If you can do one, I'll show you to get to 15
Pull-ups are a fantastic pull exercise, and we don't do enough pull exercises. That's why we see so many rounded-hunched shoulders in the gym, and they look bad on men and even worse on women (because it makes them look so much older).
It's a shame to see people putting in all that work and building a poor posture instead of a stronger one. Pulls-ups develop a more robust and more attractive posture. If you can do one proper pull-up, I'll show you how to build that up to 15.
Like every other exercise, I'm interested in getting the best Return On Exercise. I don't spend time at the gym because I want to be at the gym. I do it because it gives me a healthier, more active life.
For me, there's no point in spending time doing fake push-ups or fake pull-ups when for a fraction of the time I could do the real thing and get 4X the benefits. One correctly done exercise is worth 10 fakes.
For example, it's not smart to be doing 100 push-ups a day when you only do half the range of motion and have a slumped back or your butt stuck up in the air. You're only fooling yourself.
One push-up done with the proper form - as shown below - is always better than 20 that look like a chicken flapping its wings in a barnyard. The same goes for pull-ups, get the form right before building the reps.
Let's run a check over your one pull-up
We just need to check that you can do one proper pull-up.
There is quite a lot of technique required to get it correct, for example:
This video explains these finer points. It wasn't easy for me to find this video from among the thousands who rush into the pull - please watch it carefully.
Now, given you have the proper technique and can do one, this is how you progress to being able to do 15 (and beyond, but 15 proper form pull-ups is impressive).
My technique combines explosive, eccentric and isometric muscular development all in the one repetition. It works, and it's simple. But it takes time - be patient.
The 15 pull-up progression
You are going to do one set, with a ~30-second break between each of four single reps:
As the clock comes around to the top of the minute once more, repeat. Do this four times. Then walk away - you don’t need to do more.
Do this every second or third day. Once every few weeks try straight pulls-ups for the count, and you will find them increasing.
Variations - if you find it too hard or too easy
If you find the movement above too easy, then you are probably not being explosive enough - fix that.
If still too easy, add time to the half-descent, make the hold 30 seconds, and go slower on the finishing descent. If you find that too easy, then do the whole thing again immediately after you stabilise in the hang at the bottom. Give yourself 30 seconds before repeating the 2 pull-ups again (you'll now be doing 2 pull-ups X 4 sets with 30 seconds rest between sets).
Or, stick with the original one pull-up routine, rest 3 minutes, and do it again.
If you find the movement too hard, explode up, lower to a count of 4 to half-way, hold momentarily, and then control your lowering to the full hang. You'll get better as time passes. It is not a quick fix, but you will be pleasantly surprised after a month or two.
Alternatively, it is easier if you reverse your hands into a chin-up, with your palms facing towards you. Do the rep that way until you are strong enough to turn your hands back around into pull-up position.
Adding in complementary exercises will get you there faster
You don't need weights, pulleys, bands and stay away from those "for seniors" counter-weighted pull-up machines. Your body is capable of lifting you.
Add in rowing, kettlebells (especially high-pulls and snatches), push-ups, planks and other core-building exercises, and you'll get there even faster.
Good luck - stay strong - enjoy.
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Since I was diagnosed at 50 with Type 2 diabetes I've been learning how to do bone-building fitness training which lowers my age. You can too. It's your choice. Walter