Pull-Up Challenge

A pull-up challenge- are you in

I mentioned on facebook the other day that I needed to work back up to pull-ups after having a baby and asked if anyone wanted to join me. A lot of you said you would, so I’m issuing an official pull-up challenge!

For clarity, the person in the picture above is my brother-in-law, as I’m not back up to pull-ups yet and the setting was a lot nicer than the pull-up bar on the door of my closet! 🙂

The Elusive Pull-Up

Why a pull-up?

Glad you asked… I’m personally not a fan of gym type cardio that just burns calories but isn’t very functional. For me, fitness is/should be about having functional strength when it is needed, rather than being a certain size or shape. In fact, I’d rather keep some curves and have a higher level of strength than be model-thin and unable to pull my husband or other adult out of a burning house/car, etc if I ever needed to.

There is a higher possibility that at some point I will need to sprint away from an animal/attacker etc or pull myself over something in a similar situation than that I will have to run 26.2 miles at one time. Functional training is what it’s all about.

The pull-up is also considered a true measure of strength by many trainers and with good reason. Completing a correct pull-up uses all the muscles of the back and arms and is a very effective upper body exercise (even though the NY Times doesn’t think women can do them). Certainly, pull-ups are tougher for women since we don’t have the natural upper body strength that men do, but they are possible. Women tend to be naturally better at lower-body exercises like deadlifts, but have to work harder at pullups (for instance, I can not do a pull-up right now but can deadlift more than my body weight).

This article provides some specifics:

What’s the difference between a pull up and a chin up? Is one better to do than the other?

Let’s keep it simple:

Pull ups: palms face away from you with a wide grip.

Chin ups: palms face you and the grip is generally just outside your shoulders. Chin ups are considered a slightly easier pull because the arms play a bigger role in the game. Pull ups are often considered harder, especially if your shoulders are internally rotated or across the board if you have not developed lat strength, the main power source for your pull.

Here’s what I say: It is the main job of the lats, the layman’s term for the broadest (latissimus) muscle in your back (dorsum), to bring your elbows into your ribs regardless of the grip. If you can’t do at least one of either type, pick the grip that feels most natural right off the bat and go with it for a while. I WILL advise you to try both during your pull up journey.

Can girls really do a pull up?

If that girl trains hard with a goal, yes! And that goes for that guy over there who can’t do one either! To give some perspective, in a deadlift you get to use your entire posterior chain. It’s the most commonly met goal for both men AND women, deadlifting your bodyweight. A pull up is limited to your upper body as the power source and you’re asking it to lift your bodyweight. It’s possible; it simply requires training, time and tenacity. Simple does not equal easy! Having this mindset will help immensely.”

And I love this encouragement for women and pull-ups:

“But you should want to be able to do pull ups. Because not only do they work your arms, shoulders, back, and core muscles wonderfully, they also give you a serious sense of confidence like you wouldn’t imagine.

love telling people I can do pull ups. Especially as a woman, it’s pretty empowering. And people love it when I whip out 5 to 10 at a time on a whim.

But if you think you can never do a pull up, think again. Because if you follow the progression of exercises below, you’ll build the strength necessary to be able to do one, two, maybe even ten pull ups.”

The Pull-Up Progression

Another great thing about pull-ups is that they take minimal or no-equipment. No pull-up bar? Just use a tree branch or the monkey bars at a local playground. If you want to make it a tad more convenient, there are some great options for at-home pull-up bars that hang on a door frame without any need for nails or brackets. (This is the one we have and it is wonderful!)

You can absolutely work up to pull-ups with no need for extra equipment, but it is often helpful to start with similar exercises that build the muscles as not many people will be able to complete a pull-up on the first try if they’ve never tried.

The following exercises are in order of difficulty from easiest to most difficult, so start at the most challenging exercise you are able to complete.

The Row

If you are new to weight training and have never even tried to do a pull-up, this is where you will want to start. You can do this with progressively heavier objects and work up before moving on to the next step. The video below uses a sandbag for rows, but you can do these with gallons of coconut oil or vinegar, a bag full of heavy objects or any heavy item you can grip.

How to Perform a Row

  • Stand with feet shoulder width apart and bend over at the waist with the heavy object in your hands
  • Pull the object toward your chest at a slow pace
  • Slowly and carefully return the object to its original position
  • Repeat

Here’s a video for clarity:

Bodyweight Rows

If you can already complete basic rows, the next step would be bodyweight rows or reverse pushups. The idea is that instead of pushing yourself up, you’ll be pulling yourself up from a hanging position. This is often done on a low-hanging bar like a dip-bar. At home, you can use a sturdy pole across two chairs or even the under-side of your kitchen table. Make sure whatever you use is sturdy enough to hold you and have a spotter!

What do do:

  • Position yourself under the table or bar so that you are hanging but with body straight in an upside-down push-up position
  • Carefully pull yourself up to the bar/table
  • Slowly lower yourself down
  • Repeat

Here’s a video for the visually inclined:

The Real Deal

Once you’ve mastered reverse push-ups, you can move on to basic assisted pull-ups. The typical progression is:

  • Band-assisted pull-ups
  • Reverse/Negative pull-ups
  • The real thing

Here is a video from Mark Sisson demonstrating the progression:

Chin-ups would use the same progression but with palms facing inward instead of outward.

It is great to work up to pull-ups and chin-ups at the same time.

For many women, it takes months to work up to a single pull-up but progressing with additional pull-ups will be easier.

Make sure to do everything with good form and move at your own pace to prevent injury.

The Challenge

I officially challenge you to learn how to do pull-ups and chin-ups. They are incredibly functional movements and your body will thank you!

Can you do a pull-up? Are you willing to try? Share below!

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Reader Comments

  1. Alright. I’ll give this a try!

  2. Thanks for the challenge. I am in, I have wanted to do a pull up for a long time but haven’t motivated myself to do it. I just did 3 reps of 15 rows using 1 gallon jugs filled with water.

  3. This will be a great motivator for me to get my exercise routine back on track and I wanted to invest in a pull up bar for sometime now. I’m in.

  4. So excited for this challenge! Just did 3 circuits 15reps each of the row using 2 1gal jugs of vinegar. Wow that was harder than I was expecting

  5. I’m in!!! This is awesome. Always wanted to do a pull up but never EVER have and haven’t ever really tried to train for it. Thanks for doing this!

  6. Great challenge! 15 with band assist done for today!

  7. I am also wondering if I need to enter into the box above and leave a comment for each workout? I did 3 sets of 15 rows with

  8. 2 10 lb dumbells

  9. 5circuits 15reps rows

  10. Today I tried to do a bodyweight row, but I am a little concerned about my kitchen table… lol! SO I did 3 x 15 rows with 1 gallon bottles again!!

  11. I am 7 months pregnant… Is this a bad time to start?

    • Yes… too much of a chance of injuring ab muscles if you haven’t done it before, but after baby is a few weeks old would be a good time to start 🙂

  12. Bag of books, 15 rows

  13. I am in too! I logged my excercise yesterday and am a little confused on how I do it today etc? Thx!

  14. Thank you for posting this! I showed up too late to participate but it has been one of my personal fitness goals to be able to do a pull-up (which seems like a pipe dream at this point, but it’s encouraging to see stories of other women who can do them). That 12-minute site is very helpful as well! I’m going to use the information as a guide to get me there.

  15. Willing to try this out! This will get me motivated in the morning!! 🙂

  16. Today I did 3 sets of 15 rows again but with heavier dumbells. My shoulders and back are definitely feeling it! While I can do alot of push-ups. These muscles obviously haven’t been used much

  17. Three sets of fifteen rows with two 6lb dumbells. Still just so excited to be doing something new. Thanks for the challenge.

  18. Yesterday I thought I used 71/2 lb dumbells…apparently it was 15lbs(each weight on the bar was 71/2) no wonder I felt quite sore today. Used the same ones again today. 3 full sets of 15 reps rows

  19. 3 Sets of 15 rows

  20. This is a great challenge for me as I’ve been telling myself I need to work on my pull ups. My goal is to be able to do 10 dead hang pull ups unbroken. I am at 5 right now. So this challenge will help me stay accountable to working on my pull-ups, unassisted, every day. My goal during the challenge is to do 5 sets of max rep pull ups each day. Thanks for posting this challenge – I need it!

    • OK so I know it’s only day 1 for me but after thinking about this, I’m adjusting my daily goal to 4 sets max reps/day…2 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon, because this is in addition to my other work-outs which include kickboxing, boxing, muay thai, and Krav Maga. 🙂

  21. Did 3 sets of 10 ROWS with 13 and 17lbs on August 1st

  22. Did 3 sets of 10 rows with 13 and 17lbs on August 4th

  23. Did 3 sets of 10 rows with 13 and 17lbs today!

  24. 3 reps of 15 rows, 6lb weights, shoulder blades were burning

  25. This should be fun! I can do chin-ups pretty decently, but the true pull up is illusive.

    Looking forward to accomplishing this!

  26. I’m in too! On my 2nd day now and just starting with rows with weights. Fun!

  27. I did 15 leg assisted pull ups and 2 sets of 15 rows with 13 and 17lbs!

  28. I was chicken. But I started today! First step is always the hardest.

  29. I realize I am late to the party, but I was just talking about how I wanted to do a pull up and this is the perfect motivation!!

  30. I did one set of pull-ups yesterday (completely forgot about it in the morning!), in addition to my regular training. I have done one set of pull-ups this morning as well….hoping I will do 3 more today!

  31. 3 sets of 15 rows, attempted the reverse sit up, but it turned more like a sit up, oh well, it’s not going to stop me from trying

  32. couldnt get to the gym today so I worked out at home. Tabatas are no punk.
    4 different tabatas (20 sec. work, 10 sec rest, 8 rounds) jump rope and push ups, bicep curls (20#) and jump squats, punching bag and ab roller, sprints and triceps. still a little burning from yesterdays 100# lat pulls….

  33. Did more rows today.Also been working on the reverse push-up.i can only do about 4 of them. Gonna go to the park later and see how I’ve improved in a week. Last weekend I could do a very measly chin-up and absolutely no pull-ups.

  34. I’ve done at least one set of push-ups each day this week and today, I was able to do 2 sets of 6 pull ups – from a dead hang! Yay! My goal is 10 dead hang pull ups so I’m slowly working on it. I’m trying to do consistent work, even when I don’t feel like it! Thanks again for this challenge 🙂

  35. Still using my two 6lb dumbells for 3 set of 15 rows. Adding in more arm exercises, sit ups and some girly push ups. Got it done last night as well, but sadly forgot to post. Either way just happy to have a routine again.

  36. Seems I’m better at remembering to do the work out than I am about getting in the post, but what’s more important right? Three sets of fifteen reps and progressively adding steps to my strength building workout.

  37. No pull-up here yet but feeling stronger 🙂

  38. 5 sets of 15 rows today. Scoured the thrift stores searching for a used pull up bar, but no luck so far.

  39. 5 sets of 15 rows, feeling the muscles engaging with a little more precision now

  40. OK so I did one set of 6 strict pull-ups today! Fell off the pull up wagon last week and skipped Thur/Fri and yesterday. I did 3 sets of 10 on Saturday, but some were with a band.

  41. 5 sets of 15 rows. I watched the instruction videos again today and it makes me even more anxious to get a pull up bar. I would love to start up on those leg assists.

  42. who did 4 pull ups? This girl right here! I was out on a run and went past some monkey bars so I hopped up and did 2 set of 4! Its amazing how much easier it is with a closer grip. The grips at the gym are sooo wide its nearly impossible!

  43. I’m bummed I just saw this (and it is 6 days to the end) but I wanted to tell a story. When I was a senior in high school, we had to do pull ups every day in weights. I said I was a girl and had never been able to do it. Exactly what you had said, I had the lower body strength, but not upper. But the coach said I had to try. So for two weeks, I tried every day and tried harder than the other girls in the class who just hung there. After two weeks, I did my first pull up. Then I did two. At the end of the semester, I was able to raise my grade in the class by doing 10 pull ups. It is possible and I need to do it again, as that has been a number of years. Thanks for the inspiration!

  44. I did 30 rows, 30 lat pull downs and 15 assisted pull ups (with my legs) on August 23rd

  45. I did 30 rows, 30 lat pull downs and 15 assisted pull ups (with my legs) on August 25th

  46. I did 30 rows, 30 lat pull downs and 15 assisted pull ups (with my legs) on August 27th! I never made it to a complete pull up, but this challenge really pushed my limits and I know helped increase my strength more than otherwise…I hope I win…I love Tropical Traditions!!

  47. Thank you wellnessmama for the challenge! I have never done a pull-up in my life until now! And added plus I also could do the monkey bars, never been able to do those either.

  48. I’ve been doing Crossfit for a year but I still cannot do a pull-up or a chin-up. I think this is the challenge for me 🙂

  49. I know the challenge has ended but I just want to say I love this post. I’ve been doing one-leg assist pull-ups for months now, never thought to try the negative pull-up, and just can’t quite do a really pull-up. This might be my missing link. Such good info! Also, as a woman who could once do real pull-up pre-childbearing, ladies you have to try this, it is so very empowering.

  50. Love this! I can do pull ups…right now just 5 in a row and I am proud of it!!!

  51. Well, that was an article that helped me believe that, even after two months of hard training negatives and not getting anywhere, I would someday be able to pull up 😀
    Three months later, I’m able to do five pull ups, and hope to get the ratio up fast to get to muscleup…
    Thanks a lot 🙂

  52. It is possible. I’ve been working really hard and went from 3 chinups to 9 in 5 months. I need to work on my pullups. The chinups are a lot easier for me. I also do a lot of dips. Body weight exercises are where it’s at!

  53. My goal to do a pull up was also the beginning of my weight lifting journey. After 6 months of training I can bench press a set with 100 pounds (Max out at 115).
    I also do 2-4 hours of TRX training a week which includes low rows and high rows.
    Last week I was able to a pull up from a dead hang for the first time! My goal is to get to 5 in a row.
    I’m beyond excited! I didn’t see it coming- and all of a sudden I was just able to do it!