I Can’t Do Pull Ups

Are you one of those people who thinks, I can’t do pull ups?

If so this article will help you learn how to successfully complete this staple exercise and add it to your daily exercise regime.

I Can’t Do Pull Ups. Here’s How To Get There

If you are struggling to perform a pull up do not despair – you are certainly not alone.

While on the face of it a pull up is a simple exercise, it is an incredibly physically strenuous one to perform, making it one of the most difficult exercises to perform at all, let alone to perform well.

Pull ups require great effort from a large number of muscle groups in your body, particularly the upper back, shoulders, chest and arms, in order to perform successfully.

In addition you need to master performing this in a coordinated manner. None of this is easy and takes time, but with effort you will get there.

There are a variety of reasons as to why you may be unable to perform a pull up. Here are the most common ones:

  • Your muscles are not yet strong enough
  • You are not doing sufficient back up exercises
  • You are trying a variation that is too difficult
  • Your technique is wrong
  • You don’t yet have the mobility to perform a pull up
  • Your mind quits before your body

There is good news though – none of these problems are without solutions!

What to do when you can’t do pull ups? (6 tips to help)

How you tackle your inability to perform pull ups will depend on what is causing the problem.

Below are some of the strategies you can employ depending on what you think the issue is.

1. Increase upper body strength

If you think your muscles are not yet strong enough to perform a pull up successfully then you will need to work on building your upper body strength through other forms of exercise first.

Tips on how to do this are given later in the article.

2. Increase core strength

The main muscles involved in performing a successful pull up are the:

  • latissimus dorsi
  • pectoralis major
  • long head triceps
  • Infraspinatus
  • Coracobrachialis
  • teres major and minor.

Ensure you are completing back up exercises which build the strength in these muscles – this will give you the core strength needed to perform pull ups.

3. Use an easier variation

Switch to a simpler variation of pull up if you suspect that the variation you are attempting is too difficult.

This YouTube video guides you through the variations you can attempt:

4. Use proper form & technique

Ensure that you are using the correct technique to perform whatever variation of pull up you are attempting.

Talk to your trainer or research this on the internet – there is lots of guidance available which you can use to ensure you are performing pull ups correctly and thus maximise your chances of success.

5. Improve your mobility

If you suspect you lack the mobility to effectively perform pull ups, invest time in building this up.

A good way to do this is by spending time in the pull up deadhand position with active shoulders.

Make sure you get to the stage where you are able to hang there in a controlled manner. The deadhang will help build your grip strength and shoulder stability.

6. Build your mental strength

Build your mental strength to ensure you don’t quit on the pull up before your body does.

Practice breathing exercises, set yourself goals and reward yourself when you reach them, challenge yourself to do a little more each day.

How can I build strength to do pull ups?

The best way to tackle not being able to do pull ups is to work on building your upper body strength through other forms of exercise until you become strong enough to perform a pull up.

A good exercise which will help build the muscle strength you require is the iso-eccentric pull up.

Here’s how to iso-eccentric pull ups:

  • With this form of pull up you first grab hold of a bar and jump so that your chest touches the bar.
  • Hold this position for five seconds, then lower yourself for five seconds.
  • By the time you can perform 10 reps of the iso-eccentric pull up you should be able to complete a standard pull up successfully.

Check out this YouTube video for a guide on how to perform an iso-eccentric pull up:

Other exercises which will help you build the strength required to perform a pull up include doing a shoulder extension with a band, the heavy band row and the inverted row.

Are you weak if you can’t do a pull up?

Absolutely not!

You may need to work on your core strength or upper body strength in order to be able to successfully complete pull ups, but equally there may be a number of other factors involved as already outlined in this article.

However, being unable to perform a pull up does not make you inherently weak. Pull ups required a combination of great strength, coordination, technique and mental strength to perform.

If any one element of these is out of kilter then you may not succeed. However, as you have hopefully seen in this article, with work and determination these can be easily addressed and you will ultimately be able to perform the pull up.


Hopefully you now no longer think ‘I can’t do pull ups’ but instead think that with some work and determination you can ultimately achieve this goal.

Here is a summary of the article:

  • The pull up is a physically strenuous exercise which requires both physical strength and correct technique to successfully complete
  • There are a whole range of reasons why an individual may struggle to perform a pull up successfully. These include lack of the required strength, incorrect technique, lack of mobility and a need for greater endurance
  • Individuals can increase their likelihood of successfully completing pull ups by improving their core strength and upper body strength
  • Individuals can also benefit from switching to a simpler variation of the pull up, working on their mobility and building their mental strength.
  • Being unable to perform a pull up does not make an individual weak – it just means that some work needs to be done on the specific skills and muscle groups required for this particular form of exercise