Mission :One Pull-Up. The 6 things you can do anywhere to get better at pullups

One of the most saught after single rep body weight exercise is the elusive pull-up.  Somewhere between hanging on and dominating the monkey bars in middle school and our early 30’s so many of use lose the strength and mobility to pull ourselves up.  Luckily, like just about anything in life and fitness, you get out of yourself what you put in.  So, you CAN do a pull up.  But not if you only work on it once a week.  These 6 ideas will help you think outside the box to building strength with a busy schedule


Before we share::

Here are a few podcasts with athletes that you bet your booty can do a pull-up, or 100’s:

Ryan Atkins – He is absolutely tearing up the obstacle racing scene and his workouts are legendary. He even shares one for you to try on the show.

Joe Decker – He was the World’s Fittest Man so yes, pull ups are child’s play for him.  He has a great personal story he shares as well.

Dean Karnazes– One of our most listened to shows from the inspiring runner himself. He has a bodyweight exercise routine that includes pull-ups and is good for every athlete listening.



Mission: ONE PULL UP.

Best for:

  • Anyone who can’t do a single pull-up
  • Anyone who wants to be able to do more pull-ups


This is not a typical post on how to do a pull up. But really quick, here is how you do a pull up.  Grab a bar, tree limb, door jamb, rock or anything else with both hands(palms out), and pull your body up where your chin is above your hands.  Yeah, that’s it.  Let not get silly about basic movement. And no, we aren’t going to call it the “body float” or the “two handed air lift” to make you think we are smarter.  It’s a pull-up.

Yeah, that’s it.  Let not get silly about basic movement.

Now that the rant is over.  The tips you see below are meant to address certain key components to the success of your Mission to do a pull-up, or more.  We know you don’t have a pull-up bar at your disposal all day so these tips are for busy people who really, really want to do one or more pull-ups.

Some Key Components To Doing A Pull-Up:

  • Grip strength- If you can’t hold your body weight in your hands, no pull-up.
  • Lat strength, shoulder stability, bicep strength, core strength- There is a lot going on during this simple exercise.  We will give you ways to improve on all fronts.
  • Power to weight ratio- The lighter you are, the easier you are to lift.  You get it.
  • Mentality- So what if you haven’t done one in recent memory, or ever.  It’s time to think you can’t before try.  This goes for a lot of things.

6 ways to finally do a Pull-Up(or more)

1. Door Frame Isometrics:  

Unless you are a serious climber, you probably aren’t going to be doing any pull-ups from your door frame. Do this drill to build some of the grip strength needed to be good at pull-ups.

Most door frames have a 1/4 inch to almost an inch of a “ledge” at the top.  If you are too short then find a shorter door or similar overhang. Be creative.  Grab the ledge with both hands and slowly add your own body weight.  When you get to your “max” of what you can hold up, hang there for 30-60 seconds at a time.  Challenge your grip.  You can even imitate the movement of a real pullup by pulling yourself up and down, assisting of course with your legs that are on the ground.

Note: Door frames are the easiest example but these types of overhangs are all over the place.  Brick walls, counters, etc.  It’s all about that grip for this concept.


2. Never pass up a tree:

Trees are everywhere.  Now, get over the fact that you may look kinda weird doing this but, throughout your day, everytime you see a tree with a hangable limb.  Get on that thing.  Grab a limb, hang for 30-60 for 2-3 sets everytime you pass a tree.  You can do this in your sport coat, or business suit.

Note: Don’t discrimate on the thickness of the branch. Different thicknesses will work different muscles at different intensities in your arms.  Also, if you are the one wanting to do more pull-ups.  Pull-up to failure everytime you pass a tree!


3.  Ballin’

Tennis balls, racquetballs, and even lacrosse balls are great for building grip strength.  You can do this sitting in your car, at the desk, or in the 8th meeting of the day at work.  Squeeze them for grip strength.

Try this set:

3×20 squeezes/hand(squeeze the ball as hard as you can)

Then 3 x 1 minute  squeeze holds.  Squeeze as hard as you can and hold the whole minute.

4.  Jump up drop downs:

Ok so you are at a pull up bar or tree or monkey bars or random pole. Time to work on range of motion and the eccentric half of the pull up.  You are stronger when your muscles are longer so let work on this. You are going to get in a position where you can jump up to the top of  a pull up and try to slowly lower yourself.  Most people can do this pretty well right before they get their first pull up ever.

Try this set:

3 sets of 10 jump up drop downs with a minute rest between each.

Note: If you can’t hang with your body weight, don’t do this one.

5.  Monkey Bars:

Playgrounds aren’t just for kids.  No matter how many dirty looks you get from latte swagging parents on the edges of said playground.  We all climbed monkey bars when we were kids, time to start again.  Find a set and do your best to get all the way across without falling.  That’s it.  Do as many as you can.

6.  Try a pull-up:

“Huh, but I can’t”  Yeah we knew you’d say that.  Here is the deal. You are working out and watching what you eat but you’ve never done a pull-up, why could you now?  Well, maybe you can’t but the best way to find out is to try. And try often.  The first 3-4 inches of the movement are the toughest and a little grit and determination goes a long way.  You see something you can pull up on, you try.

Try this: Set a goal of how many times you will try to do a pull up every Sunday night before the week starts.  It’s going to happen eventually.


The pull-up is the one body weight exercise that so many want to but can’t do. It doesn’t have to be that way.  You move better from moving more.  We hope these tips will have you climbing trees, ropes and even the pull up bar in the gym sooner than later.

Notice we didn’t suggest any tried and true lat and shoulder exercise in the gym.  Cool, glad you noticed.


All Day Athletes will be a regular series on how to get the most out of your busy day no matter what level you are as an athlete, and yes everyone is an Athlete! These will help you get on track and at the very base, think differently about your training.  Here is our last post on breaking your day into 15 minute chunks for fitness.

[pexblogposts pex_attr_title=”Learn, get inspired…” pex_attr_cat=”4″ pex_attr_number=”4″ pex_attr_columns=”2″][/pexblogposts]