Pull-​​up Training Basics


A Pull-​​up Training Program for Beginners

I have been receiving a lot of requests for “pull-​​up improvement plans.” Although the pull-​​up is not an event of the current Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), it is an exercise that is practiced by many Service Members of every branch.

I have noticed that people will either love the pull-​​up or hate it. If you have grown up performing the pull-​​up, you will more likely be able to perform the exercise as an adult. If you have never performed a pull-​​up and attempted to perform it for the first time as an adult, you may find the exercise impossible to perform. The pull-​​up is an exercise that requires past performance or precise physical conditioning in order to reach the bar at all.

It is never too late to learn how to perform an exercise safely and effectively. This fitness program is for the person who has never performed a pull-​​up or has not performed many in the past.

You might have heard your drill sergeant call it the “crawl, walk and run phases.” It boils down to simple exercise basics: progression, variety and precision. Progress at a safe rate for your own fitness level, perform a variety of exercises to develop muscular strength and endurance properly, and continue to improve your exercise form. Make precision a huge factor in all of your workouts.

Bottom line: If you have been performing pull-​​ups in your recent workouts, perform more pull-​​ups on your strength training days. If you are just starting or restarting a pull-​​up program, try “Assisted Pull-​​ups.”

Let’s get started!

Assisted Pull-​​ups

Primary muscles targeted: Latissimus Dorsi,

Synergists: Brachialis, Brachioradialis, Teres Major, Deltoid (Posterior), Rhomboids, Levator Scapulae, Trapezius (lower, middle), Pectoralis Major (sternal), Pectoralis Minor

Dynamic Stabilizers: Biceps Brachii, Triceps (long head)

Equipment needed: Pull-​​up bar that is positioned approximately 3–4 feet from the ground

Start: Sit underneath the pull-​​up bar. Place your hands over the top of the bar and grasp it tightly with your arms shoulder-​​width apart. Tighten your abdominal muscles and elevate your hips until your back and legs form a straight line. Adjust your foot position until your chest is directly under the bar.

Actions: While keeping your abdominal muscles tight, pull your body toward the bar by bending both elbows. Return to the start position and repeat until your goal is reached. Exhale through your mouth as your pull your body upward and inhale through your nose while you return to the start position.

Warning: Try not to rock your body while performing pull-​​ups. Called “swinging” or “kipping” (when you use a forceful initial movement of the legs in order to gain momentum), it prevents your stabilizers from protecting you from injury. Swinging or kipping should only be allowed while performing “negatives” (when you use a spotter to get you up to where your chin is over the bar or where you jump upward on your own, and lower yourself to the ground as slowly as you can).

Female standards:

Basic: 5–10 seconds, or 1–3 repetitions

Intermediate: 11–20 seconds, or 4–8 repetitions

Advanced: 21–40 seconds, or 9–15 repetitions

Extreme: 41–60 seconds, or 16–24 repetitions

Male standards:

Basic: 5–15 seconds, or 1–5 repetitions

Intermediate: 16–30 seconds, or 6–12 repetitions

Advanced: 31–60 seconds, or 13–25 repetitions

Extreme: 61–90 seconds, or 26–40 repetitions

Perform three sets of this exercise, resting 1–2 minutes between sets. Give yourself 24–48 hours rest before attempting the pull-​​up training again. Perform this routine for a month and you will notice increased strength in your back and arms, better posture, and a noticeable improved physique!

Want more? If you want a free PDF (524KB) of the entire workout (called “Operation Craving Competition, pt.2″) that includes the Assisted Pull-​​up, simply email me at sgtken@​STARTfitness.​com or click here to view it online.

Now, you’re armed and ready. Now, you’re fit to fight! Stay the course!


Nutrition Advice:

If you are looking for a great diet plan, try my Savory Survival Guide from www​.NATIONALGUARD​.com/​l​i​f​e​/​f​i​t​n​e​s​s​/​d​i​e​t​-​a​n​d​-​h​e​a​lth.

Author’s Notes:

Warning: Always seek the advice and guidance of a qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have prior to commencing a fitness program. This article should not be relied on or substituted for professional medical diagnosis or treatment. The exercises presented are for suggestion only. Participate at your own risk. Stop if you feel faint or short of breath.



  1. Matt says:

    SSG Ken, I like to bring my body all the way down and fully extend my arms to really stretch the muscles. Is this proper form?

    • Of course! Full extension of the arms is recommended. The \“Assisted Pull-​​up\” is for beginners and there is a bit of brevity for the standard. Keep up the great work. Hooah! –SSG Ken Weichert

    • Dylan K says:

      In the USMC, your pull-​​ups only count if you fully extend your arms before going for another pull-​​up. It\‘s a great habit to get into and is a much better work out! Love the burn!

  2. Jordan says:

    I\‘m not a pull-​​up beginner but when I was reading through this out of curiosity wondering if I might have missed something as a beginner and I saw the \“tighten your abs\” part, I have never done this before and I was curious as to if it was for preventing swinging or if it actually requires less muscle to get over the bar?

    • Buh says:

      The pullup is a full body movement. Tightening the abs will not take any tension off other muscles, but it will allow you to better control your body position. Tightening the abs will allow you to perform more reps, because you\‘ll spend more effort on pulling with the back and less effort on stabilizing with the back. It\‘s a great habit to develop.

  3. LOVE the pull-​​up. Hands down the best staple we have for body weight exercises at our gym.

    Great article, Ken — we’ll have to incorporate some of this into our WODs.

  4. I would also add in our experience, kips are fine for the advanced operator/​athlete. It is a pretty intense, all-​​body move both mechanically and (as SGT KEN stressed) structurally — until you’ve built up your shoulder girdle and are able to knock out at least 10 solid dead hangs (4 or 5 for women), I wouldn’t recommend it.

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Ken Weichert

Ken Weichert (a.k.a. "SGT Ken") is an international speaker, six-time U.S. Army Soldier of the Year, Master Fitness and Master Resilience Trainer, and veteran of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Desert Storm. In 1998, Ken founded the longest-running Boot Camp fitness program in America, START Fitness®. Ken has led thousands of Soldiers and civilians to better health through Operation Fit to Fight, a tactical fitness instructor training and testing program designed to prepare Soldiers for Basic Combat Training ("Boot Camp"), deployments, leadership schools and post-deployment recovery. Ken was the focus of an Emmy award-winning feature on CBS, and has been featured numerous times on ABC, NBC and FOX news. Ken was featured in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Business Times newspapers, and 7X7 magazine. Ken has also written over 100 fitness and health articles for magazines such as GX®, Backpacker®, Outside®, Health®, and for the National Guard website.