Pull-Up Workout Plan For Beginners: 28-Day Challenge

Man performs pull-up exercise outdoors
(Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The pull-up is one of the very best bodyweight exercises you can do, working a large portion of your upper body and core muscles. However, that’s only if you can actually do them. Many people find that they have to tap out after just one or two pull-ups and move on to another exercise instead.

Instead of doing that, take the time to build the strength required to complete a full set of perfect-form pull-ups. That’s what this four-week training plan from coaching app Freeletics is intended to do.

“If pull-ups have never been part of your workout regime then you should gradually introduce them instead of attempting them straight away,” says David Wiener, who’s a training specialist at Freeletics.

“Begin by doing an easier exercise called the passive hang, which will allow your shoulders and grip to get used to being on the bar. Once this becomes comfortable, you can move on to jumping pull-ups – these focus on the negative, or lowering, movement which engages all the major muscle groups and can be modified as you improve.”

The plan involves doing assisted or modified pull-ups or pull-up assistance moves on the first six days of the week, resting on the seventh day. Much like God. The exercises involved won’t take much time and can be added on to the end of a workout or done separately.

You will need a pull-up bar, some long resistance bands and a suitable bar to do inverted rows from – a table can work for this, if it's sturdy enough, or if you're using a telescopic pull-up bar set it up at the right height for rows instead of pull-ups. We have a great selection of the best pull-up bars to buy for your home set-up, as well as recommended resistance bands for assisted pull-ups.

Four-Week Pull-Up Workout Plan For Beginners

Day 1: Assisted pull-up

Attach a light, long-looped resistance band to your pull-up bar and put one foot or knee in it to help you as you perform a pull-up. Hold the bar with your hands shoulder-width apart and palms facing forwards. With your core braced and keeping your shoulders back, pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar. Lower under control.

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Week 1Sets 3 Reps 2
Week 2Sets 3 Reps 2
Week 3Sets 3 Reps 2
Week 4Sets 3 Reps 2

Day 2: Negative pull-up

This modified pull-up skips the pulling and requires you just to master the descent. Jump up to start with your chin above the bar. Lower yourself slowly under control.

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Week 1Sets 3 Reps 6
Week 2Sets 3 Reps 6
Week 3Sets 3 Reps 6
Week 4Sets 3 Reps 6

Day 3: Shoulder pull-up

Hang from the pull-up bar. Keeping your arms extended, use your shoulders to pull yourself up just a little, then lower back to the start.

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Week 1Sets 3 Reps 12
Week 2Sets 3 Reps 14
Week 3Sets 3 Reps 12
Week 4Sets 3 Reps 14

Day 4: Negative pull-up

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Week 1Sets 1 Reps 6
Week 2Sets 1 Reps 6
Week 3Sets 1 Reps 6
Week 4Sets 1 Reps 6

Day 5: Assisted pull-up

Use a medium resistance band to provide more assistance than on day one.

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Week 1Sets 3 Reps 4
Week 2Sets 3 Reps 5
Week 3Sets 3 Reps 4
Week 4Sets 3 Reps 5

Day 6: Inverted row

Once you’ve selected an appropriate bar (or table) to row from, lie beneath it and grab the bar in both hands with an overhand grip. Form a straight line from head to heels, then pull yourself up until your chest touches the bar, then lower slowly back to the start. The further your feet are from the bar, the harder the inverted row is, so adjust to make sure you can complete all the reps.

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Week 1Sets 3 Reps 10
Week 2Sets 3 Reps 12
Week 3Sets 3 Reps 10
Week 4Sets 3 Reps 12

How To Do A Pull-Up

Once you’ve developed your strength using Wiener’s plan, you’ll be champing at the bit to try the pull-up proper. You know the basics of a pull-up, of course, but honing your technique will make pull-ups a little easier and more effective in recruiting the right muscles.

Thankfully, we’ve got an expert guide to the pull-up from Fiona Scott, head of physical performance at Performance Herts at the University of Hertfordshire. Here are the essentials, but it’s worth reading the full guide, especially since it includes pull-up challenges to put your newfound skill to the test.

“Start in a dead hang, gripping the bar with your arms fully extended,” says Scott. “Then it’s time for scap-setting: pull your shoulder blades back towards each other and down.”

Once hanging with your shoulders back, engage your core and glute muscles. This will keep your legs and chest stable while you pull yourself up.

“Use your lats to pull yourself upwards – imagine you’re trying to pull your elbows into your jeans pockets,” says Scott. “Your end point will depend on your shoulder mobility, but usually you should aim to bring your chin at least above the bar.”

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.