Build Upper-Body Strength With This Brutal Pull-Up Workout

STACK Expert John Cissik praises Pull-Ups for building upper-body strength and offers sample two workout programs.

Pull-up strength is important for upper-body development, injury prevention and performance. Pull-Ups are one of the most effective upper-body exercises. They require neither a lot of equipment nor complicated technique, and you don't need a spotter for safety. Pull-Ups develop the muscles of your upper back, shoulders, biceps and even forearms. They are a great exercise to balance out all the pressing that athletes tend to do.

The best way to improve an exercise is to perform it a lot. The challenge is that if you cannot perform even a single Pull-Up, it's difficult to train the exercise. This article recommends exercises you can use to improve your Pull-Up and presents a sample program to get your Pull-Ups on track.

RELATED: Do Your First Pull-Up With This Simple Workout. Guaranteed

First, a few principles for Pull-Ups:

  • Avoid crutches. You have to perform Pull-Ups to get better at them. Pull-Ups require skill, and there is a psychological component to getting over the bar.
  • The easiest kind of Pull-Up is done with the hands close together and palms facing you. Start with these. As you get good at them, add other types.
  • To perform Pull-Ups, you need to strengthen the muscles of your upper back, biceps and shoulders.
  • Prioritize Pull-Ups. If you want to improve, make them the first workout of the week and the first exercise in your workout.

Several exercises can help your Pull-Ups. They include Negative Pull-Ups, Bent-Over Rows and Pull-Downs.

Negative Pull-Ups


  • Grip the bar with the same grip-width you would use for a Pull-Up.
  • Jump up so your chin is over the bar. From this position, take as long as possible to lower yourself all the way down until your arms are fully extended.
  • Jump up and repeat.
  • Perform sets of 5 or 6 reps, taking as long as possible to lower yourself down. This exercise teaches the pull-up movement and helps develop the strength you need to perform them.

RELATED: How to Learn Pull-Ups (Or Anything Else for That Matter)

Bent-Over Rows

Bent-Over Row

  • Stand up and grip the bar with a supinated grip (palms face away from you).
  • Place your hands shoulder-width apart. If you want to get better at Pull-Ups, don't go wider.
  • Pull your shoulders back and stick your chest out.
  • Bend your knees slightly.
  • Push your hips back, bend at the waist and lower your upper body until it is almost parallel to the ground.
  • Allow the bar to hang down until your arms are fully extended.
  • Keeping your arms close to your body, pull the bar toward your stomach.
  • Lower and repeat.



Pull-Downs should not be a main exercise for someone  trying to improve Pull-Ups. If you can perform 10 Pull-Downs with your body weight, it doesn't mean you can perform 10 Pull-Ups. It's a different skill. Having said that, this is a good exercise for strengthening the muscles involved in the Pull-Up. Perform Pull-Downs with the same grip you use on Pull-Ups.

Sample programs

This first program is for someone who cannot do any Pull-Ups. It is meant to build the foundation to perform them. Once you can perform even one, move to the next program.

RELATED: Pull-Up and Chin-Up Grip Guide

Beginning program

Day One

  • Negative Pull-Ups: 3x5
  • Lat Pulldowns: 3x8-12
  • Bent-Over Rows: 3x8-12
  • Bicep Curls: 3x12-15

Day Four

  • Lat Pulldowns: 3x12-15
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Rows: 3x12-15 each arm
  • Negative Pull-Ups: 3x5
  • Dumbbell Curls: 3x12-15 each arm

Intermediate program

Once you can do one Pull-Up, move on to the intermediate program. This involves performing sets of Pull-Ups at the beginning of each session and performing as many as possible each set (even if it's only one). The other exercises build on this.

Day One

  • Pull-Ups: 3xMax
  • Negative Pull-Ups: 3x5
  • Bent-Over Rows: 3x8-12
  • Barbell Curls: 3x12-15

Day Four

  • Lat Pulldowns: 3x12-15
  • One-Arm Dumbbell Rows: 3x12-15 each arm
  • Pull-Ups: 3xMax
  • Negative Pull-Ups: 3x5
  • Dumbbell Curls: 3x12-15 each arm

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