What to do when you can’t do a Pull-up

This  is a great companion post to “what to do when you can’t do a Push-up.”  I find this issue to be an important one for 2 reasons.

#1:  Pull-ups are an essential (and effective) Functional Fitness exercise with many other exercises arising out of them such as Knees to Elbows or Toes to Bar.

#2:  Pull-ups tend to be a challenge for beginners. Women like to avoid them with the excuse it is a “man’s exercise.”  Heavier individuals are at a distinct disadvantage since they have to lift more weight off the ground.


Excuses or not, we can’t avoid Pull-ups. Therefore, we need to help those you simply can’t do a Pull-up.  I typically give two options to help.

This option, the Jump Pull-up, is a great option. The sticking point on a regular Pull-up is on the way up. The jump gets you past the sticking point and you simply develop your muscles and muscle memory in 2 areas. You work some muscles (more your back than shoulders) with the last few inches of the Pull-up. Then you work more of the movement by lowering yourself slowly. The beauty here is you can gradually challenge yourself by lowering yourself back down slower and slower. Next thing you know and you can pull yourself up!
This option, the assisted Pull-up, may be necessary if you can’t jump high enough for your Pull-up bar to do option #1. There are 2 main ways to accomplish this. One is to have a partner hold you and help lift you up. As with the Jump Pull-up, you can challenge yourself on the way down by taking more of the weight and going slower.
The other way to do an assisted Pull-up is with a chair. Stand on a chair high enough so you can have your chin close to the bar or above it. Then bend your knees so you are hanging and use your feet to help push you up until your chin is above the bar. Try taking more of the weight with your arms/shoulders/back and less with your legs on the way down in order to build your strength.
As with Push-ups, not doing Pull-ups is simply a horrible and drastic choice – one I would not recommend unless you have a health concern. Try one of the above methods and try them often. The more you do Pull-ups of any kind (even just 1 or 2 at a time) the faster you develop your muscles and muscle memory. 
Let us know how it goes for you. Leave a comment.

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