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How to build up into your first pullup with our trainer Ed!

By Ed Stephenson, Healthy Man Trainer

Pullups are a great back exercise that have a range of benefits for the strength and power of your back and core, as well as improving your shoulder health, grip strength, core engagement and control. It also works by assisting you in maintaining a healthy weight through calories burned. All this means is you should incorporate it through one means or another, into your strength routine as soon as possible!

Having the raw strength to lift your entire body weight vertically up for a number of reps demonstrates you have a relatively high strength to weight ratio in your body and that you have good enough muscle tone. More than just a fantastic exercise for creating a nice sculpted physique, having the ability to complete pull-ups helps to ensure a strong and functioning core, as well as improving overall health and wellbeing.

Steps to building up to your first pullup

Rather than just jumping in and trying to rip up a few feeble, unstable pullups, you should work on the strength through your back and ‘pulling motions’ first. It can take a little while but with balanced programming, you’ll be getting it done before you know it.

Back strengthening exercises:


Bent over row:

Completed with either a dumbbell or barbell, the bent-over row is a great complementary exercise to your pull-ups which help build strength and muscle through your back. Go for 4×8-10 reps

How to do it:

Starting with feet shoulder-width apart and arms holding weight at a full extension next to your body, hinge forward so your torso is at a 45-degree angle, you’ll maintain this position for the entire set. While holding your body in this position, pull the bar or dumbbells into your body, aiming to keep the elbows tucked into the body and the bar lining up with roughly the belly button. Return to the starting position by extending the arms and repeat.

Assisted pull-ups:

An obvious exercise prescription to aid in the strength needed for a bodyweight pullup. Try 4 sets of 8 reps.


How to do it:

Complete this by using a band tied around the bar which we’d be pulling ourselves up to. Place one foot in the loop of the band and hold the bar with hands in an overhand (pronated) grip, shoulder-width apart.

Using the band to help pull you up, drive yourself so your chin reaches the bar and return back down to the starting position.

Lat pulldown:

Incorporating the Lat pulldown will be part of most strength routines and programs in the gym, regardless of pullup goals or not. There is a range of different grips and forms which you can adapt, all of which change the stimulus and shape of the muscle and joints. None are better than the other, however, variation across wide grips, close grips, neutral wide grips and underhand grips will benefit you greatly toward your goals of that well rounded, balanced back.

Try doing 3-4 sets of 8 moderately weighted reps.


How to do it:

Sit down with your knees under the pads provided on the machine. With your chest up tall, reach the handle with straightened arms and whatever desired grip positioning. Pull the bar down to touch the top of your chest, squeezing your lats and shoulder blades back and down in the process. Once the bar touches the chest (or slightly above) allow the bar and arms to extend back to starting position. Repeat.

Suspension row:

The suspension cable is a piece of functional strength equipment that requires stability, core engagement and back strength. It uses gravity and body weight for resistance to work the body and is appropriate to all fitness levels. Go for 4 sets of 12 reps.


How to do it:

Start by holding the handles and your body in an upright position with your feet planted. Hold the body rigid and slowly lean back against the cables until your body reaches a 45-degree angle with the ground and the arms are outstretched. Pulling with your arms and squeezing the shoulders back, lift your body until the hands are touching the ribs. Slowly return to the starting position by extending your arms.

Keep your torso completely rigid and tight through this movement to make sure you’re doing the movement correctly.

Read more tips and advice from Ed here.

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