How can I train to improve my pull-ups?

How can I train to improve my pull-ups?

To get good at pull-ups, you must practise doing them, rather than relying on other forms of exercise.

Hi Ben, I can do just five pull-ups now. My goal is to do at least eight.

How would you train for this at home without any equipment other than a pair of 25kg dumbbells?

If you want to improve your pull-ups, you can't train for it with a pair of dumbbells.

To get good at pull-ups, you MUST do pull-ups.

Mr Aldrin Ho, 37, a well-known sports injury specialist and strength-and-conditioning coach, says: "The biomechanics of the pull-up and an assistance lift using dumbbells are different."

With this in mind, make the pull-up bar at your fitness corner your temple and visit it every other day.

Since you can do only five reps now, you can start with eight sets of three reps (8x3) for the first week.

Aim for 25 to 30 total repetitions each time.

But do not train to failure; that is, don't train till you can't complete a rep.

For the second week, strive for 7x4 or 9x3.

Every subsequent week, strive to improve on what you've done the previous week.

Mr Ho adds that pull-up performance can also be improved by focusing merely on the lowering portion of the exercise.

This helps to boost your back strength.

He elaborates: "Just jump up to get your chin above the bar and focus on lowering slowly. A three-second lowering is suggested."

This can be done at the end of the session when your muscles are already fatigued.


The starting position is from a "dead hang", where your arms are straight, slightly wider than shoulder width and your body is motionless.

Tense your entire body, but especially the back, core and butt muscles as you are about to lift yourself up.

Think of pulling the bar down instead of pulling yourself over it.

This will help activate the back muscles which are key in this lift.

The ascent should be explosive, in other words, as fast as possible.

As your upper chest touches the bar, hold the position for two seconds and squeeze the back muscles.

Control the descent as you could injure your shoulders going down too fast. The rep is completed when your arms are straight again.

CAUTION: Do not use your legs to jerk yourself up - this is cheating and robs you of the lift's effectiveness.

E-mail your fitness questions to with the subject line ASK BEN

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