From 1 Pull Up & Chin Up to 10 -- In 6 Months. Possible?
November 4, 2016 6:46 AM   Subscribe

I can currently do a single pull up and (barely) a single chin up. I would like to be able to do 10 of each within 6 months. What other exercises can I do at home (hoping for no or minimal equipment) to help me get to this goal?

Every other exercise I do (push ups, crunches, triceps dips, etc. (I do the 7 Minute workout)) I can easily do many reps, but getting from 1 pull up to 2 has felt nearly impossible. So I'm wondering what else I can do to get to 10 reps. I don't think weight is too much of an issue (I could maybe lose 5 pounds)
posted by coffee and minarets to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Without access to a bar or rings for negatives/bands/practice reps, maybe try handstand push-ups or handstand negatives against a wall. That would work some of the same muscle groups moreso than a regular push-up or tricep extensions. Also, bent-over rows and upright rows with a barbell (preferably) or dumbbells, but you need a decent weight.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 6:58 AM on November 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Convict Conditioning book (mostly body weight exercises) goes in small steps. See this image, top middle, for the progression for pull-ups.

For me, the step 2 for using the edge of a table was still too steep for me, so I used a bar on my husband's weight set with a smaller incline and then increased the incline as I got stronger.
posted by jillithd at 7:07 AM on November 4, 2016 [2 favorites]

Absolutely possible.

The best thing is the Australian pullup, sometimes called the horizontal row. It's a pullup where you're laying down horizontally instead of standing up vertically. It still works the back muscles you use in a pullup (as all row exercises do). For added difficulty, you can put your feet on an exercise ball.

As I touched on, any row exercise (where you hold weights and pull them toward your chest) will help.

If you have access to a gym, or exercise band, lat pull-downs are basically the same motion.

Try doing a flexed-arm hang from a bar. It's not as good as a pullup, but sometimes fitness tests will allow substitution of flexed-arm hangs for pullups.

You could also try kipping. It's not great in terms of developing strength, but it'll get you to your second (and third, and so on...). A big part of pullups, in my experience, is psychological, so just doing two or three at once, even if you're cheating, is a big boost.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:08 AM on November 4, 2016

I also got up to full pullups by doing eccentric pullups: jump up to the top of a pullup, and then lower yourself slowly and with good form.
posted by katrielalex at 7:12 AM on November 4, 2016 [8 favorites]

If you have a reasonably sturdy table, you can do this (and look super tough while you're at it)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:17 AM on November 4, 2016

Another variation: stand under a bar that you can reach while standing, ideally about 6 inches below the height you can reach. Jump into a pull up, then try to lower yourself down slowly. You should be able to adjust the jumping effort so that you can do sets of 5-10. If you can do more than that, use your legs less.

Getting to 10 is ambitious. (It took me about 6 months of pretty regular work to get from 12 to 15.) Whether it's possible depends on how hard you work, your age and gender (much easier for 20 y.o. male than 45 y.o. female), and how trained you. If it took a lot of work to get to 1, you're not going to get to 10. If you can do one and haven't gotten off the couch in 5 years, you're going to improve quickly.

And weight, even 5 pounds, does make a significant difference.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:18 AM on November 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can you do two in the same day, even if not in the same set/workout (you would need a home pull-up bar to stick in a doorway because stopping by the gym twice in a day just to go flail at the pull-up station for two minutes the second time would probably be silly. but they're cheap enough and work fine and don't have to stay installed when you're not using them.) because if so, you could try doing one in the morning and one in the evening, and gradually decreasing the rest interval between them. Or one full one and then reverse pull-ups to exhaustion every time you work on those muscles, increasing until you've doubled the number of reverse pull-ups you can do and then try two regular ones in a row.

I, like you, went from nothing to 1 and it was AMAZING and then for various reasons had to stop working out altogether except jogging & lost all my strength. but I was working with a personal trainer to whom I had expressed my goal of doing a billion pull-ups like linda hamilton in terminator 2 and who was happy to help with that. What he had me do was:

a combination of static holds - hold yourself in a full pull-up position hang, but also lower yourself down until your elbow's bent at a right angle, that's harder to hold and does slightly different things; slow slow slow reverse (eccentric) pull-ups; tons of row variations on a TRX apparatus, which if you have access to one is fantastic for this and you have total control over the angle; pull-downs with variously spaced grips; and bicep curls for good measure.

I think getting to 10 in six months is perhaps over-optimistic but only because of the time frame. you can absolutely do it although it may take longer than that.

I did notice a difference in ease with only a five-pound weight difference but that may have been all psychological. still helped.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:39 AM on November 4, 2016 [4 favorites]

hoping for no or minimal equipment

Home pull-up bars that go in doorways are pretty inexpensive.

As mentioned above, you can jump up to the bar then let yourself down slowly for a "negative" that will build strength when you're not able to do another "positive" rep.
posted by exogenous at 7:46 AM on November 4, 2016

This is all excellent advice, thank you guys!

In terms of equipment: I do have a pull up bar already set up, and a few low weight dumbbells. But I hate gyms, so all training is going to be at home or outside.
posted by coffee and minarets at 8:05 AM on November 4, 2016

I swear by the SSPT pull up program. If you can already do a strict pull up, I would focus on following this program and not worry so much about things like inverted rows and jumping pull ups or negatives. I went from two chin ups and zero pull ups to ten of each in about six months of this program. Now I mostly train weighted pull ups.

Regarding kipping pull ups, I really do not recommend it. The shoulder is a very vulnerable joint and kipping pull ups put a tremendous amount of stress on it. There's some risk inherent in all physical activity, but when it comes to kipping pull ups the benefits don't come anywhere near outweighing the potential harm.
posted by telegraph at 9:27 AM on November 4, 2016 [3 favorites]

Well, when I went from zero to half a dozen pullups in 2-3 months, it was when I was working long hours on a boat waiting tables and housekeeping. I thought about it at the time and I think the vacuum cleaning was most of what did it.

It was a heavy vacuum cleaner and I would alternate hands just to practice ambidexterity. There was also the daily washing and drying of half a dozen showers or so, making of 6-12 beds, and the carrying of clean/dirty dishes, but I think it was mostly the vacuum cleaner.

So you could try pushing around a (turned off) heavy vacuum cleaner for a half hour every day. Maybe do reps of shaking your comforter for a total of like half an hour every day, too.
posted by aniola at 11:41 AM on November 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you tried rock climbing? I hate gyms too, but have been bouldering consistently for the past six months and really enjoy it. Needless to say, it's a great way to build upper body strength.
posted by monologish at 2:31 PM on November 4, 2016

Since you can already do 1 pull up (a lot of people cannot even do one), the hardest part is already behind you. The best way to get better at pull ups pull ups. If you have a pull up bar at home (and you should if you want to increase your count), then just do pull ups intermittently whenever you walk by the bar. If you can only do 1, then do 1. If you can only do a negative (jump up, then lower yourself slowly), then do that. If you only do 1 pull up every 2 hours and you are at home for 10 hours, that's still 5 pull ups in 1 day.

Personally I found negatives to be a great exercise for getting beyond 1 pull up. Shoot for a goal of 8 reps per set, then do as many pull ups as you can (even if it is only 1) then do negatives for the rest of the set. So for example 1 pull up, then 7 negatives. Do 3 sets. Rest every other day. Eventually, you should be able to increase your pull up count.

Also, chin ups (wrists facing towards you) are easier than pull ups for most people (since the biceps help you more), so start with those first until you can do 5 chin ups. Then go for pull ups.

6 months is certainly doable. It took me 1-2 months to go from 0 to 1 pull ups and around 5-6 months after getting the first pull up to get to 10.
posted by pravit at 5:24 PM on November 4, 2016

A lot of people don't have the forearm / grip strength. One way to fix this is to hang for as long as possible after you finish your pull-up(s)
posted by jasondigitized at 7:20 AM on November 5, 2016

I recommend enjoy the approach, and floppy hat, in Scooby's video here. However I'm totally distracted by his huge chest.

Oh, and if you're doing home workouts, you might find the r/bodyweightfitness recommended routine and community to be helpful in setting and achieving realistic fitness goals.
posted by enfa at 9:42 AM on November 5, 2016

Definitely possible!

As for exercises to do at home with minimal equipment. . . start doing HEAVY biceps curls, with a weight heavy enough that you can only do 5 or so reps (gallon of milk, large cat, small child, etc). Do 5 sets of 5 reps, every 48 hours. (If your current dumbbells are light enough that you can curl them 10-12 times, they aren't likely heavy enough to help with chins.)

Also, are you doing "triceps dips" with your feet on the ground? Try working up to "chair dips" (also called "dips"):

Yours is a classic example of strength programming, and there are lots of other follow-up questions a trainer might ask!

It's a great goal! Good luck!
posted by tiburon at 4:40 PM on November 5, 2016

Negatives are great. Once you get to 3-5, you can also try adding weight instead of adding reps (e.g., clipping plates to a weight belt) -- it's a good way to make progress without getting an additional other full pullup into your set.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:50 PM on November 5, 2016

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