Can I be real with you?
As a child, teenager, and young lady, I could never do even ONE pull up.
That’s right. No Presidential Fitness award for me. In Fact, I was in the lower 50 percentile, fitness wise.
It was humiliating. Maybe you can relate.
Maybe you grew up with the limiting belief I had:
“I can’t do pull-ups” or “Women do not have enough upper body strength to do pull-ups” Or “I will never be able to do pull-ups like so and so.”
When I began my CrossFit journey in my 30s, I still could not do a pull-up. I took a long hard look at my limiting beliefs. I decided that I could do a pull-up and I took steps to make that happen.
This article will show you how to build up to a pull-up, step by step.
Your part is changing your belief and pushing yourself mentally, beyond your self imposed limits of what you can and can not do.
Make no mistake:
This is a mental game, first and foremost. The training will certainly help, once you have changed your mind first.
Let’s jump right in
Step one: Body Fat assessment.
Lower body fat correlates positively with better pull-up performance. This makes sense because those with lower body fat generally have relatively more muscle per pound of body weight.
Just losing weight will not help.
Men, who are on average, heavier than women, also perform better on pull-ups. One reason is because men, on average, have about 10% lower body fat than women.
You need to focus on losing fat and building lean muscle.
While I can not recommend a specific body fat percentage for you, I will say that it seems to me that as women approach 20-25 percent body fat they begin to see success.
This is not scientific, just my own observation.
I have seen women with higher body fat successfully complete pull ups, so don’t give up trying if you have higher body fat.
Step two: Strengthen your Elbow flexors
Traditional Pull-Ups begin by contracting the elbow flexors, so it makes sense to strengthen the muscles in this group.
Exercises that work the elbow Flexors include:
This exercise uses a barbell.
Grab a barbell with palms facing down. Stand up with arms extended so the bar is at your navel level. Pull the barbell up, moving your elbows up and back, lifting the barbell up your chest.
The barbell should move parallel to your chest or ‘drag’ on your chest, hence the name Drag Curl. It should take one second to lift, and two seconds to lower.
This exercise uses a barbell.
This more requires an incline bench and a set of dumbbells. Set the bench to 45 degrees, then lie face up on the bench, with a dumbbell in each hand.
Start with your arms down, palms facing down, and thumb touching the edge of the weight.
As you pull the weights up, rotate your hand so your palm faces up. On the way down, spend about two seconds on the decline and come back up again without pausing.
Step Three: Hang Out
Practice these two hanging exercises.
- Bar Hang: Hang from the bar with your arms extended and your body rigid. Hand for at least 15 to 30 seconds at a time.
- Flexed Bar Hang: Hang from the bar with your arms bent and your chin over the bar. You can use something to step up over the bar, or you can jump up to get your chin over the bar, depending on how strong you are now.
Work up to one minute hanging with arms in a bent or flexed position.
Step Four: The Negatives
This is half a pull-up, in reverse, done slowly. This position starts with the flexed hang, which is why you should master that first.
From the Flexed hang position, slowly lower your body. Try and make the decent last as long as you can, working up to a 10 second decent.
Step Five: Finishing Touches
On Point Elbows
One problem women sometimes have while attempting pull ups is at the end. While performing a pull up, there is a point where our elbows are in line with your body.
At this point, you need to move those elbows back farther, as if you are trying to point the elbow back behind your body. This recruits your back muscles and those muscles take some of the weight from the arms.
The key for many women is unloading some of the weight from the arms to the back by moving the elbows back.
Make sure you are not swinging or moving anything but the arms. Your body should stay locked and rigid, in a plank position.
This helps your body focus strength on the arm movement. Swinging or moving dissipates energy and uses other muscles, and therefore energy resources.
So what is the Magic Formula?
Start with step one and two together.
Don’t wait until you are down to your desired body fat percentage to move on. Work through steps 2 through 5 in succession, mastering one after the other.
The steps work in a compound fashion, so don’t try to do negatives before you can even flex hang for 30 seconds.
I promise you, it is easier than you think.
Stay consistent with your training and keep working to lower body fat, and you will have your chin over that bar, and a proud gleam in your eye very soon.