Pull-ups for Women

Screen Shot 2016-12-13 at 9.24.19 AMIt’s no secret that pull-ups are my favorite exercise. They work your entire upper body, plus they’re cool looking and fun!

While learning to do pull-ups is hard for anyone, the task can be especially daunting for females. However, it is possible for any able bodied woman to perform pull-ups, as long as she’s willing to put in some work.

It almost goes without saying, but if you are overweight, pull-ups may not be realistic for you, so make sure you get your diet in check first.

Chin It To Win It
Pull-ups can be done with many different grips, though it’s usually best for beginners to start out with an underhand (chin-up) grip as this will allow you to utilize your biceps more.

Though the muscles of the upper back have the potential to become incredibly powerful, your arms are more likely to be developed and will be able to compensate in the meantime. With enough practice, the disparity between overhand and underhand grips should even out.

Assisted Pull-ups
The best way to learn to do a pull-up is to start with assistance. Have your trainer or training partner give you a manual assist by placing their hands on your back. A good spotter can give you just enough help to get you through a full range of motion without doing too much of the work for you.

If you don’t have anyone to assist you, use a stretch band, or stand on a bench and assist yourself by using your leg(s). You’ll have to use the honor system with this method – pull as much as you can with your arms and only use your legs to make up the difference.

Australian Pull-ups
Just like an assisted pull-up is easier than the free-hanging variety, the Australian pull-up will allow you to train a similar movement pattern without having to bear your full weight. The Australian pull-up will also get you used to keeping your core engaged, which is a key aspect of performing pull-ups.

Flex Hangs
As I mentioned in my original guide to learning to do a pull-up, holding a flex hang (the top position of a pull-up) for time is a great way to build up to doing the full range of motion. Try to work up to a 30 second hold. By then you should be able to get off a rep or two.

Check out this video of my friend and fellow trainer, Jessica Rumbaugh demonstrating that women can grind out pull-ups without turning into a dude.

For more information about pull-ups, pick up a copy of my book, Raising The Bar: The Definitive Guide to Pull-up Bar Calisthenics.

37 thoughts on “Pull-ups for Women

  • By Alexander Hapunkt -

    That’s right Al, you should focus on both genders! Now I’m waiting for the muscle ups for women! 😀

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Alex!  The info on this website is definitely for both genders!

  • By Nelly -

    I’m about to get surgery on my shoulder and am looking at 8 months to a year of recovery…for that arm. I’m taking your comment about one-armed pull-ups as a challenge. Give me some time, but you’ll get your video! :)

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Bummer about the surgery, but it might be a blessing in disguise – I’d love for you to do a one arm pull-up and represent on behalf of all the ladies out there!

  • By Rumbaugh Jessica -

    I am working on that!! I need a bit more practice, but it is definitely one of my goals to be able to do a muscle up. Thank you AL!! for training with me and helping me build strength and confidence. It is the best feeling in the world to accomplish something so difficult. THANKYOU! 

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      You rock, Jessica!  I have no doubt that you’ll get a muscle-up in due time.  Keep up the great work!

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  • By Claire -

    Five straight overhand pull ups by Christmas is my goal, I’ve got one at the moment, and two chin-ups.  Love your site.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks Claire!  Getting from zero to one is the big leap – keep training hard and I know you’ll get to five eventually.

  • By jen -

     Great post. Maybe someday…

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Thanks, Jen!  If you want it, you can have it – you just gotta put in the time and effort.

  • By Belatrix -

    Thanks Al, I very much enjoyed the article and the inspiration. Jessica, those pull ups were awesome! I hope to one day get a muscle up. Right now, I’m working on my chest-to-bar pull ups. Also, I’m so envious of that park you train in. I wish I had something like that here in Vancouver. 

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Keep training hard, Belatrix!  And if you ever visit NYC, you should definitely check out TSP!

  • By Fern -

    Awesome video, I was just wondering if it was ok that I lift my legs when doing my chin ups, I see she does it also so I guess its not bad! My goal is 10 chin ups by the end of the year, I can do 3 right now, and only 1 pull up, when I try to do a pullup I get about 98% up and then cant go any farther and drop down. But im working on it.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      It’s not a big deal if you bend your knees, but ideally you want to keep your legs straight.  Keep working on it, Fern – the end of the year will come and go, but pull-ups are for life.

  • By Shijin13 -

    As always AL AWESOME!!!

    • By Al Kavadlo -


  • By Julia Bancroft -

    Thanks for the encouragement for all the ladies! It’s true, we can be beast without looking one 😉

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Well said, Julia!

  • By Christine Nguyen -

    Thanks for posting, Al! There was some other post where you listed commando or single-side pullups, which I’ve had to do since my wrist injury. Can’t wait to do real pullups again!!

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  • By Joy -

    I know this is an old post but hopefully someone reading can help me with this anyway!

    I’ve been working on my chin-ups since I got a doorway bar a few months ago.  I can do 3 or 4 no problem except that I can’t pull myself out of a dead hang. When my shoulders and elbows are locked I just can’t manage that first inch or two. I can do the negatives just fine – slow as anything, all the way down.

    I’m not sure if it’s psychological or if there’s something wrong with my technique – is that normally the hardest part?  Any tips?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Hey Joy – Your problem is not at all unusual.  The first couple of inches are usually the hardest part of a dead hang pull-up.  Keep practicing and training hard!

  • By jimmyjams -

    In Australia we call you “Australian” pull ups “Inverted Rows”..
    just sayin..

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Yeah we sometimes call them inverted rows here in the states, too.

  • By Sue Lee -

    I know this post is a bit old, but I still want to thank you for it. My wonderful husband built me a pull-up bar after I had a major spine surgery in 2010 and I was motivated for several months. And then it started to snow and, well, the pull-up bar became a bird perch. I went through fits and starts in 2011 but this article just motivated me to walk out there and give it a go, just to see if I could still do a pull-up or two. I managed 5 hands forward dead hang pull-ups. My new goal is to do 44 pull ups for my 44th birthday in 2012 (obviously not consecutively, but with minimal rest). I did it for 40 and 41. It’s only 3 more (years and pull-ups), right? Thanks again for the motivation.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Right on, Sue!  Glad you found some inspiration here.  Keep training hard.

  • By Lnao2 -

    I’m 5’4 and 200lbs, female. I’m not trying to do a pull up quite yet, but I was wondering if just trying to hang on a bar as long as possible a few times everyday, would increase my upperbody stregth?

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Yes, I believe it would.

  • By Ty -

    Inspiration for the ladies: http://i.imgur.com/RL8ou.jpg

    Stephanie Brown (Spoiler, 4th Robin, 3rd+current Batgirl) training some weighted pull-ups. I’m not sure how much weight that is exactly, but if any lady’s going to do a 1-arm-pull-up first, it will be the Girl Wonder.

    • By Al Kavadlo -

      Are you talking about a comic book character or an actual woman?

      • By Ty -

        Er well, she’s a fictional comic book character… but it’s still cool! I mean, I find super-powered ones like Wonder Woman or SuperGirl pretty amazing sometimes but SB is just a normal person like Batman.

        It’s kind of like how when I see pics of Batman doing barbell squats in the old comics (though I was dumb and didn’t note them) that it’s inspirational too. There’s probably fewer examples like this for women so that’s why I thought it was worth noting.

        Another cool guy is Vic Sage (the Question) who was into martial arts and was doing all this cool flexibility stuff. Current Question is Renee Montoya, though I haven’t seen her training.


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