Article image

by Chris Ritter

June 2, 2015

How to get your first pull-up

Pull-ups are in the top three exercises that I recommend for swimmers. If you get better at pull-ups, you’ll see a direct impact on your speed and endurance in the water because the pulling pattern in most strokes is closely related to the pull-up movement.

The grip position differentiates a pull-up from a chin-up. In a chin-up, you grip the bar with your palms facing towards you. This is slightly easier than a pull-up position because your biceps help much more in this position. For a pull-up, grip the bar with your palms facing away from you.

Not achieving full extension at the bottom or beginning part of the exercise is the most common mistake people make when performing pull-ups. Just going down halfway and back up is missing the most important part of the exercise.

If just the thought of pull-ups so far has you shaking your head because you can’t imagine doing even one, don’t worry. Here’s an exercise progression that can help you get there. Once you complete each phase, move on to the next.

Pull-Up Progression

  • Flexed arm hang: 30 seconds
  • Seated pull-up + TRX: 10 vertical reps
  • Straight-leg pull-up + TRX: 10 vertical reps
  • Drop-down pull-up: 5 reps lasting 5 seconds
  • Assisted pull-up + Band: 15 reps with 1-inch band
  • Pull-up: after 15 reps, add max weight for 2 to 6 reps

Over the years, I’ve observed that swimmers (of an age) who can perform multiple and technically sound repetitions (usually more than five) of pull-ups don’t experience shoulder problems. That said, every injury is different and if you have questions or concerns, be sure to consult your medical or health professional.


  • Technique and Training


  • Drylands
  • Weight Training
  • Strength Training