top of page

Why Your 1st Pull Up May Depend On These 5 Exercises

A corrupt mindset is one the reasons many fail to achieve their 1st pull up. Many believe that pull ups are an extremely difficult move that their bodies were never meant to be able to do, that’s not the case.

Pull ups are a natural movement pattern that your body is fully capable of performing. It just has it that our lifestyles are sedentary and muscle groups needed to do pull ups are weak and inactive.

I was recently in Zimbabwe and as an experiment I wanted to see how many of the locals could do pull ups. Keep in mind that the locals in rural Zimbabwe don’t train, it’s not something that is in their culture and the equipment isn’t readily available.

8 out of 8 males could all do pull ups and 1 out of 2 females could as well, the other female could get half way even though she was overweight.

The locals I tested could do pull ups because they are highly active and engaging their muscle groups. Work for them is not sitting down on a laptop for 8 hours but it’s manual labor. They work all day on their plantations, picking up things, lifting, carry, pulling, throwing, hiking, digging, cutting, the work is endless.

So they have all the muscle groups (grip, scapulas, lats, biceps, abs) covered that are required to achieve pull ups.

Since what the western world call work isn’t as physical, I’ve outlined 5 exercises that will strengthen key areas for you to achieve your 1st pull ups. Some you will perform daily (don’t fatigue and rest when needed) spreading the sets out throughout the day and some you will do 2–3 times a week as part of your main training session.



If you struggle to hang on to a bar for 30s then forget about the pull ups. How can you expect to do this demanding exercise when just hanging onto a bar is too challenging.

To improve this your grip start hanging whenever you can. Squeeze the bar, active your scapulas and core muscles to eliminate any swinging. Aim to do 60 seconds comfortably. Do this drill daily, 1-3 sets.

If you don’t have a home pull up bar available or a tree nearby you can hold something heavy with straight arms (eg carrying your groceries).


Most people neglect this muscle even though it is vital for successful pull ups. Your scapulas initiate the start of the pull up from a hanging position.

Have you ever seen people in the gym who can do about 6 half rep pull ups but struggle to do 1 pull up with full range of motion? That’s because they haven’t developed their scapula depression.

To improve this area is simple, hang on a bar and raise your scapulas up and down while keeping your arms straight and elbows locked. Aim for 15 slow and controlled reps. Do this drill daily, 1-3 sets.


“I can’t do pull ups” Take that phase out of your vocabulary. Your lats are one of the strongest muscles in your body and are designed for you to be able to pull yourself up.

In my experience it’s never really a lack of strength in the lats that stop you from doing pull ups (grip, scapulas and abs are normally the issue). The strength will come once you start training them.

Your training session should focus on strengthening your lats. Train them 2–3 times a week. Do 4 sets of 1–8 reps and rest 2–3 minutes.

Jump negative pull ups is an exercise I give all my clients because I have seen how effective it is in building raw strength and you’re going through the same movement pattern as a pull up.


Your biceps are one of the muscles that support your lats to get your chin above the bar. Forget about bicep curls they will not build the strength needed to learn pull ups.

Instead do compound movement such as the isometric pull up that strengthens your biceps, shoulders, lats and core.

You can do this exercise as part of your main training. Aim for 4 sets of 5–25 seconds. Rest for 2–3 minutes.


For whatever reason the L-sit has never been a popular move. I see so many coaches recommending exercises for your core but they never mention the L-sit.

Gymnast are one of the strongest athletes on the planet pound for pound. The L-sit is a fundamental exercise that is drilled into them from an early age and continues to be a staple in their training regiment.

Most likely you will find this exercise just as challenging as learning the pull ups but the benefits will be worth it.

You can train it as part of your main training sessions or choose one of the regression to do daily, such as hanging knee raises, hanging leg raises, hanging knee holds until you are able to perform an L-sit. Aim for 3 sets of 5–25s.



bottom of page