Master the Bottom of the Pull-up:
Gray Cook, P.T., founder of the Functional Movement System, told me that if you own the bottom of the pull-up (the straight-arm hang) and if you own the top of the pull-up (the bent-arm hold), then your body will figure out the middle part.
You need to be able to hang from a bar long enough to perform 5 pull-ups. So grab the bar and hang. If you can’t do this for at least 30 seconds, your grip isn’t strong enough.
Do this every day. In fact, do this every day until the Angel of Death visits you. Then work your way up to hanging for a minute. The extra time will help you reach your pull-up goal. Once you can hang from both arms for a minute, hang from only one arm.
Master the Top of the Pull-up:
Now jump up and hold your chin above the pull-up bar as long as you can. You can use any grip you want—palms facing you or palms facing away from you.
Practice this until you can hold it for a minute with no wiggling.
(From top to bottom, here’s The Right Way to Do a Pull-up.)
Roll Out Your Abs
If there’s one “secret” to the pull-up, it’s to show up with an amazing set of abs.
In my gym, we mix in reps of the ab wheel roll-out with the pull-up. You’ll notice that the rollout looks like a pull-up on the floor. It mimics the same feeling in your core—tight, braced abs—that you get when you perform a pull-up on the bar.
Plus, the ab wheel roll-out is easy on your elbows. Switching between the ab wheel and the pull-up will decrease your risk of injury.
Practice the Pull-up:
Once you become proficient in the three things above, it’s time to start practicing pull-ups. The following routine is based on the idea of the Russian Fighters’ Pull-up Program from Pavel Tsatsouline, co-founder of StrongFirst, Inc., which involves sneaking up your number of reps.
Do it: Perform the designated sets of pull-ups throughout your workout for each day. I suggest doing a couple sets after your warm-up, and then a couple more after your hip and leg session. You don’t have to do the days consecutively. Start with three a week. It should take you about a month to complete.
At the end of the program, rest for a few days and then test your max. I guarantee you’ll blow past 5 reps. When you do, add more load and repeat the program again. (Remember, we want to protect those elbows.)
Day 1: 3 pullups, 2 pullups, 1 pullup, 1pullup
Day 2: 3, 2, 1, 1
Day 3: 3, 2, 2, 1
Day 4: 3, 3, 2, 1
Day 5: 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 6: Off
Day 7: 4, 3, 2, 1, 1
Day 8: 4, 3, 2, 2, 1
Day 9: 4, 3, 3, 2, 1
Day 10: 4, 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 11: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Day 12: Off