Pullup Progression Plan

30 Day Pull-Up Progression Guide

In this guide we tell you what to do to progress from being a complete beginner at pull-ups (that means you can’t do one yet!) to getting your first pull-up. If you follow our plan, you’ll being doing pull-ups in no time!

We’re firm believers in the pull-up. In fact, we’d argue it’s the best bodyweight lat exercise you can do. It builds strength and size, and it requires very little space and equipment to get the job done. 

It might sound simple, but this bodyweight workout can be quite challenging. Pull-ups require more than back and bicep strength – one rep recruits every muscle from your lats to your traps. So without proper form and control over your muscles (think: mind-muscle connection) you can feel more like a fish out of water than an elite athlete as you fight to get over the bar. 

But chin up, you can master the pull-up with a little practice and a solid pull-up progression plan. By the end of this guide, not only will you have the information you need to achieve your first strict pull-up, but you’ll also learn: 

  • Why pull-ups are important and some of their many benefits
  • What muscles you’re working during pull-ups
  • How to build a strong foundation to complete the move 
  • A pull-up progression plan that will help you get your first pull-up and beyond
  • Alternative pull-up variations

What Is a Pull-Up?

Pull-ups are an upper-body strength training exercise. They require a sturdy overhead structure – like a fixed bar, or a tree – that can support your body weight as you pull yourself up and off the ground. 

Because you’re engaging multiple upper-body muscle groups at once, pull-ups are a compound exercise. So while the movement might sound simple, pull-ups can be difficult to master – especially as a beginner.

the Importance of Pull-Ups

Have you ever watched a movie where the main character finds himself hanging off a cliff, and he’s faced with the seemingly impossible task of pulling himself and the girl back up to safety? He couldn’t do that without pull-ups. 

All jokes aside, the fact is that this simple bodyweight movement is useful for more than looking good in the gym. The strengthening and recruitment of the upper body translate to many sports and functional activities. Why else would almost every military team in the world use pull-ups as a fundamental part of their PT program?

Another critical importance of pull-ups is their ability to improve posture. Many people spend hours every day sitting at a desk hunched over a computer – especially post-pandemic amid the mass increase of remote work. On top of leading to bad posture, this habit can also cause chronic back and neck pain. [1] But as pull-ups strengthen the muscles in your back and upper body over time they can help pull your shoulders back and improve your posture.

What Are the Top 4 Benefits of Pull-Ups?

Aside from being able to flex on your friends in the gym? We’ll tell you.

1. They’re a Compound Exercise

There are isolation exercises, and then there are compound exercises. While isolation exercises are great for targeting specific muscles, compound exercises effectively train multiple muscle groups at once. This can lead to an overall increase and improvement in muscle mass and strength, a key benefit of training pull-ups.

2. Increase Grip Strength

Pull-ups don’t only recruit the muscles in your upper back, they also engage the muscles in your forearms and hands. Grabbing onto a bar and pulling your body weight off the ground requires a killer grip. And over time, this motion can increase grip strength which carries over to other exercises, like deadlifts and the farmer’s carry… Or carrying groceries and opening pickle jars. 

3. Pull-Ups Are Calorie Burners

We’ve established that pull-ups are a compound exercise. And because compound exercises engage so many muscles, they inevitably burn more calories during a workout. When you burn more calories, you can burn more fat which can lead to an increase in your metabolism.[2] 

4. Minimal Space and Equipment Required

One of the reasons we love pull-ups so much is that they don’t need a lot of space or equipment to complete. You just need a sturdy bar – like the one attached to a squat rack, a wall mount, or even some monkey bars at your local park – and you can get a great upper body workout. 

What Muscles Do You Work During Pull-Ups?

A better question: what muscles aren’t working during pull-ups?  You recruit almost every muscle in your upper body during pull-ups either as a:

  • Primary Muscle 
  • Secondary Muscle 
  • Or Stabilizer

Primary Pull-Up Muscles

  • The lats, or latissuimus dorsi, are the largest muscles in the back and are mainly responsible for pulling the arms down towards the body. They are the primary movers.
  • The biceps, or biceps brachii, are in your arms and are responsible for pulling your body to the bar
  • The forearms, or brachioradialis and brachialis (forearms), are responsible for your grip
  • The trapezius muscles are also located in the back and help to stabilize your shoulder blades during the exercise.

Secondary Pull-Up Muscles

  • The rear deltoid (back of your shoulder)
  • The rhomboids are also located in your back and help stabilize your shoulder
  • The scapula, or levator scapulae
  • The pecs, or pectoralis major/minor

Stabilizer Pull-Up Muscles

  • The rotator cuff
  • Triceps
  • Obliques (known as “the waist muscles”).

See what we mean by “compound”? Research shows that understanding what muscles are being recruited during a pull-up helps with the mind-muscle connection, or “attentional focus”, and can lead to greater increases in size and strength.[3]

How to Build a Strong Foundation for Pull-Ups

Before attempting a full pull-up, it’s important to build a strong foundation of strength and stability. This involves focusing on developing core strength, grip strength, and shoulder mobility.

Strengthen Your Core

A strong core is essential for maintaining the proper hollow form” during your pull-ups which can prevent injury. You can perform exercises such as planks, Russian twists, and leg lifts to strengthen your core. 

Develop your Grip Strength

Grip strength is another important component of the pull-up. There are helpful tools, such as straps and hooks, that you can use as aids during sets – but it’s best to build your grip for proper pull-up progression. 

To develop your grip strength, you can practice exercises such as farmer’s walks, deadlifts, and wrist curls. 

Improve Your Shoulder Mobility

Shoulder mobility is what will allow you to perform “pinch-free” pull-ups. One of the first movements of the pull-up is activating your scapula and pulling your shoulder blades together. If your shoulders can’t move freely, it could lead to pain or injury. 

To improve your shoulder mobility, you can complete exercises such as shoulder dislocates, band pull-aparts, and overhead reaches. And if you’re interested in strengthening your shoulders altogether, take a look at our article here

What is a Pull-Up Progression Plan? 

A pull-up progression plan is a systematic approach to help you achieve your first pull-up. We’ve designed our plan to include exercises that will help strengthen your upper body and build the endurance required to perform multiple reps.  

You’ll start with some grip-building exercises that will help you feel comfortable hanging from a bar, and progress all the way to a full strict pull-up over 4 weeks. 

Keep in mind: 

  • You can complete this plan at your own pace. If you notice yourself struggling during a particular week or exercise, slow down! Take all the time you need to move on to the next step. 
  • And if you’ve mastered a step ahead of schedule, feel free to jump to the next one.  
  • Even after you’ve moved beyond a step, the early exercises work great as a warm-up for  your training. Getting those muscles moving before jumping into strength training helps improve blood flow and reduces the risk of injury.

30-Day Step-By-Step Pull-Up Progression Plan

It’s time to say goodbye to the fish out of the water pull-ups and become a pull-up pro. Over the next 30 days, our pull-up progression plan will help you achieve your first perfect strict pull-up. 

Expect to spend 2-3 days a week over four weeks completing this training plan. In the early weeks, you’ll focus on learning the mechanics of a pull-up. And in the final weeks, you’ll build upper body strength and put all of the pieces together. 

Without further ado, let’s take a look at the weekly workouts. 

Week 1: Get the hang of things by building your grip strength and practicing the pulling motion

Exercise 1: Dead Hangs: 30 Seconds x 3 Sets

You’ll start practicing dead hangs in week one to build your grip strength and prime your body for a full pull-up. 

With an overhand grip, grab the pull-up bar and hold this hanging position for 30 seconds.  

Exercise 2: Scapular Pulls: 10 Reps x 3 Sets

This movement teaches you how to engage your lats and shoulders to complete a proper pull-up. 

Grab the bar with an overhand grip and assume a free-hang position. Then pull your scapula down and back (refer to muscle diagram for reference), which should lift your body a few inches from the hanging position. Keep your arms straight. 

Exercise 3: Flexed Arm Hangs: 30 Seconds x 3 sets (only on the last day of week 1 training)

Time to engage those bicep muscles. 

Jump up to the pull-up bar and hold yourself with your chin above it for 30 seconds in the flexed arm position. 

Week 2: Build on your foundation.

Continue strengthening your biceps and get comfortable holding yourself above the bar

Exercise 1: Scapular Pulls:  10 Reps x 3 Sets

Remember to squeeze your scapula “down and back”. 

Exercise 2: Flexed Arm Hangs: 30 Seconds x 3 Sets (on set 3, go into negative pull-ups)

The purpose of the flexed arm hangs is to prime your back and biceps for negative pull-ups. On the last rep of your third set, proceed directly into a negative pull-up as described below. 

Exercise 3: Negative Pull-Ups: 5 Reps x 3 Sets

These teach you strength and control on the descent of the exercise, helping you prepare for a full pull-up. 

Use a box or chair to help you grab the bar at the top position with your chin above the bar. Then, slowly lower your body to the ground until you’re in a free-hanging position. Release the bar, rest, and then repeat.

Week 3: Time to start adding in some pull-ups.

Assisted pull-ups with a resistance band help build endurance for the full move

Warm-up:  Scapular pulls → Dead Hang: 10 Reps x 3 Sets (on the last scap pull, complete a 30-second dead hang).

Exercise 1: Negative Pull-Ups: 5 Reps x 4 Sets

Continue to use negative pull-ups to build strength and control in your biceps and back. If they are starting to become easy, use a timed count of 15-20 seconds to reach the free-hanging position. Or, challenge yourself by pausing midway through the rep. 

Exercise 2: Band-Assisted Pull-Ups: 10 Reps x 3 Sets

This is where we start to put the pieces together. The key to band-assisted pull-ups is a slow, controlled motion. Avoid using the momentum from the resistance band to propel yourself up. Focus on engaging and contracting your muscles with proper form as you pull toward the bar. 

Loop a band around your pull-up bar. In the beginning, use a thicker band for more resistance, and work your way to a thinner band. Place one foot, or knee, inside the band loop and grab the bar with an overhand grip. Begin to pull yourself above the bar by driving your elbows down and squeezing your scapula together (like during your scapular pulls). Hold your chin above the bar for a moment before lowering yourself down (slow and controlled). 

Week 4: This is it!

The week you get your first strict pull-up. Muscular endurance-building exercises will act as your warmup 

Warm Up: Scapular Pulls: 10 Reps x 1 Set

Exercise 1: Band-Assisted Pull-Ups: 8 Reps x 3 Sets

Continue to practice proper pull-up form and really nail down the movement.

Slow and controlled assisted pull-ups will reinforce the movement and encourage mind-muscle connection when it’s time to do the real thing. 

Exercise 2: Bodyweight Pull-Ups: 5 Sets to Failure (even if you only get 1 rep per set)

All your training has come down to this… it’s time for your first pull-up! Over the last 4 weeks, you’ve built muscular endurance and strength to perform a strict pull-up. 

Now, put everything together by gripping the bar, assuming a dead hang, and driving your elbows down and shoulder blades together as you pull over the bar. Slowly lower yourself down and repeat!

If you can only get one pull-up at a time, that’s okay! Keep doing 1 rep for 5 – 10 sets. Continue with this process until you can string multiple pull-ups in a row. 

30-day pull-up progression chart

Here’s a 30-day pull-up progression chart to use as a training reference.

30 day pullup progression

Keep in mind that learning a new movement is taxing. During your 4 weeks of training, you’re bound to feel sore. But if at any point you feel too sore, or training is painful, rest! It’s important to let your muscles recover properly to prevent injury. 

Pull-Up Accessory Exercises

While the best way to perfect your pull-up is through practice, accessory exercises can also help. Add these strengthening exercises into your routine to help with your pull-up progression. 

Lat Pulldowns

It’s important to strengthen your lats since they are the primary muscle group engaged during a pull-up. 

Using a cable machine, attached a wide-grip fixed bar and place your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Pull the bar towards your chest by driving your elbows down. Keep your chest up and avoid leaning back during this exercise.

Inverted Rows

Using a Smith machine or TRX straps, hold your torso close to parallel and pull your chest up. Inverted rows engage almost the same muscles as a pull-up, making them a great accessory exercise.

Bicep Curls

Strong biceps are essential for a strong pull. Using dumbbells, keep your elbows locked at your side and squeeze your biceps as you curl the dumbbells up. Release and slowly lower them down to the starting position. 


These are another great compound lift that works your posterior chain.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and grip the barbell with an overhand or mixed grip. Hinge at your hips and drive your feet into the ground as you stand up with the barbell. Be sure to use your lats to keep the barbell close to your shins. When the barbell passes your knees, stand up and squeeze at the top. 

Alternative Pull-Up Variations

One of the reasons pull-ups are such a great exercise is that there are so many variations you can add to your workout routine. 

Experiment with different grip positions, pulling motions, and weights to build strength and target muscles differently. 

Here are a few pull-up variations you can add to your training split: 

Chest-to-Bar Pull-Up

Performed like a strict pull-up, but instead of stopping the pull with your chin over the bar, continue until your chest is in line. 


Chin-ups are like pull-ups, except your palms are facing toward you instead of away. You will perform the same strict pull motion but will feel a greater emphasis on your biceps during this exercise.

Kipping Pull-Up

Also known as a “Butterfly Pull-Up”, this is a popular variation seen in CrossFit workouts. Generate momentum by swinging your hips, legs, and arms into an “arch” position, then pop your hips as you pull your chin to the bar. Drop back down in the “hollow” position and repeat in a fluid motion.

Commando Pull-Up

Parallel to the bar, grab it with a close mixed grip (one hand over the other) and pull yourself up to one side of the bar until your chin passes. Lower yourself down and repeat, alternating the side you pull over. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Pull-Ups

Q: What are the benefits of pull-ups? 

Pull-ups are a compound exercise which means they recruit and train many different muscle groups at once. This makes them highly effective for increasing strength and muscle mass, and burning more calories during a single movement. They also improve grip strength which carries over to other exercises and activities. 

Q: What muscles do you work during pull-ups? 

Pull-ups recruit and engage almost every muscle in your upper body. But the primary muscles used during the exercise are the lats, the biceps, the forearms, and the traps. 

Q: What does a “strong foundation” for pull-ups look like?

Before you can achieve your first pull-up, focus on strengthening your core, developing your grip strength, and improving your shoulder mobility. 

Q: How long does it take to get your first pull-up? 

Consistency is key when it comes to pull-ups. If you follow our 30-day pull-up progression plan, then after 4 weeks of training 2-3 days a week, you should be able to complete your first pull-up. But remember, everybody’s journey is different and everyone starts at different levels. So go at your own pace and don’t get discouraged. 

Q: I can only do 1 strict pull-up. How do I progress from there? 

A well-executed pull-up progression plan will help you build the strength and muscular endurance you need to complete consecutive pull-ups. Adding in accessory exercises like lat pulldowns, inverted rows, bicep curls, and deadlifts will also help you strengthen the primary and secondary muscles used during pull-ups and aid your progress. 


[1]“Can You Boost Your Metabolism?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 8 Oct. 2022, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/weight-loss/in-depth/metabolism/art-20046508. 

[2] Straker LM, O’Sullivan PB, Smith A, Perry M. Computer use and habitual spinal posture in Australian adolescents. Public Health Rep. 2007 Sep-Oct;122(5):634-43. doi: 10.1177/003335490712200511. PMID: 17877311; PMCID: PMC1936962. 

[3] Schoenfeld, Brad & Vigotsky, Andrew & Contreras, Bret & Golden, Sheona & Alto, Andrew & Larson, Rachel & Winkelman, Nick & Paoli, Antonio. (2018). Differential effects of attentional focus strategies during long-term resistance training. European Journal of Sport Science. 18. 1-8. 10.1080/17461391.2018.1447020.

Author Bio

Devon Gonzales is a former NPC competitor and fitness junkie living in Tampa Bay with her husband and two pups. She is passionate about providing fitness tips and health advice to help others live their best life.

Devon offers freelance copywriting services and specializes in offering content and digital marketing to the health and fitness industry.