The pull-up is one of the most popular exercises. There's something very powerful about successfully raising your chin over the pull-up bar from a dead hang position. And of course, this difficult step to master is not easy – especially for women.
According to Angela Gargano, a fitness instructor and four-time American Ninja Warrior contestant, there are two main reasons why women have more difficulty than men in completing this milestone: Less toning in the back compared to men and less toning at a young age that pull-ups are not for girls.
"As women, we've been told almost our entire lives that we can't do pull-ups," says Gargamo. "Starting with the physical fitness test in elementary school, they told the girls to do the 'hang' instead of doing pull-ups like the boys."
Luckily, Gargano didn't listen to that train of thought and has now become a powerhouse of knowledge and strength, empowering women around the world to complete their first pull-up - then their second, third, and so on. One of Gargano's delighted customers told her: “Your program is fantastic! I can't believe I can do a pull up in my 50's!"
Gargano's program lasts six weeks, and while it takes about 30 days or more to complete a pull-up, Gargano has seen people achieve their first in as little as two weeks.
So if you're struggling to complete a perfect pull-up, don't know where to start or how to train for it, Gargano pulls out all her tips to help you get your chin over the bar.
Ian Spanier / M+F Magazine
You may think that the pull-up exercise only works the back muscles, but this powerful move targets a variety of muscle groups. "The pull-up is a full-body movement that uses your grip strength, forearms, back, core, and glutes," explains Gargano.
And the benefits go beyond the self-empowering feeling of being able to pull your full body weight and get your chin off the bar. "A pull-up increases your grip strength, which correlates to longer life and bodes well for overall health," she says. "It also helps improve posture and is beneficial for everyone and in all areas of training and life."
3 things to focus on when working on your first pull up
As you set out to do your first pull-up, Gargano focuses with their clients on three things: mobility, stability, and strength.
mobility – When doing a pull-up, your arms are above your head, right? "So not only do we need to be able to hold our arms overhead, but we also need to be able to function in that area, also known as mobility," she says. Make mobility exercises a must as you get to your first pullup faster.
Example: Drill Y, T, L, W:
- Perform 10x of each of these 3x Banded Wall Slides:
- Slowly perform 10 repetitions 3 times.
stability - Stability makes sure you're strengthening your shoulders, "Simply because there's a lot of 'stuff' going on there and we want our bodies to be ready," says Gargano.
Half kneeling SA DB Press:
- Perform 10 on each side with medium weight
pat on the back:
- Perform 10 on each side, focusing on keeping hips straight
Strength – Gargano explains that strength focuses on the parts where you are weakest, as well as your core and glutes. "It's all connected," she says.
- Perform 1 rep, then rest for at least 30 seconds to a minute. This movement should be performed at a sloth-like pace.
- Perform 10 of these moves, making sure to hold the tip for at least two seconds.
Gargano's step-by-step guide to your first pull-up
Step 1: Stay tuned
Just grab the bar, hold onto the bar as tightly as you can, and then stay there. "Get comfortable up there, get to know each other — your goal should be to hang for at least 30 seconds," says Gargano.
Step 2: Mind-Body Connection
The mind is also a muscle that needs strengthening, especially when you're pulling your body weight. When you practice the mind-body connection during pull-up training, mentally bring your brain together with your lats.
"Often you're actually strong enough to do your first pull-up, but your CNS hasn't made a path to your lat to pull you up," she explains.
To improve this connection, Gargano recommends performing one-arm lat pulldowns with a shrug while tapping the lat. "Use the mobility stick pulldown to practice 'breaking' the bar." She says. Make sure your slouched shoulders are slow and controlled with a hold at the top.
Step 3: Edit vulnerabilities
Work on the area where you are weakest. "If you get stuck at the bottom of your pull-up, which most people do, focus on strengthening the bottom instead of focusing on getting up," says Gargano. Do things like shrugs to ¼-assist pull-ups and ¼-bend arm hangs and slow eccentrics that focus on the super-slow lowering to the floor
Step 4: Assisted pull-ups
If you're trying to get your first pull-up, Gargano warns that while assisted band pull-ups are a great tool, they end up helping you with the hardest part of the pull-up; the bottom. "So when you're doing these moves, use a band that only allows you to do about four reps so you're actually using your muscles and not just being flung up," Gargano recommends.
Step 5: Try the pull-ups without the band often—even if you're sucking
"A lot of my clients get their first pull-ups faster because I get them off the band and trying," says Gargano. Do hard things, this is where you will gain strength and improve with this move.
So, you've got your first pull-up, here's how to get to 10...then 20
Luckily, there are so many ways to increase your strength once you've mastered your first pull-up. A popular goal after getting one is to get to ten.
"Weighted pull-ups, towel pull-ups, and also continuing to work the lower part of the pull-up, which is the connector of that, and doing movements like flexed arm hangs in all the different areas," says Gargano. Consistency is key when it comes to getting comfortable on the bar and building strength, eventually your pull ups will go up.
Rest days are important
Gargano recommends resting at least a day or two (between chin-up workouts) because she believes rest is just as important as your workout. "Your body needs time to heal and build that muscle so you can pull yourself up," says Gargano.
"Take a whole day to do absolutely nothing — that means no yoga, no mobility, just relax, let your body rest," says Gargano. And encourages you to stop eating just because you're resting.
A look inside Gargano's pullup program
In Gargano's program, her clients do pull-ups five days a week, but some of the exercises include deadlifts (we use our lats during this movement), horizontal core pulls, and more.
Example: Deadlift (focuses on breaking the bar to engage the lats and protect the lower back)
- Perform three sets of 10 reps.
Horizontal shrug and pull:
- Perform 10 on each side. Repeat three times.
Gargano's final thoughts:
Why the Typical Eccentric Assisted Flexible Arm Band Works for Strength Building
"Eccentrics and initially flexed arm hangs are intimidating and harsh," says Gargano, and they can also be very discouraging when attempting them for the first time. Have you tried these moves? t as easy as you'd like, but they're great for building strength.
Gargano thinks supported bands are great, "but if you're using a band that's too basic, it's going to hamper your progress," she explains.
Leave your sports gloves at home: Although gloves have their place in the fitness world, Gargano thinks they should stay away from the bar and opt for liquid chalk. “Just like barefoot training. You have to feel the bar,” Gargano says, feeling like you're blocking the bar by using gloves