Bar pull-ups are one of the toughest body weight exercises you can do!

Bar pull-ups - Women's Health & Fitness

We can hear your collective groans already; aren’t pull-ups only designed for men? ‘Fraid not ladies. We all need a strong back as part of a high-functioning fit and lean body, and pull-ups are a fast-track way to get there.

If you’re new to training or even simply to pull-ups, completing just one of these can seem like an overwhelmingly daunting task. In fact, “Pull-ups are one of the toughest body weight exercises you can do and they do take a long time to master,” PT Kris Etheridge says.

So that’s the bad news, but Etheridge stresses that even beginners will quickly see increases in strength after attempting this exercise. “You’re going to have to be patient, but you should be improving in strength each week when you first start out.”

How to

Etheridge’s advice is to begin by strengthening the upper back and biceps using the assisted pull-up/chin-up machine, lat pull-down machine and the seated row machine.

“If you don’t have access to these machines, a great way to work on your chin-ups or pull-ups is to loop a large ‘power band’ (a thick circular rubber band) over a chin-up bar and put one of your feet in it,” Etheridge says.

“This will help lift some of your body weight. As you get better, you can change to lighter bands until you’re achieving this all on your own.”

When performing pull-ups, remember to use your lats (the broadest muscle on your back) and not just your arms.

Injury warning:  If you’re very overweight, be careful not to overdo this exercise at the start, as pull-ups are very demanding. Generally speaking, the bigger you are, the more difficult you will find pull-ups as you have more weight to lift. There’s a reason most rock climbers are lean after all! If you have shoulder, upper back or neck injuries, ask a professional if pull-ups are an appropriate exercise for your needs. 

Benefits: “Pull-ups target the upper back, particularly the lats, and also work the biceps and abdominals,” Etheridge says. Not only will pull-ups become easier the more you practise due to the increased muscle you’re producing in conjunction with a loss of body fat, but these will also help for advancing in other exercises. “Having a strong upper back will allow you to progress to more challenging exercises like Olympic lifting,” Etheridge says.