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Can't do a pullup? These 5 exercises will get you there

Build your upper body strength with these five exercises that will help you master a pullup!
Girl training on chin-up bar outdoor
The muscles needed for a pullup include the back and arm muscles as well as the core.Stanislaw Pytel / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

As a health and fitness expert, sometimes my clients come to me with specific requests, like wanting to run a 5K with only a week of prep time. My philosophy is that slow and steady wins the race — no matter what fitness goals you're working on.

One of the most challenging goals I hear is from clients who want to be able to do a pullup. After seeing a few celebs training for their movie roles, we were inspired to create a training plan to work towards completing this intimidating move.

How to train to do a pullup

The muscles needed for a pullup include the back and arm muscles as well as the core. Specifically, your large back muscles like your rhomboids and lats, your posterior deltoids and your biceps. So, what are the best exercises to develop these muscles and be on your way to completing a pullup? Below are the top five moves to focus on!

1. Bent-over dumbbell rows

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Stephanie Mansour

This exercise works your upper back and bicep, two areas that will help to lift you up into a pullup. Grab one dumbbell and find a bench. Rest one knee on the bench, and put the opposite foot on the ground with a slight bend in the knee. Allow the arm that has the weight to dangle down, pull your abs in, and then hug your elbow in towards your body as you pull the weight up towards your chest. Then slowly release down to the starting position. Repeat this for 10 repetitions, then switch sides. Do three sets on each side.

2. Dumbbell holds

Dumbbell hold
Stephanie Mansour

Holding dumbbells in your hands will help strengthen your grip, which is essential to holding on to a pullup bar! Just grab a pair of dumbbells that feel a little heavy to hold in your hands for more than 10 seconds. Hold the dumbbells for 30 seconds, and then work up to holding them for a minute. Do this three times per workout, resting in between each set. Make sure to have a firm hold on the dumbbells.

3. Inverted rows

TODAY, exercise, fitness tips
Stephanie Mansour

You can do this exercise with a TRX band or a bar. Basically, the purpose is to train your body to pull yourself up from an angle leaning toward the ground. This helps with conditioning your hands to grip better while also working the muscles of the back and arms to do a pullup without recruiting the shoulders. Repeat 10 of these in a row.

4. Lat pull down

TODAY, exercise, Fitness tips
Stephanie Mansour

This exercise can be done standing or sitting, and the purpose is similar to the above exercise. You’ll use your upper back and lats to pull the bar down. Make sure to keep the tops of your shoulders down, as they can often rise up towards your ears, which is improper form. Do 10 repetitions of this exercise.

5. Hollow hold

Hollow hold
Stephanie Mansour

This exercise trains your body and core muscles for how they’ll need to engage during a pullup! Lay down on the ground, and extend the legs out in front of you a couple of inches off the ground. Reach the arms behind you a couple of inches off the ground. Be sure to pull your naval in towards your spine, and keep your back gently pressing into the ground.

How to do a pullup for beginners

After repeating this circuit three times through every other day for about 2-4 weeks, you may be ready to try an assisted pullup! Bring over a bench or step close to the pullup bars, and grab onto the bars. This is your starting position!

Pull-up starting position
Stephanie Mansour

Next, hang from the bars with your legs crossed, and tighten your core. This will help to make you feel lighter. Finally, pull yourself up by using your arms, back and core to lift your chin up and over the bar.

How to do a pullup
Stephanie Mansour

Stephanie Mansour is a health and fitness expert and weight-loss coach for women. Join her complimentary weight-loss challenge here!