can't do pull-ups
Strength Training

8 Reasons Why You Can’t Do Pull-Ups And What You Can Do

The pull-up is the ultimate test of upper body strength. Yet, even if you’ve been working out for several months, you may still struggle to do a single pull-up.

The good news is that getting good at pull-ups (like doing ten pull-ups in a row) is not beyond your reach. In this article, I’ll prove 8 reasons why you can’t do pull-ups – and what to do about it.

1. Hands Too Wide

The wider your hands are, the less power you will have through your lats. If your hand placement is wider than and three inches wider than shoulder-width, you will lose a lot of your puling power. Bring them in you will be amazed at how much stronger you’ll be.

2. Power Leaks

When your body is loose, you will dissipate power that should be used to drive you up toward the bar. To prevent this you need to maintain a tight core and keep your legs together. Rather than bending your knees, hinge at the hips slightly so that your legs are angled at about 30 degrees.

3. Not Engaging the Lats

The pull-up should primarily activate your latissimus dorsi muscles. For that to happen you need to pull your shoulder blades down and flare out your lats as you puff your chest up. Focus on pulling through the lats and not the arms. 

4. Not Doing Progression Exercises

Unless you are naturally strong, you will have to work up to doing your first pull-up. The best exercise to do to prepare for pull-ups is the inverted pull-up. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Position an Olympic bar on a squat rack about four feet from the floor.
  2. Lie under the bar with your legs out straight and reach up to grab the bar with a hip-width overhand grip. When you hang from the bar at full arm extension, your body should be at about a 30-degree angle. If it is not, set the bar slightly higher.
  3. Follow the same bodily cues as described in the pull form description: lats, flared, chest puffed out, elbows out and back, and body straight and tight.
  4. Pull up until your chin touches the bar.
  5. Lower under control to full arm extension.

Perform 3 sets of 10 reps on the inverted pull-up. If that is too hard, bring the bar down lower. Your rest between sets should be 45-60 seconds.

Once you can comfortably do the 3 sets of 10, increase the height of the bar by a foot. Now repeat for 3 sets of 10. Do this 3X per week for two weeks. 

5. Neglecting Negatives

You are stronger on the negative part of the pull-up. Doing negative sets will help you to get stronger for the traditional pull-up. Here is how to do negative pull-ups:

  1. Place a bench under the pull up bar.
  2. Stand on the bench to grab the pull up bar just as if you were doing a standard pull up. In this position, you should be in the top position of the pull up. 
  3. Bend your knees and cross your feet so that you are no longer supported by the bench.
  4. Slowly lower down to the dead hang position. Aim to take 3-5 seconds to do this. 

Perform 3 sets of 10 reps of negative pull-ups for 3X per week for two weeks.

6. Not Using the Assisted Pull Up Machine

The assisted pull-ups machine allows you to select weight from a pin stack that offsets your body weight. The more weight you select, the less of your own bodyweight you will actually be lifting. Do them this way:

  1. Select a weight that will have you lifting 70% of your body weight. This will be the same as you were doing on the resistance band pull up.
  2. Get on the machine so that you are kneeling on the knee pad. Reach up to grab the pull up bar. Follow the same body cues as in all the other exercises; lats flared out, chest puffed out, elbows down and back and core tight. 
  3. Pull up until your chin touches the bar.
  4. Lower under control and repeat.

7. Weak Grip

If you don’t have good grip strength, you will struggle to do pull-ups. Spend time building up your grip strength with such exercises as reverse curls, wrists curls, and deadlifts. Also, when you are doing your pull-ups, squeeze the bar tightly to fully engage the forearms. 

8. No Goal

Once you can do a few pull-ups you need to set a goal and consistently work toward it to keep progressing. Set your goal at 10 reps and keep going until you achieve it.

So, if you can do 5 reps on your first set, rest for 60 seconds and then do as many more as you can. If you get 3 more on this set, you now have a total of 7 reps.

On set three, you may only get 2 reps. Now your total is 9. On your last set, you just have to get 1 to hit your 10 rep target.

Give yourself a minute of rest between each set. 


With the 8 major obstacles to pull-ups out of the way, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming a pull-up pro. Apply our fixes over the next month and you’ll be well on your way. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Am I Strong But can’t Do Pull-Ups?

Unlike nearly every other exercise you do, the pull-up requires you to pull your entire body weight from a dead hang directly into the air against the force of gravity. That means that you are lifting a whole lot more than on most exercises.

This basic movement also relies on the strength of the latissimus dorsi, which is a neglected body part for many people. As a result, even though this is a bodyweight movement, it is harder than most weight exercises. 

Is It OK To Do Pull-Ups Every Day?

No, you should not do pull-ups every day. The muscles involved in doing this exercise need rest and recovery in order to come back bigger and stronger. Doing your pull-ups every day will not allow you to get that vital rest. That’s why you should have a day’s break between pull-up workouts.

How many pull-ups can a man do?

The average untrained man will be able to do just one pull up, according to a survey conducted on, 56% of men surveyed said they could do 1-5 pull-ups, with 27% being able to do 6-10, 10% doing 11-15 and only 6% being able to pump out 17 or more reps.

Steve Theunissen

Steve Theunissen is a former gym owner and personal trainer based in Tauranga, New Zealand. He is the author of six hardcopy books and more than a hundred ebooks on the topics of bodybuilding, fitness, and fat loss.

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