The pullup is one of the most coveted exercises. There’s something massively empowering about successfully lifting your chin over the pullup bar from a dead hang position. And of course, this hard-to-master move doesn’t come easy – especially for women.
According to Angela Gargano, a fitness coach and four-time American Ninja Warrior contestant, there are two main reasons women struggle more than men with it comes to mastering this milestone move: Less muscular development in the back area compared to males and being told from a young age that pullups aren’t for girls.
“As women, we’ve basically been told most of our lives that we ‘can’t’ do pullups,” Gargamo says. “Starting with the physical fitness test back in elementary school, they told girls to do the “hang” instead of pullups like the boys.”
Thankfully, Gargano didn’t listen to that train of thought and has now become a powerhouse of knowledge and strength, empowering women all over the globe to complete their first pullup—then their second, third, and so on. One of Gargano’s thrilled clients told her: “Your program is amazing! I can’t believe I can do a pullup in my 50s!”
Gargano’s program runs six weeks, and while it takes about 30 days or more to conquer a pullup, Gargano has seen people achieve their first as early as two weeks.
So if you’ve been struggling to complete a perfect pullup, don’t know where to start, or how to train for it, Gargano pulls out all of her tips to help you get your chin over the bar.
You might think that the pullup exercise works just the back muscles, but this mighty move targets a host of muscle groups. “The pullup is a full-body move using your grip strength, forearms, back, core, and glutes,” Gargano explains.
And the benefits go beyond the self-empowering feeling of being able to pull your entire body weight and get your chin above the bar. “A pullup increases your grip strength, which is correlated to living longer and a great sign of overall health,” she says. “It also helps improve posture and is beneficial to all and in all areas for working out and life.”
3 Things You Need to Focus on when Working on Your First Pullup
When setting out to accomplish your first pullup, Gargano focuses on three things with her clients: mobility, stability, and strength.
Mobility – When performing pullups, your arms are over your head, right? “So, we not only need to be able to keep our arms overhead, but we need to be able to function in that area, aka mobility,” she says. Making mobility drills a must when achieving your first pullup, faster.
Example: Y, T, L, W drills:
- Perform 10x of each of these 3x Banded Wall Slides:
- Perform 10 reps 3x slowly.
Stability – Stability is making sure you are strengthening your shoulders, “Simply because there is a lot of “stuff” going on in there and we want our bodies to be ready,” Gargano says.
- Perform 10 on each side, using medium weight
- Perform 10 on each side, focusing on keeping hips square
Strength – Gargano explains that strength is focusing on the parts where you are weakest as well as your core & glutes, “It’s all connected,” she says.
- Perform 1 rep then take at least a 30-second to one-minute break. This move should be performed at a sloth-like pace.
- Perform 10 of these moves making sure to hold at the top for at least two seconds.
Gargano’s Step-by-Step Instructions for Getting Your First Pullup
Step 1: Hang On
Simply grab onto the bar, hold on to the bar as tight as possible, then stay there. “Get comfortable up there, get to know each other—your goal should be to hang for at least 30 seconds,” Gargano says.
Step 2: Mind-body Connection
The mind is a muscle that needs to be strengthened as well, especially when pulling your own body weight. As you Practice mind-body connection during pullup training, you are mentally bringing together your brain to your lats.
“A lot of times you actually are strong enough to get your first pullup, but your CNS has not created a pathway to your lat to pull yourself up,” she explains.
To help improve this connection, Gargano recommends performing single-arm shrug lat pull-downs while tapping the lat. “With mobility stick pulldown, practice ‘breaking’ the bar.” She says. Be sure your hanging shoulder shrugs are slow and controlled with a hold at the top.
Step 3: Work on Weak Areas
Work on the area you are weakest. “If you’re stuck at the bottom of your pullup which most people are, instead of focusing on getting to the top focus on strengthening the bottom” says Gargano. Doing things like shrug to ¼-assisted pullups and ¼-flexed arm hangs and slow eccentrics focusing on lowering super slow at the bottom
Step 4: Assisted Pullups
If you are trying to get your first pullup, Gargano warns that although assisted band pullups are a great tool, they end up helping you at the hardest part of the pullup; the bottom. “So, when doing these moves, use a band that only allows you to get about four reps so that you are actually using your muscles and it’s not just flinging you up there,” Gargano recommends.
Step 5: Attempt the Pullups Without the Band a Lot—Even if You Suck
“A lot of my clients get their first pullups faster because I make them get off of the band and try it,” Gargano says. Do hard things, this is where you’ll grow in strength and gain improvement with this move.
So, You got Your First Pullup, Here’s How to Get to 10…then 20
Thankfully, there are so many ways to increase your strength once master your first pullup. A popular goal after achieving one is to get to ten.
“Weighted pullups, towel pullups and also continuing to train that bottom part of the pullup which is the connection piece of it, as well as performing moves like flexed arm hangs in all different ranges,” says Gargano. Consistency is key when it comes to getting comfortable on the bar and building up strength, eventually, your pullup numbers will climb.
Rest Days Are Important
Gargano recommends resting at least one to two days (in between pullup training) as she feels recovery is just as important as your workouts. “Your body needs time to heal and create that muscle so that you can pull yourself up,” says Gargano.
“Take a full day to do actually nothing – that means no yoga, no mobility, just chill allow your body to rest” says Gargano. And encourages not eating more simply because you’re resting.
A Peek into Gargano’s Pullup Program
In Gargano’s program, her clients are performing pullup drills five days a week, however, some of the drills include Deadlifting (we use our lats during this move) Horizontal Pulling Core work, and more.
Example: Deadlift (focusing on breaking the bar to engage lats and protect low back)
- Perform three sets of 10 reps.
Horizontal shrug and pull:
- Perform 10 each side. Repeat three times.
Gargano’s Final Thoughts:
Why the Typical Eccentric, Flex Arm Hang, Assisted Band Works when Building Strength
“Eccentrics and initial flexed arm hangs are intimidating and tough,” says Gargano, and they can also be super discouraging when first attempting them. Have you tried these moves? Not as easy as you’d like them to be but they are great for building strength.
Gargano feels assisted bands are great, “But, if you are using to easy of a band it will hinder your progress,” she explains.
Leave Your Gym Gloves at Home: Although gloves have their place in the world of fitness, Gargano feels they should stay off the bar and opt for liquid chalk. “Just like barefoot training. you need to feel the bar” says Gargano, and feels you will block the bar by using gloves