Doing your first pull-up, dip, or push-up | Calisthenics progression!

This article will take you 6 minutes to read. Feel free to leave your questions in the comment section, they will be answered!

This article is a must for those who finally want to do their first pull-up, dip, or push up. Whether you are a man or a woman, doing one of these first body-weight exercises can be a daunting experience. If you are a woman, I mentioned in a previous article that doing a first pull-up is something which can get quite hard to perform as a woman.

This isn’t because women aren’t as capable as men, but because men are “luckier” to have inherited more testosterone, natural biological strength, so it’s easier for them. The hardest is usually your first pull-up, followed by the dips and then push-ups. You might have tried to do many “baby push-ups” (on your knees) or simply tried to force yourself up on the pull-up bar – but it still does not work. You’ve been attempting the elastic bands, and it still doesn’t work. 

What the hell are you supposed to do? 

Let’s get in depth with two crucial factors which will help you do your first pull-up.

Whether you are a man or a woman, I really intend to give you the best tips possible so you can do your first one.

#1 Get stronger as a general rule

You’ve got to be patient, although if it’s been 50 years… then yes – there might be an issue.

The first advice I have to give is to get stronger in general. It might not be enough, but it will be one of the main factors which will help you do your first pull-up, dip or push-up.

Any program will make you stronger, but if your goal is specifically to do pull-ups, we’ve got to focus on back and arm exercises, specifically the brachialis. 

In the next sections, I have made a program which focuses on these muscles, so you can build general strength and also have a technical routine towards specifically doing your first pull-up.

#2 Be lean enough 

Your body weight for a start is important. It’s going to be tough to pull yourself if you are overweight or carrying too much fat. This is definitely possible once you’ve reached a certain level because you’d have already trained pull-ups for years -but anyone who has to do a pull up for the first time usually is at an, at least, average body fat percentage.

If you estimate that your body fat is too high, gradually try to lose weight by being at a calorie deficit along with following a good program. Now that we have this in mind, we will implement some serious technique to specifically improve your pull-ups!

Your goal is that ONE first pull-up

Just one ok? This is literally what you want. Once you do that first pull-up, it gets much easier to get to many more! 

Why?

First, you break that mental barrier that comes with doing a bloody pull-up.

Second, it means you’ve finally taught your muscles and nervous system to get this movement right.

You are now strong enough! The first pull-up is always the hardest. It’s hard when you’ve never done one to imagine yourself doing so. It’s often like this in many different aspects of life, you need that click in your brain which allows you to realise that you have done it and that you can do it. 

How do we do this first pull-up now that we are aware we should get stronger and leaner as a rule?

More pull-ups to get good at pull-ups

You might be tired of hearing this on this blog but to become good at something in the gym you’ve got to specialise. You want to get good at pull-ups? Do more of them. And this is where most people get stuck with not getting their first pull-up. 

They just train it in their back session once or twice a week for 3-4 sets of elastic bands or lat pulldowns. Of course, after 1 year you might finally do your first one because you’ve generally getting stronger as previously said.

But if for example, you want to get ready for a police or a fire service exam, you’re going to have to speed it up. Now, we are going to try and implement this specific training for pull-ups in addition to getting stronger and leaner. 

Doing your first pull-up, in application:

What you want to do first is see what you can do with an elastic band.

When we talk about elastics, we are not talking about something that will lift you up easily. You have to use the elastic band which helps you the least possible. You want your sets to be hard enough.

Try to find your current “max” for pull-ups. The ideal would be to find an elastic band which allows you to only do 3-4 pull-ups max.

If you can do 3,4,5 but not more than that, you simply can’t.  But what you can do now is repeat it a lot. 

It’s now essential to perform a lot of sets.

Let’s say you’re using the least resistant elastic band you can find which helps you do two pull-ups max.

At the start of your back session, you can do:

  • 5×2 pull-ups with the elastic band
  • 5×1 pull-ups with the elastic band

Because you can’t do many pull-ups in a row, you have to get them done in another way.

This is why we do more sets to improve!

Considering you are getting started, let’s try to make a program which will get you stronger as mentioned previously, but also focuses on doing this first pull-up.

You can repeat this program for a few weeks and once a week, attempt this one pull-up.

Monday: Chest/ Triceps

  • 5×5 benchpress
  • 4×8-10 decline dumbbell flies
  • 4×15 incline dumbbell flies
  • 4×8-10 skull crushes
  • 3×15-20 triceps extensions

Tuesday: abs

Wednesday: Back/Biceps

  • 5×2 pull-ups with elastic bands
  • 5×1 pull-ups with elastic bands
  • 3×6-8 deadlift
  • 3×10-15 rowing 
  • 4×10-15 neutral grip pulldown 
  • 4×10 inclined curls

Thursday: rest

Friday: Legs

  • 5×5 squat
  • 4×15 bulgarian split squats
  • 4×20 leg curls
  • 4×15-20 calve raises on the smith machine

Saturday: Back/ Biceps (brachialis orientated)

  • Attempt of your first pull-up at bodyweight
  • 5×2 pull-ups with elastic bands
  • 5×1 pull-ups with elastic bands
  • 3×6-8 rack-pulls
  • 3×10-15 rowing
  • 4×6-8 preacher curls with the neutral bar
  • 4×10-15 neutral grip pulldown

Sunday: abs

You’ve finally done your first pull-up!

Now you’ve done your first pull-up, apply the exact same method to get to more than one.

Do a lot of sets of one.

  • 10×1 

Then you can come back to the elastic bands and add more volume if you wish.

example:

  • 10×1
  • 5×3 

Once you can reach two pull-ups, you can proceed as followed:

  • 5×2
  • 5×1

If you follow all the other principles that we recommend in most articles: following the basics, eating well, training hard on what matters, going heavy, then there should be no problem in improving.

Scale up the load you use as quickly as possible!

I recommend that you always follow this type of technique.

As soon as you can do 4-5 pull-ups, add an extra 5 kg plate, scale up the load as soon as you can. 

The key when you improve on your pull-ups is that as soon as it gets easy, you make it hard again. 

There is always a new max.

When your max is a pull-up with an extra 50 kg, you are at a beasty level!

But that extra 50kg pull-up doesn’t feel harder than what used to be your 1 body-weight max pull-up. A max is max, you’re just better now, your 1RM has changed.

So as soon as it’s easier, make it harder.

How about for push-ups and dips?

The same applies to dips and push-ups. 

Although, if you do your first pull-up, you will certainly be strong enough to do dips and push-ups. 

I would then recommend you try and do your first pull-up, so the rest comes along with it.

If not, it’s the same process you used to do your first pull-up.

It’s just that here we will focus on working more on chest movements and triceps because dips and push-ups are similar exercises which involve the same muscles.

Following the same principles for the program I gave as an example for pull-ups, here is an example to make sure you will do dips and push-ups for the first time.

Let’s imagine you’re able to do three push-ups on your knees and 0 dips:

Monday: Chest/ Triceps

  • 10×3 on your knees push-ups
  • 3×5 bench-press
  • 4×15 incline dumbbell flies
  • 4×8-10 skull crushes
  • 8×10-15 dips between chairs

Tuesday: abs

Wednesday: Legs

Thursday: Chest/triceps

  • Attempt of one full push-up at bodyweight
  • 10×3 on your knees push-ups
  • 3×5 bench-press
  • 3×15 incline dumbbell flies
  • 3×8-10 skull crushes
  • 8×10-15 dips between chairs

Friday: rest/abs

Saturday: Back/ Biceps

  • Attempt of 1 pull-up at bodyweight
  • 5×2 pull-ups with elastic bands
  • 5×1 pull-ups with elastic bands
  • 3×6-8 rack-pulls
  • 3×10-15 rowing
  • 4×6-8 preacher curls with the neutral bar
  • 4×10-15 neutral grip pulldown

Sunday: abs

I recommend that you try and keep good form. It won’t be perfect the first times if you practice a lot of “close to your 1RM sets”, but as long as you still have your chest out and have an arched back for the movement, this is ok. What you don’t want is to pull only with your arms and have a rounded back!