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I’m Struggling With Pull-Ups! Help!

Many of you seem to have a hard time with the pull-ups, and have even gotten down on yourselves because you are not noticing sudden changes in this area. I’m here to say, “It’s ok!” As I told you all before, change is a process and it takes TIME for your body to adjust to the workouts! Here is a little story about my experiences with the first 3-4 weeks doing pull-ups.

I think it was safe to say that my weakest area when I began P90X was the pull-ups. I hated them! Day 1, Chest & Back, oh that wonderful workout. I was real excited to hang my newly put together pull-up bar in the doorway of my parents bedroom. I heard Tony in the background say that it was time for Wide Grip Pull-Ups. I widened my grip, and….got 4 unassisted pull-ups. Hmmm, that fourth one was a killer too! Then to the close-grip pull-ups. I got to 1, then stopped because I couldn’t do anymore! My back was so underdeveloped (As you can see in my Day 1 pic) that 5 pull-ups was the most I could do for the entire workout! I REALLY pushed myself with every back workout after that, and slowly got up to about 5-6 reps for each exercise, and that took me about 2.5 weeks! I didn’t really start doing well with the pull-ups until about day 60, where I could do about 8-10 for each exercise. Now, as my back is WAY more developed, I can push for about 12-15 reps. But it took TIME for my back muscles to develop so I could do more!

Here are my tips for all of you struggling with pull-ups:

(1) There is NO SHAME in doing assisted pull-ups with the chair! Once you progress and start getting stronger, lift one leg up, and then eventually move to the unassisted. You can even do a mix of both assisted and unassisted, just so you can finish the entire workout.

(2) Don’t cheat when doing these, and what I mean by that is not going up or down all the way. Bring yourself up as far as you can go so you feel a good squeeze in your back, and let you arms fully extend when going back down.

(3) BE PATIENT! If you are one of the people who haven’t noticed a difference in about 3 weeks, then start developing your back through other methods, such as with free weights or a weight machine. You can do exercises like Lateral Pull-Downs, Reverse Grip Lat Pull-Downs, Back Rows with the machine or Back Fly’s, Lawnmowers, Elbow Out Lawnmowers with the dumbbells. If you keep increasing your weight when doing those, then you will eventually be able to do unassisted pull-ups as your back gets stronger.

If you have any further questions about pull-ups, email me and I will help you out.

Coach Josh


  1. Kenny /

    I’ve been trying to get p90x from ebay for a few days and none of the ones i’ve tried to buy would go through but I didn’t want to pay the full price for it. Any idea on this ?

  2. The problem you are going to find on eBay is that sometimes you won’t get the complete program, including the Nutrition Guide, or that the DVD’s won’t work. I have talked to many people who have been scammed. If you purchase from this site, you will get the complete original program straight from Beachbody.

  3. Hey Josh! Great site, very informative and motivational! I just finished week 1 and sounds like I am in a similar boat as when you started out. I could only do 4 pull-ups during the fit test so for the first day, chest and back, I decided to start with the chair. For all of the pull-up routines on the first day I did 10-15 reps before I couldn’t do anymore. Would you suggest that I continue with the chair until I can hit a certain number or reps or should I start each set without the chair even though I may not be able to get up one rep after the 3rd or 4th set? I think I am going to start each rep without a chair and then finish the set with a chair, but would like some advice from a guy who knows how to BRINT IT!!!

    Thanks for the help!

  4. Thanks! OK, try to do as many reps as possible unassisted for every exercise, and then when you get to the point where you can’t get any more switch to the assisted pull-ups. Remember, the way to make progress is through the unassisted because of the added resistance, so make sure you really push yourself!

  5. Barry Russell /

    Josh – I have kept track of every workout since I started P90X June 2010. I find it interesting to look back at my first weeks in pullups. I could only do 1.5 and 2.5 that first week. I am 5′ 7″ and small frame. After 22 Chest and Back workouts and 21 Legs and Back workouts, I can do 12 Reverse Chinups – 10 Closed Grip – 10 Wideply – 6 with towel. By the way, I will be 60 years old in November. I am gettig old the right way!! Bring it!!

  6. @Barry. Wow man that’s impressive! Did you lose a lot of weight going through P90X?

  7. Steven B /

    Your story sounds so familiar, just like mine! When I first started doing pull-ups and P90X I was able to do five as well and then by the time I did my last pull up exercise towards the end I could only do one for the other sets. Today, six months later and 26 pounds lighter I am able to do 21 reps of wide grip pull-ups at the age of 60 which I never thought I’d be able to achieve!

  8. @Steven. Awesome! Did you have a coach helping you through the program?

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