The Best Pull-Up Workout for Beginners – How to Get a Mighty Arms in 20 Days

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It’s not all about building big arms but a strong back and chest too. If that is what you’re after then read on.

We’re going to introduce the best pull-up workout for beginners and the techniques for proper form and excellent results.

Did you see that advertisement featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger posing with young people pulling up? It’s a pretty effective way to gain mighty arms in a fun and cool way.

Pull-ups are one of the most effective exercises that you can do. You can easily add pull-ups to your workout routine and start seeing your upper body strength results.

Pull-Up Basics for Beginners

The inclusion of a pull-up in full workout routines may be considered optional depending on how one plans to use their bodyweight routine.

Pull-ups and dips are quite demanding especially if you’re not using resistance to counteract the body weight.

So if the goal is to reach your maximum potential, pull-up shouldn’t be overlooked simply because it’s more challenging than a push-up or any similar alternative exercise.

How to Do a Pull-Up Workout Properly

Here’s how you do a pull-up: first, place your hands slightly below your shoulders. Then, while contracting your core abdominal muscles and glutes, pull yourself up with your arms. When your chin reaches the bar, you’ve completed one pull-up!

With pull-ups, the key to getting the most out of them is to practice. Follow these tips, and you’ll be churning out superhuman pull-ups in no time!

1. Get Your Shoulders Back and Down

When you’re doing pull-ups, you need to make sure that your shoulders are rolled back and down, not forward and up.

If you don’t pull your shoulders back and down, it’s easy to end up with an injury like a rotator cuff tear.

2. Retract Your Scapula

Your scapula is the flat bone in the middle of your back that connects the humerus (upper arm bone) to your clavicle (collarbone).

During a pull-up, think about pulling your shoulder blades together toward each other as if squeezing a pencil between them. Don’t shrug your shoulders up toward your ears—this is where rotator cuff injuries can happen!

3. Squeeze Your Lats

The key to great pull-ups is strong lats. These are the muscles on either side of your back, running from your armpits down to your hips.

4. Keep Your Elbows in Tight

It’s easy to let your elbows flare out when doing pull-ups — especially when you’re tired from using extra weight for resistance.

But doing so puts stress on your shoulders and makes it harder to recruit your lats. Keep those elbows close to your body as you pull yourself up and over the bar.

5. Use a Full Range of Motion

A standard pull-up is performed by hanging from a bar. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart with your palms facing away from you and your elbows fully extended.

Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar, then slowly lower yourself until your arms are fully extended again.

6. Keep Your Core Tight

You should squeeze your abs and glutes throughout each rep. This engages more muscles and leads to better results overall.

7. Get Help

Ask your friend to push up on your back as you jump upward so that your chin is above the bar. This support will allow you to experience what the top position feels like, which is important for the successful execution of the movement.

Best Pull-Up Workout for Beginners

Below are some of the best pull-up workout routines for beginners to get the chest, back and arms strong in less than three weeks.

Inverted barbell row

You’ll need a bar resting on fixed points. This is easy with a barbell and power rack or a Smith machine. But we’re all about home fitness here so without heavy equipment you can use any (strong) bar and 2 boxes.

Lay out straight at right angles to and under a bar. It should be above your chest. Hold the bar at a comfortable distance directly above at shoulder width.

Pull up, keeping your body straight. The heels of your feet will remain on the ground.

This is a great starting place as it requires a lot less strength to pull your body weight and the height can be altered from a little to full reach.

Lat Pulldown

Ideally you would want to use a lat pulldown or cable-based machine for this exercise.

Try rigging up something using resistance bands with an anchor point.

The lat pulldown is perfect because it is so similar to the body’s mechanics when doing pull-ups. The lat pulldown will help increase your pull-up strength.

Single Arm Dumbbell Row

Again, this exercise mimics the muscle activation of pull-ups although maybe not so closely as the lat pulldown above.

A bench is handy for this one but a box would be fine. You can do it without but muscle activation is spread more widely.

One arm goes straight out in front on the bench with the leg of the same side resting on the bench.

Girl on bench doing a single arm dumbbell row, one of the best pull-up workout routines

Start with the rowing arm fully extended out in front you.

Lift the elbow back, close to the body at right angles with the bench.

Play around with the weight and don’t forget to share the love with each arm. With bigger weights, I tend to forget to breathe with this exercise which makes it more difficult.

The Flexed Hang

The flex hang is another great pull-up workout routine for beginners. Hold the bar with your chin above it to perform this pull-up variation. Stay in this position for at least 20 seconds to gain a stronger core and grip.

This is great for getting it touch with your body and feeling the muscle activation, especially around the core.

If necessary, get someone to help you get into the position or use something to step into place.

This is used as a Physical Fitness Test by the Marines for upper body strength so it could be a good measure for your own improving strength.

It’s based on time and how long someone can hang without the chin touching the bar or the hands.

Good luck.

The Dead Hang

The dead hang is a beginner-friendly variation that comes with many benefits. Apart from improving your grip, it helps decompress the spine.

If you have had any mid to upper back aches you’ll know how good this feels.

Grip the bar with your palms facing away from you to perform a dead hang. Stay hanging on the bar for 15 seconds with your feet off the bench.

The Chin-up

Similar to the pull-up, the chin-up is one of the best pull-up workouts for big arms. Working out this way engages the biceps and the anterior shoulder.

Unlike other pull-up variations, the chin-up requires you to hold the bar with an underhand grip. An underhand grip is where you hold the bar with your palms facing you and upwards (supination).  

That’s six of the best pull-up workout routines that will help improve and strengthen the muscles required to perform the most excellent pull-ups.

Try mixing up the activities starting off modestly. 20 minutes workout, 3 times a week – always remembering to have a least 1 day off in between.

For each compound exercise, start with 6 – 8 reps or timed exercise 10 – 15 secs. This is obviously dependent on your strength but the aim is always to start small and grow over time.

More Advanced Pull-up Workouts

Side to Side Chin-ups

The bar should be held at shoulder-width, and you’re going to hold it using an underhand grip.

You’re going to pull your body up by retracting your shoulder blades and bending your elbows leaning to one side so that one arm is taking most of the force and your head ends up passing one hand.

Then pull the same way to the other hand. The other side. It’s a tricky one.

Wide-grip Pull-up

The wide-grip pull-up is very similar to the regular pull-up, only you’re going to widen your grip so that it’s wider than shoulder-width apart.

Pulling up with variation targets your lats more than the regular pull-up and allows you to use more weight because of the larger base of support it creates for your body.

Pull-Up Equipment

To do pull-ups correctly and effectively, you’ll need a good pull-up bar. You don’t need access to a fully-stocked gym. There are plenty of pull-up bars around which don’t have to be attached to bulky machines or weights.

Here are some ideas for pull-up workout bars to use at home:

Doorway Pull-up Bar

The doorway pull-up bar is a great product that you can use to work out your back and arm muscles. You can use it to work out your lats, biceps, abs, and many other muscles.

It hooks onto a standard-sized door frame and is often slightly adjustable. It’s easily taken down when you’re not using it and requires no mounts or screws.

The doorway pull-up bar is affordable compared to other options. Combine with a pull-up band for the best pull-up workout experience. You’ll be able to start easy and work up to going “band-free”.

It’s good for young and old alike! A good compact alternative if you don’t have dedicated areas to work out in your home and can be a lot of fun.

Wall-mounted Pull-up Bar

You can install wall-mounted pull-up bars on the wall and sometimes they’re also designed to fix to the ceiling. Attaching the pull-up bar to the ceiling means the forces are pulling directly down when in use.

You really have to be confident in the strength and integrity of the mount. I find it a bit disconcerting and have managed only to have used the ones that can be mounted to the joist.

2 images showing woman doing pull-ups and man dips indoors

The best wall-mounted pull-up bar design is one where you mount an affixing plate and then attach the actual pull-up bar frame to it.

The frame can then be easily removed when not in use and the remaining plate covered with, maybe a “before” picture.

A wall-mounted pull-up bar will mean less direct downward pressure. And compared to a door-frame pull-up bar there will be more room to do your workouts.

Outdoor Pull-up and Dip Bar

Some designs of pull-bars don’t just restrict us to the indoors. For those wanting to work out in the Great Outdoors taking their pull-up and dips with them, there are options available.

Pull-up & dip workout outdoors

One which will allow you to attach to a wall inside and out as well as attaching to other more stand-alone features like poles might just be the best pull-up workout equipment to buy.

One such option is the very well-made pull-up and dips mobile station. Check out our review of the Pullup & Dip’s outdoor and indoor pull-up and dip device.

The Benefits of Pull-ups

Do you know which muscles grow bigger and stronger when you do pull-ups? Your biceps and back muscles get strengthened because they fight your body weight. The best pull-up workout routine also engages your deltoids, pecs, shoulders, and abdominals.

As well as the back and thoracic pull-ups are great for strengthening the chest, arms and shoulders.

Pull-ups, like so many exercises when done properly activate the core. So the deep transverse abdominis – your abs get a pounding.

All in all regularly including pull-ups in your workout routine helps target many of the big muscle groups.

You should expect a definite improvement in overall muscle tone in the upper body.

Get Started

The pull-up is one of the must-have exercises for muscle building and toning.

It’s a measure of upper body strength.

Not only does it strengthen your back as no other exercise does, it also engages your forearms, chest, shoulders and core. Get started today for a mighty load-bearing back.

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Steve Churchill

Steve Churchill has nearly 20 years of experience not only as a personal trainer but also in fitness and sports facilities management. He loves being able to take his 2 young daughters to school in the morning before a sweaty session on the indoor bike.