How to do a Manly Pull Up

Pull UpI can still remember the Sergeant Major giving that order as I’m hanging off the bar thinking in my head, “But I already did 9.” I finished with a final count of 6. As I dropped down and walked back towards my team mates I shook my head in shame. This was one of my stronger events they were counting on, and I didn’t deliver. They encouraged me and said, “Not your fault. They all looked perfect.” In my head I’m still convinced I had done each pull up perfectly to form.


Isn’t this how it normally is though? We’re positive our form is perfect and we’re getting every benefit out of the pull up. We say we can do 20 when really it’s 15 or 10. The bigger the number the stronger we think we are. But we’re actually losing out. Just because our mind can count to high numbers doesn’t mean our muscles are getting stronger.

So what’s the right way to do a pull up and what are the benefits of it? If there were no benefits I doubt I’d ever do them right. I like a high count of pull ups. It’s easier to brag with.

Pull Up Benefits:

With each pull up you work out the following muscles:

  • Biceps
  • Shoulders
  • Triceps
  • Forearms
  • Fingers
  • Back
  • Inner Core

Keep all of these in mind! It’ll help with the motivation.

To get all your pull ups to count

Stretch and Warm Up

Stretching helps loosen up the muscles and gets your blood flowing. It also helps lessen stress and tension build-up. If you don’t do this first you’re shooting yourself in the foot. Not only will you do less pull ups but you’ll get discouraged, be tempted to stop and lose all the pull up benefits. And there’s always the worst case scenario that you could get injured.

Chin Over the Bar

Use proper form

Jump up and grab the bar and hang for a second. Then Pull yourself up. All the way up till your chin is above the bar. It needs to be completely over, not just touching the bar. Then back down to the starting position. This is normally where the half pull up motivation kicks in. Don’t let your legs kick or swing for momentum. It’s ok to bend your legs at the knees but no swinging.

Arms Fully Extended








The two biggest things to watch out for is not placing your chin above the bar and not fully extending your arms. You don’t have to be dangling all your weight to get a full arm extension. Keep in mind to not lock or roll your shoulders inwards, this can lead to injury. Don’t hang for too long. If you don’t have the strength you could end up hurting yourself.

(note: If you’ve been injured before consult a doctor)

“I hate pull ups.”…“I can’t even do one.”…“Where do I start?”

Take baby steps. It’s not a race. Remember that a bad pull up is half a pull up. If you’re struggling to do even one pull up then start with assisted pull ups or pulling yourself up as far as you can go and back to the starting position. This is better then doing half pull ups at the top of the bar. I’ve heard that the assisted pull up doesn’t help or shouldn’t be used. I’ve seen guys who couldn’t even do 1 pull up get stronger with assistance from another guy or the machine. Do what works for you as long as you get to 1 and then 2 and keep making progress.

 Here’s a routine that works even if you can’t do one pull up yet

It’s a simple routine that I use. I hate pull ups so a little structure like this helps me stay focused. Right now I’m up to 13. To start off do as many as you can and that will be your first set. After that take a 1 minute break and go again. It’ll look like this.

1st Week:

1st Set : 1 Pull Up…..1 minute break

2nd Set: 1 Pull Up…..1 minute break

Continue this for 10 sets

Do this twice a week with a day rest in between

2nd Week:

1st Set : 2 Pull Up…..1 minute break

2nd Set: 2 Pull Up…..1 minute break

Continue this for 10 sets

Do this twice a week with a day rest in between. Each week continue to add a pull up.

Remember that a poor pullup is half a pull up. Half the benefit, Half the muscle. Half the strength.

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  1. I can complete the entire P90X workout…except for the pull up exercises. I believe the right body type is needed to be good at pull ups. My lower body is much more powerful than my upper, making pull ups difficult. At least that’s what I tell myself.

    • P90x? Wow! You don’t strike me as a P90Xer. I’ve never done it but sounds like quite the challenge! I agree about the body type. I knew a guy when I was in the Army who could max out our Physical Fitness test but couldn’t do 1 pull up. Pull ups do require a lot of upper body strength, especially the shoulders and arms. Have you ever tried assisted pull ups? I think they work similar to knee push ups when you’re exhausted.

    • Todd Mayfield says

      I did P90X for 60 days in 2009 and that was the one thing I was frustrated with-how many pullups were done during the routines b/c I wasn’t very strong at them. The longer and heavier you are the more difficult. But once you’ve got the strength to do one, it’s a lot easier to grow from there.

  2. We had this discussion yesterday. A buddy was talking about how another friend could do 30 pullups. Another friend shook his head and said, “Yeah, those aren’t pullups. He only goes down to 90 degrees.

    I can’t do two of them (thanks for the tips), but I was vigorously shaking my head. “Yeah, what a wimp. He only goes halfway. With his 30.”

    Okay, enough reading about exercise. That was exhausting. I need another doughnut.

    • Joe, you got me laughing on this boring Friday morning! Thanks! I love doughnuts and hate pull-ups. Thankfully I’ve been able to have both.

  3. If we do pull ups, can we make six pack in our body? 🙂
    Anybody can tell answer for me?

    • Pull-Ups don’t focus on the abs but you might be able to throw in some leg lifts to get an ab workout if that’s what you’re looking for.

  4. Haha I was just doing the phenomenal exercise known as the pull up today. This is my favorite upper body workout by far. Your post spelled it out perfectly, the amount of muscles worked is hard to top with any other workout.

    People do not call this the “upper body squat” for nothing!

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