How to Work Your Way Up to a Pull-up: A Guide for Women

How to work your way up to a pull up

The gym is no longer a man’s territory, is it ladies? No! We like to lift heavy stuff too, right?! In recent years the amount of women who go to the gym has been increasing, and contrary to popular belief, women’s workouts don’t solely consist of Zumba, aerobics classes or Pilates.

We girls are normally more focused on our bottom areas—trying to get those curves—and whilst that is completely fine (I want them too), it is also important to give the same attention to the rest of our body so that we develop a nice, even physique and don’t end up looking like some messed up satyr. Oh yeah, and before you ask, no, you won’t end up bulky or looking like a man.

We all start lifting the 2 lb dumbbells, as it’s completely normal, and we keep trying to lift heavier weights so that we can develop more muscle and strength. There is, however, one exercise that remains the enemy of most women: the pull-up.

STOP: Knowledge Injection

stop knowledge

If you didn’t already know, the pull-up is performed with your palms facing away from you. A chin-up is where your palms are facing towards you. Both exercises are challenging, however, the pull-up is considered slightly more difficult to master as it puts more stress on your back and takes some of the load off of the biceps.

Oh, the dreaded pull-up. Why is it so hard? Why can’t I do one? Someone help!

Pull-ups can be quite the intimidating exercise for anyone, but it’s important that you understand that they are meant to be hard. Unlike isolation exercises, which require just one muscle to move the weight, pull-ups require a large group of muscles working in synchronicity.

From your back and your biceps to your forearms, grip, and core, once you dig down into the mechanics of pull-ups, it becomes easy to see why they can be so challenging.

With that said, let’s look at a few tips you can take which will help you work your way up to your very first pull-up!

The More You Weigh, The Harder It Is!


I know this is a pretty obvious one, but it’s worth a mention. If you really want to achieve that pull-up, try and be a little stricter with your diet. You will start noticing that the leaner you are, the easier bodyweight exercises like pull-ups get. Just make sure any weight you do lose is healthy; the last thing you want to do is start losing muscle—you’ll need it!

Baby Got Back!

doing pullups

Not quite like the song suggests, but adding some strength to that back of yours!

A study conducted by the Journal of Applied Physiology looked at the skeletal muscle distribution between men and women. What they found was that women typically have up to 40% less muscle than men in the upper body.

This fact can obviously make it hard for us ladies, and if we are going to do pull-ups then building strength is a must.

Whilst the exercise uses a lot of muscles, the targeted muscle is the latissimus dorsi, so make sure your back exercises are a priority. A good exercise that will target this muscle group is the lat pull down. Using this exercise equipment will allow you to start with the weight you are comfortable with.

Sit on the bench and grab hold of the bar. Now, leaning back slightly, pull the bar down just below your chin. Don’t get carried away and pull it almost down to your stomach; this will take the tension off the back. Try going a little wider on the exercise as this will shift more of the load onto your back and off of your biceps. I also recommend never doing this exercise behind the neck, as it tends to make the back become congested during the exercise.

Another thing to note is that strong biceps will help a lot with pull-ups, and whilst the primary worked muscle is the latissimus dorsi, the second hardest worked muscle is the biceps brachii. To target this muscle, try incorporating some hammer curls in your bicep routine. Try dedicating one day per week on working your back, or maybe mix it with another body part. A typical example is to train back with biceps.

Take a Load Off


Now, now, I don’t mean skip the gym; I mean use the assisted pull-up machine! This machine offers a great way to set you on the road to your first pull-up.

Exercise form, or lack of, can often hinder your ability to perform a movement properly. It is also important to keep good form in order to prevent injuries. With the assisted pull-up machine, you don’t need to worry about lifting your bodyweight. Rather, you can use the machine to practice getting your form correct. The best thing about this machine is that it allows you to change the weight, so you are in control of how much the machine helps you. Then, when you finally feel strong enough to not need help, give it a try without any weight.

Keep It Tight!


So you’ve perfected your form, and your back muscle are getting stronger, but how is your core? An important thing to remember with all bodyweight exercises is to always maintain a tight core. By keeping everything tight you make controlling the exercise easier, and you won’t end up flailing around on the bar like a madwoman.

You can clearly see the importance of what I’m saying by doing a plank. If you don’t contract your core and keep it steady, the exercise will be hard, if not impossible. The same can be applied to pull-ups, so tighten up!

Be Patient!

be patient

Don’t be too hard on yourself; give your body the time that it needs to be prepared for this kind of exercise, and give it the rest that it needs to recover from training. As I mentioned before, it is important to first develop your strength and perfect your form so you don’t injure yourself.

Remember: good things come to those who wait AND work for what they want, so don’t get down if you can’t pull yourself up on your first try. You will get there eventually.