The pull up is a simple exercise that outclasses any other upper body exercise in the gym.
It’s the one compound exercise that hits your entire upper body, forcing both strength and muscle gains that you can’t get from any other movement.
In fact, it is often referred to as the upper body squat.
But the pull up is also one of the most challenging moves you can possibly attempt.
If you’re a beginner, you might be wondering: How long will it take to be able to do one pull up?
The amount of time it takes to achieve your first pull up depends heavily on your starting strength and bodyweight, among other factors. But most beginners can expect to do a complete pull up after about a month of training or so, if they follow a proper progression.
Let’s take a closer look at the timeline and some training tips to speed up your progress.
So, How Long Will It Take Until You Can Do a Pull Up?
It is impossible to make a blanket statement regarding how long it will take to do your first proper pull up.
That’s because it is largely dependent on your beginning strength and weight.
Clearly a 250 pound person will need a lot more strength to complete a pull up than a 120 pound person.
It is also dependent on shoulder and thoracic spine mobility.
People with longer arms and torso will also need greater strength to be able to move through a larger range of motion.
Most people, however, should be able to progress from zero to one perfect pull in around 30 days.
If anyone knows how long it takes to complete a pull-up, it’s personal trainers.
These people are instructing people, from total beginners to intermediates looking for a new challenge, on this movement every single day.
Here are what a couple of prominent personal trainers have to say on the issue.
Matthew Paxton, personal trainer
While everyone moves at their own different paces, I’d say a month is the most common time for beginners to be able to do a proper pull up.
Now you might be thinking, a month? That’s too long!
Well, think about it this way, if a deadlift is the best way to test pure strength, then a pull up is the best thing to do to test functional strength.
They’re extremely hard to do and there are a lot of factors to consider.
If you’re too heavy or if you’re not very strong to start with, then you might take even longer than a month.
In order to do a proper pull up, you need to be relatively lean, strong and stable, and that is going to take some time and dedication partnered with the proper training.
Jack Coxall, personal trainer, strength & conditioning coach
A pull up is one of the most challenging bodyweight exercises out there – so it’s massively rewarding when you get that first one!
There’s no exact answer to the question, How long will it take to get my first pull up – as with so many things in training, the answer is (somewhat frustratingly, I know) It depends.
Factors like your overall fitness levels, your exercise history, your age, your gender, will all come into play here.
A relatively lean young male who has grown up playing sports will get their first pull up a lot more quickly than an older woman who’s just starting a fat loss journey and has never really trained or played sports.
It may well take many months to achieve a strict pull up with perfect form, but don’t be disheartened – there are plenty of things you can do to help you reach that goal.
It will take a lot of hard work, but you’re guaranteed a massive sense of accomplishment, so stick at it and learn to enjoy and trust the process.
Pull Ups vs Chin Ups
People often get confused between pull ups and chin ups.
Though similar, the two exercises target different muscles.
Pull ups are done with your palms facing away from you.
The main area of emphasis on the pull up is the latissimus dorsi, or lat muscles, of the mid-upper back.
Turn your hands the other way (palm facing toward you) and you have just turned the pull-up into the chin up.
This is a fantastic bodyweight bicep exercise. The closer you place your hands together, the more the move targets your biceps.
(Hate pull-ups? Get some tips here.)
How to Get to Your First Pull Up in 3 Steps (Within a Month Or So)
Here’s a progression to get you from zero to your first pull up.
Experts agree it should take a beginner anywhere from a month to a couple of months to be able to do a single pull up with excellent form.
Here’s how you can learn.
Step One: Flexed Arm Hang
Use a chair to get to the top position of a pull up, with your chin over the pull up bar.
Hold that position for 10 seconds, progressing over time to a 30 second hold.
Once you can comfortably hold yourself in the top position for 30 seconds, it’s time to progress to Step Two.
Step Two: Negative Pull Ups
Again, use a chair to get into the top position of the pull up.
Now, slowly lower yourself until your arms are fully extended and you are in the bottom pull up position.
Your focus needs to be on doing the movement as slowly as possible.
Try to count off 5-10 seconds as you descend.
When you can comfortably do 10 repetitions of negative pull ups in a row, it is time to move to Step Three.
Step Three: Resistance Loop Band Band Pull Ups
Take hold of a resistance loop band and wrap it around the bar so that one end is hanging down to provide a stirrup for your foot.
Now pull the band down and step into it with one foot so that the band is resting across your midsole area. Reach up to grab the bar and pull yourself up.
The band will counter some of your body weight, making it easier for you to pull your body up. Be sure to go all the way up and all the way down.
Once you are able to pump out 10 reps of resistance loop band pull ups, you are ready to handle your first unassisted full pull up!
(Alternatively, you can use the assisted pull up machine at the gym and slowly decrease the amount of assistance over time.)
Training Tips to Master the Pull Up Faster
Looking for even more tips?
Keep these form and training cues in mind to speed up your progress!
Full Range of Motion
Too often you see guys cheating themselves on an exercise by not going through a full range of motion.
You do not want to get into this habit on the pull up.
Bring yourself all the way up until your chin makes contact with the bar and then slowly extend back down until your arms are fully extended.
Doing so will put your lats through its full range of motion, leading to greater stress on the working muscle and more complete strength and muscle development.
It is only natural when you fatigue at the end of a set that you will struggle to get all the way up, but the point here is that you should always be striving to do so.
You should also make sure that, especially as you begin to fatigue, you do not allow momentum or leg swing to help get you up.
The wider your hand grip the more your elbows flare out to the side, which is not an ideal joint position for pulling up.
The grip of your width is determined by the area of your body that you want to target with the exercise.
If your goal is to maximally stimulate the lats, you want the elbows to be perpendicular to the bar, which would place your hands 9-12 inches outside of your shoulders.
This hand positioning allows for the ideal balance between arm extension and adduction.
To place more emphasis on the rhomboids and the biceps, bring your hands closer together so that they are about six inches apart.
Shoulder Blade Movement
The ideal pull up isn’t just about pulling your arms up to the bar.
For maximum back stimulation you should begin the movement by pulling the shoulder blades down in order to get the right amount of tension in your back.
Now bend your arms slightly and attempt to pull the shoulder blades together.
Pulling your shoulder blades together in this way will avoid the rounded shoulder position which will not optimize back activation and which can lead to shoulder injury.
There are two different body positions for the pull up.
The first is the straight position where you tilt your body backwards and come directly up and down.
The other option is the arched back pull up in which you thrust out your chest, arch your lower back and pull the chest up to the bar with your head back.
The straight pull up provides you with greater core and abdominal activation.
However, this can be at the expense of engaging your back.
The titling of the pelvis and recruitment of the core activates the anterior muscle chain at the front of your body.
However, the goal of a pull up for the back is to engage the posterior muscle chain at the back of your body.
When you perform the arch back pull up, the emphasis is on the posterior chain.
The arched lumbar spine position will not cause you any problems unless you put load on it.
When you perform the pull up, however, there is no load at all on the lumbar spine, making it the ideal move in which to have a curved spine.
The bottom line here is that you need to utilise the arched spine pull up in order to get maximum back stimulation.
What should you do with your legs during a pull up or chin up?
The position of your legs has an impact on your ability to perform the exercise properly.
What’s more, the way that most people position their legs while pulling up is not ideal.
The position of the legs affects the way that the exercise targets your lats, believe it or not.
The lats attach at the triceps and go all the way down to the pelvis. The pelvis changes position in accordance with where you put your legs.
The most common pull up position is to have your knees bent, feet crossed and legs behind you.
However, if you were to place your knees in front of your body you would greatly increase the involvement of the lats in the movement.
Doing so, pre-stretches the lats, which allows for a stronger contraction.
A further bonus to having your knees in front of you is that it recruits the abdominals to a far greater degree.
Having the knees in front will also minimize the leg swing that is a problem for so many people.
This, in turn, will eliminate the horizontal energy leak that robs so many people’s pull up strength without them realizing it.
With 30 days of consistent application of the 3 step process outlined above, most people should be able to achieve a proper pull up in a month or so.
It may take longer depending on your starting fitness, bodyweight, gender, age, and more.
But getting one pull up is only the beginning!
If you can work your way up to multiple sets of 8-12 pull ups, you’ll see excellent gains in your back and biceps.
Eventually, when you’re ready, you can attempt a one handed pull up and REALLY wow people at the gym.
Before you go, don’t miss:
- How long does it take to do a one arm pushup?
- How long does it take to bench 225?
- How long does it take to squat 315?
Hope this helps!