shoulders back.



The minimal gear required to do pull-ups is one of the benefits that we’ve mentioned a few times here, but that’s not to say that there aren’t a few things you can pick up to elevate your game.

At-Home Bar:

There are several secure options that you can install at home using doorways or walls with studs. Be sure to make sure the option you go with fits your home. Hanes is a fan of JFlex CrossGrips. “They install easy and I’ve done tens of thousands of pull-ups on them, so I know they are secure,” he says. I’ve spotlighted the XMARK bar option in the past as a sturdy one to throw on the wall.

Gloves: There’s no denying that with your whole bodyweight used your hands are going to be facing a lot of resistance on the bar. So if you plan on doing a lot or are simply worried about the condition of your hands, gloves might be a smart pick-up. For Hanes, callouses were not an option. “There was no avoiding them, but my hands have gotten to the point where they can take anything,” he says. When it came time to set the record, he relied on a pair of work gloves to give a little extra protection. I like these from Husky which you can pick up at your local Home Depot because they are affordable and easy to replace.

They also offer a little extra protection from germs if you are using a bar in high-traffic areas like park workout equipment or the gym. I’ve been going to gyms for years and I’ve never seen anyone wipe down the pull-up bar once.

Weighted Vest:

Once you get comfortable with your pull-up and want to add a little additional resistance to increase the load on these muscle groups consider a weighted vest. Be sure that you aren’t overloading yourself though, as with any daily ritual this is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll be surprised how quickly you feel the addition of just a few pounds in your reps.

Check out this comfortable vest option from GORUCK which can add anywhere from 10 to 45 pounds.



There is no wrong reason to want to better yourself in fitness and health. But knowing what your reason is can make you better in the gym. Finding a strong motivation to train, especially something that you can do every day like pull-ups, can bring you a lot of power. Being someone who loves to climb, pull-ups train muscles that directly correlate to one of my passions. So when I think I can’t do one more rep, I picture myself on the edge of a cliff, giving it a bit of a survival element as well.

Life or death is a great motivation.

For Hanes, the goal was to set a world record that would be remembered, and he accomplished more than he ever thought possible with that record in mind. “There is something powerful about having a day in your calendar marked,” says Hanes. “Knowing that you have set an intention, and if you don’t follow through you are letting yourself down.” That’s how someone can double a previous world record.

Decide on your number, and attack that goal with everything.



One of the great features of the pull-up is how little gear it requires for how difficult a workout it is. Almost everyone has daily access to some sort of overhead bar or hold that they can lift themselves up with. Even if you don’t, at-home pull-up bar options are out there and easy enough to install, like the one we mentioned above. There is no downside to doing a few sets of pull-ups every day, only benefits for your mind and body. I took the above photo in Belize, where a hotel concierge told me that there was a bar a two-mile run from the resort.

I made the run every morning there and enjoyed my vacation even more because I stayed true to this ritual.

Hanes starts his day with 100 pull-ups, doing 10 reps every minute for 10 minutes. Even if you don’t plan on hitting that number, doing five to 15 minutes of bodyweight exercise in the morning is a great way to make sure your day doesn’t end without doing some sort of fitness regimen. I like kicking off the day with a workout themed on the anime One Punch Man, doing 50 push-ups, 50 squats, and 50 pull-ups.

Pair that with some coffee along with the other rituals in our morning wellness routine and you will find yourself more than ready to attack the day. Now that’s how you become a “pull-up person!”