Pull-ups are hard, but if you want to learn to do them, you can. You just have to, well, do them.
“Any athlete knows that if you want to get good at doing something, you have to do that thing. And if you can’t quite do it, you have to get as close to it as possible,” says expert Equinox trainer and Insanity star Rachel Buschert.
Why? Pull-ups are functional movements that require the strength and coordination of lots of muscles—biceps, triceps, latissimus dorsi, abs, etc. “So in addition to strengthening, you want to train your neuromuscular system to coordinate all the muscle groups at once,” she says. And consistency is key.
If you can’t just grab on and lift yourself up, there are plenty of ways you can train to get there. Here are three that Buschert recommends…
1. Use a band
Secure a resistance band from your bar and put it under your feet. The band will help lift you up as you rise, but will still make you work. “You’re not as stable as you’d be on an assisted pull-up machine, so the instability is going to help you get stronger,” Buschert says. As you get stronger, you can try lifting up with the band under only one foot or your knees.
2. Use a bench
“Real” pull-ups are done from a dead hang, but you can make it easier by placing a bench or chair under your feet so that you’re not hoisting so much weight. Just like with the band, you can then progress to standing on one foot as you get stronger. You can also jump to the bar from the floor or a box, using your momentum for assistance.
3. Use a friend (or a trainer)
Having someone lift you up to the bar is another way to go. But since the distance you’ll be pulling up will be so much shorter, the key is to exercise control and lower yourself slowly, making your muscles work hard on the way down.