Pull-ups are generally a hard exercise that’s not easy for individuals to perform. But to be honest, it is a great workout target for your upper body.
Is it harder to do pull-ups if you weigh more? Yes, it is surely. That’s because you have to pull more weight to reach the bar to perform the pull-up. But there are other reasons for a harder pull-up, such as insufficient back strength and lack of practice.
Why Is Doing Pull-Ups So Hard?
Several things can make performing pull-ups harder than expected, and this includes excess body weight, lack of practice, and insufficient grip.
I truly agree that pull-ups are tough to do, but why don’t we give ourselves the advantage of doing it with much ease by understanding what makes them so hard.
For this, it is better to know the muscles that are engaged in action during exercising.
This involves the latissimus dorsi, teres major and teres minor, posterior deltoids, rhomboids, lower and middle trapezius, pectoralis minor, levator scapulae, and triceps.
How Much of Your Body Weight Do You Lift When You Do a Pull-Up?
Don’t be shocked, but each of us lifts almost 95% of our total body weight primarily using our back muscles, the latissimus dorsi, while other muscles exist as stabilizers/synergists.
It is a generally assumed fact that the latissimus dorsi are the biggest muscles in our body, but please come out of this assumption.
In fact, the biceps are slightly bigger than them.
When such small muscles are used to lift almost 95% of body weight, it is now understandable how every pound of weight will increase the overall intensity and add more burden while doing pull-ups.
Even though the list of muscles that I’ve mentioned above is used while doing pull-ups, it’s the back muscles primarily involved.
Why Weight Matters When You Are Doing a Pull-Up?
We perform pull-ups for upper body strength training, but we require strength to pull our body weight and accomplish the exercise routine.
Any extra weight in terms of fat doesn’t contribute to the overall strength we perform this feat.
Our body weight is an important criterion while doing pull-ups mainly because it intensifies difficulty levels of doing pull-ups—5an exercise that’s already demanding and challenging in the first place and increases the stress on back muscles and forearms while limiting the use of biceps.
Every pound of extra weight will increase the difficulty level of doing pull-ups.
Your wish right now should be to gain only muscle weight (instead of fat), making the exercise easier as you become stronger.
Can You Do Pull-Ups If You Are Overweight?
Exercising is for every body type, and if you still doubt whether overweight people can do pull-ups, they surely can. It might be challenging and require more energy when you weigh more, but it is never impossible.
Haven’t we all seen overweight people do muscle-ups at the gym or fitness center?
Adding weight means that you must pull more weight to do the pull-ups, just like adding extra plates to your bench press exercise to increase resistance.
Maybe now we understand why it is crucial to reduce excess body fat—for none other than to increase pull-up reps.
Is It Ok to Do Pull-Ups If You Weigh More?
Again, weight is only a number, and if you have the strength and determination to do pull-ups, please go ahead without any hesitation.
Still, if you are overweight and concerned about doing pull-ups, reading further will dissolve all your queries.
First and foremost, however you train, maybe with a personal trainer or gym trainer, you must be well-aware and clear of what you do.
While your intention to do pull-ups is good and contributes towards your weight loss efforts, certain factors must be considered to avoid any mishaps. These include:
- If you find pull-ups to be too difficult, better start with a simple variation and do other exercises along with it to build strength on different body parts that would help to ease the pull-up exercise routine.
- Never do pull-ups too frequently, as it helps avoid overtraining. Ensure that you give ample rest between every muscle group’s activation that’s involved while exercising
- Never skip any steps or fail to do the exercise correctly, as it leads to potential injuries.
- Take optimal rest, sleep, and avoid any stress to improve recovery rates after every workout session.
This applies to every individual who wishes to do pull-ups irrespective of whether or not he/she is fat.
How Many Pull-Ups Should You Be Able to Do If You Are Overweight?
Every individual’s body composition, strength, and resistance levels are different, and it is not possible to define a specific number that would apply to all overweight people in general.
But, it does remain possible to provide general guidelines that could be of assistance to each of you.
Start slowly by doing 4-5 sets of as many pull-ups as you can. Take at least 90-120 seconds of rest between sets. Limit your pull-ups training to thrice a week initially.
Rather than achieving numbers doing the exercise perfectly without any compromise on the form is required.
I am serious about this—it could be only one pull-up that’s possible initially but stick with this number doing it correctly.
Once you get to set, it is recommended that you try to increase the number without pushing too much gradually. At all times, ensure that you are well-hydrated.
Can You Do More Pull-Ups If You Weigh Less?
Yes, surely. Weighing more prevents you from doing pull-ups easily as you have to lift 95% of your body weight, and we have been recommending that fat loss is essential to do pull-ups easily. This means that weighing less makes it easier to do pull-ups.
But, please don’t come to hasty conclusions and get ready to lose excess body fat by hook or by crook.
Not all kinds of weight loss provide you with similar benefits, and it’s also not only numbers on the weighing scale.
Most of your weight could be muscle weight, and this is good as it provides strength to your body, and the problem comes when body fat outweighs muscle weight.
Even a 2-pound weight loss helps you increase your pull-up reps and even makes it seem easier to do. It’s just like lifting a lighter barbell than before.
Do Pull-Ups Make You Gain Weight?
Body-weight exercises, including pull-ups, don’t lead to weight gain normally.
But, pull-ups are high-intensity exercises that involve using 95% of your weight, and this weight is placed on your working muscles.
Such overload of weight on muscles can lead to weight gain but only in the form of muscle.
This takes ample time and ample hard work to see definite numbers on the scale in muscle weight gain.
Do Pull-Ups Make You Stronger?
Pull-ups are strength-training exercises, and, as the name suggests, they contribute significantly to improving your health and making you stronger.
Any strength-training exercise contributes towards whole-body fitness, and doing pull-ups guarantees increased body strength.
This is because you are lifting your entire body weight when you perform the exercise.
How Many Pull-Ups Can a Woman Do?
Men and women have different strength levels, and every individual has a definite maximum limit beyond which exercising becomes stressful. Women can do 1-3 pull-ups during each set and could cover up to 5-9 reps during their workout routine.
If you are one of those women who achieve such numbers comfortably and even do more pull-ups during every rep, I am sure that you are fit and strong.
Does That Mean You Are Strong If You Can Do More Pull-Ups?
You need strength to do such an intense exercise such as pull-ups, as you are lifting almost your entire body weight here. So, if you can do pull-ups and able to achieve higher numbers and reps, it does mean that you are strong.
Most men and women stay away from doing pull-ups as they cannot do it.
There are many different reasons, including overweight, fat percentage, or absence of diligence.
But if you are committed to the exercise and regularly practice doing pull-ups, it helps keep your muscles strong.
When muscles become stronger and overall body strength increases, your ability to do more pull-ups automatically becomes possible.
Other Reasons Why You Feel Hard to Do a Single Pull-Ups
It is always difficult to master tougher exercises, but it is usually the tough ones that promise maximum results and advantages.
Pull-ups are one such exercise that delivers versatility involving your entire body.
Be sure to build strength and muscles when you practice doing pull-ups.
But, the problem lies in trying your hands on doing pull-ups in the first place.
Several reasons contribute to why individuals find it hard to do pull-ups.
On observation, it becomes easier to realize that individuals who mostly face difficulties doing pull-ups are generally heavy, and they have negligible general physical preparedness (GPP).
Maybe ten years down the line, 15-20 pounds of excess fat could be an excuse to avoid pull-ups, but in your younger years, you need to lose every inch of excess fat in your body to excel doing pull-ups that would reap benefits in the long term.
Don’t resort to unethical ways to lose weight, such as crash diets or exhausting workout routines.
Start eating the right kind of foods that keep your nutritional intake well-balanced.
Portion control is essential for losing body weight.
Increase your resistance levels by doing heavy-resistance training.
Grip strength is vital for doing pull-ups as you are required to lift your entire weight using your hands!
If you haven’t worked out until now, haven’t tried playing any sport, or have to lead a sedentary lifestyle that doesn’t involve much activity, I am sure that you could suffer from poor grip strength.
With such negligible strength, you cannot expect to do pull-ups.
So, what’s the solution?
Quality overpowers quantity.
Don’t succumb to doing tons of repetitions of wrist curls using a 2.5 lbs plate, which would take you nowhere.
Always perform exercises involving static concentrations of the hands, forearms, shoulders, and upper back.
Improve your grip strength by hanging from the pull-up bar, carrying heavyweight dumbbells while running/walking, doing timed holds for up to a minute using heavyweight barbells, or using a grip trainer to gain grip strength.
It is not an easy task to gain grip strength instantly. Start slowly and move on towards more endurance training.
We train to gain back strength using pull-ups, then how on earth are we going to gain back strength before we start doing pull-ups?
You might not be able to perform a single pull-up or maybe do only a couple of them before you run out of strength.
If this is the case, try doing some upper body pulling movements that promise improved back strength before you dive into the real pull-up game.
Few exercises that help you achieve strength include:
- Ring rows help build back and core strength as you perform the exercise with your body weight here. The exercise can be modified as you progress—start by placing your feet on the floor and then try raising the feet using a box as you gain strength.
- Single-arm dumbbell rows guarantee a varied range of movements. Lean on a bench and try supporting your whole body weight using one arm. Pull the dumbbell backward with full force as though you are ready to punch someone on their gut.
- Lat pulldowns help you develop pulling strength similar to a pull-up while providing you with ample freedom to perform moves similar to a dumbbell.
- Pull-up negatives are great to perform and guarantee a definite hold on pull-ups in due course. Get onto the top position of a pull-up by standing onto something or jumping to catch hold of the bar. Slowly lower yourself until the hands are fully extended and repeat once again until you complete the set.
All the above specific physical preparedness (SPP) exercises provide a workout to the same muscle groups as pull-ups.
Mastering these exercises guarantee greater abilities to perform pull-ups with ease.
Every exercise, simple or difficult, has a right and wrong way to do it.
Don’t expect results simply by doing it in whatever way you feel comfortable.
Getting the right form and doing it the right way is essential to benefit from doing pull-ups.
Given here are some tips and tricks to achieve good form:
Keep your head up: It’s always recommended to keep your head up, literally too, when you want to strengthen the back.
Lift the chin and tuck the neck backward to engage your upper back muscles and help you perform better while doing pull-ups.
Have a shoulder-width grip: It is always recommended to have the right space between your arms while doing pull-ups, and it is none other than to take a shoulder-width grip.
Anything beyond that could damage your shoulders, restrict using your back, and also limit your range of motion.
You can work out at wider grips, but only after you become proficient.
Pull up & back: Pull-ups generally make us think about vertical movement only, but it’s not restricted to it.
Rather than pulling the bar to your neck or chin, lean a bit backward and pull the bar towards your upper chest.
This puts the lower body automatically a bit front while the back remains in a neutral position (hollow gymnastic position).
Ensure that you don’t curl your legs when you start trying this form.
Don’t Stay Tight
If you start well and gradually find it hard to maintain a relative body position through the pull-ups reps, you might be suffering from an energy leak.
This is bad as you refrain from using your whole body to perform the exercise, relying only upon specific muscles (mostly rotator cuff) that will help you pull through the pull-ups session.
Make sure to keep your toes pointed, lock your legs for stability, squeeze your glutes, tuck in your chin, pack your neck, take a deep breath and squeeze your core while you go up to reach the bar holding firmly onto the bar.
Maintain this posture and never try to loosen up until you are done, not with the single pull-up but the entire set.
It does seem uncomfortable and hard. It is, and it should be reap benefits.
Lack of Practice
Practice makes a man perfect.
Your form might be perfect, but if you don’t practice enough, it is highly possible that you don’t keep the body in the ideal position through the rep.
There are greater chances that the body becomes used to incorrect movement routines, and coming out of such habits is difficult.
It is better to learn it right and perform the exercise correctly right from the start.
You can start by practicing on an inexpensive doorframe pull-up bar, which reminds you to quickly jump up for one or two reps every time you use the door.
The greater the frequency of training on the bar, the greater is the chance that you master the art rapidly.
If you cannot do more than 4-5 pull-ups at a time, it is better to split your practice reps- maybe do two sets of 3 reps on one day, 12 sets of 3 reps on another day, take a break, again do ten sets of 3 reps and so on.
This way, you are maintaining the form and also causing fatigue by doing greater reps that help strengthen the body from within.
In due course, you are ready to do more reps across different sets.
Dependent on Assisted Pull-ups
It is human tendency to stick to whatever we are exposed to—big or small, hard or easy, comfortable, or uncomfortable.
We are slaves to habit, and once we become used to doing assisted pull-ups, it can make us stay away from doing unassisted pull-ups.
It is essential to keep your entire body tight, but while performing assisted pull-ups (on a machine or with a band), your legs and core are almost zero percent involved in it.
This leads to lesser back involvement, which results in an overall improper form and mechanism.
Assisted pull-ups could be the stepping stone to performing unassisted pull-ups, but completely devoting your time to them will never reap any benefits.
Use them only for gaining strength and becoming skilled in learning the pull-ups trick.
Once you overcome all these struggles, I guarantee that you are ready to master the pull-ups exercise in no time.
What to Do If You Can’t Do a Pull-Up? Any Alternative Solutions?
You have tried to overcome your struggles and still find it difficult to do a single pull-up.
Don’t be ashamed or worried as there are many others in your same position irrespective of whether they are overweight, normal, or underweight.
What to do if you can’t do a single pull-up? There are alternative options to any workout, and pull-ups are no exception. All you must do is to train smarter, choosing the right alternative exercises as given below.
1. Isometric Training
This is a good way to build strength and do it right by performing negative pull-ups.
Rather than lifting your body weight towards the bar, jump onto the bar and hold yourself at the top position of the bar as long as possible, lowering yourself as slowly as possible when fatigue sets.
Negative pull-ups are also a great supplementary exercise routine that helps you move onto pull-ups with time.
2. Easier Variation Exercises
Simple variations of difficult exercises are always available. Some of them for pull-ups include neutral grip pull-ups, chin-ups, assisted pull-ups, inverted body rows, door frame rows, and dumbbell rows.
These exercises could be included in your workout even if you do pull-ups as they help you become versatile and intensify progress.
Some of them have been elaborated above for your reference.
While dumbbells remain an all-time favorite being an integral part of every home gym, assisted pull-ups are also good.
You can do it using resistance bands or even a workout buddy.
After gaining a certain amount of strength, it is better to start trying unassisted pull-ups to achieve better results.
Doing chin-ups also keeps you only a step away from doing pull-ups.