One of the best ways to build the necessary strength to do a regular pull-up is by starting with negative pull-ups.
They are easy, not too hard, but just tough enough to get your muscles working in the right direction. Right?
Well, that is usually the case.
My experience shows that this doesn’t apply to everybody. Some people can’t do negative pull-ups. They will still be a vital part of your journey to the mighty pull-up.
Why you can’t do Negative pull-ups? People can’t do negative pull-ups because they usually lack sufficient strength in their back, arm, and forearm muscles. Negative chin-ups and inverted bodyweight rows can be used successfully by people who can’t do pull-ups to develop the necessary strength to do negative pull-ups.
A negative pull-up is an excellent way to get your first regular pull-up. So if you can’t do negative pull-ups don’t get discouraged. You just need to adapt your training you will be on your way to the mighty pull-up. Let’s dive in.
Is It Normal to Not Be Able to Do Negative Pull-Ups?
It is completely normal not be able to do negative pull-ups. This happens due to lack of strength and muscle development in certain areas of the body. Luckily, there is an easy (kind of) way to fix that. You just need to take a step back and work on developing your muscles and strength in these key areas.
And this is exactly what we will be talking about in this article.
Don’t worry. There is nothing wrong with you. There are no official statistics, as far as I am aware of that, on how many people can’t even do a negative pull-up or chin-up. But let me tell you something you might not know. This happens way more often than you expect.
Why You Can’t Do Negative Pull-Ups
Some people have a more active and dynamic lifestyle, and although they don’t workout per se, their body and muscles are used and are a bit more developed.
While other people have adopted a more sedentary lifestyle. And there’s nothing out of the ordinary here with the way our modern lives are set up. Some numbers show that a quarter of the Americans spend about 70% of their time sitting. (1)
But you are here because you are looking for an answer and to get yourself moving, and this is precisely what we are going to do.
What Muscles Does a Negative Pull-Up Develop?
A negative pull-up will develop your back muscles, forearms, biceps, back shoulders, and abs.
How to Perform a Negative Pull-Up Correctly
Skill-wise a negative pull-up is easy to perform. It doesn’t require any specific movements or techniques.
The way to do a negative pull up is by getting yourself above the bar. This means that you need to get your chin above the bar. You can do that in two ways, either by jumping on the bar or by using a chair or a rock to stand on and get closer to the top of the bar.
When you get your self in the top position, hold yourself at the top for the as long as possible.
Then you will start to lower yourself down slowly and try to control the movement down as much as possible. Try not to drop immediately to the bottom of the movement. Lower yourself slowly until your hands are almost straight.
Don’t let your hands get straight as that way you may place too much stress on your shoulders that way.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Negative Pull-Ups
One of the main benefits of doing negative pull-ups (and the one I never hear anyone talk about) is that they are great for properly learning how to do a regular pull-up.
What people usually opt for – when not being able to do a pull-up – is using different bands, or objects they can push off of with one leg, etc.
I never liked these. Why? Because they develop a habit of doing pull-ups the wrong way. The power of habit is an amazing thing, and once you learn to do the pull-ups with an unnatural form, it will be very hard to unlearn it.
For example, here is a short story. I have a friend that learned to do muscle-ups while using a lot of momentum. This momentum has been so ingrained that it became a habit. He spent months trying to unlearn that because he wants to learn how to do muscle-ups without using momentum. Interestingly enough, this is also why he cannot do ring muscle-ups.
So, while using a resistance band may help you a little, in the long run, it may do more harm than good.
Do Negative Pull-Ups Help Regular Pull-Ups?
Any movement in fitness consists of two main parts:
- Concentric part; and
- Eccentric part.
The concentric parts of any movement where the muscles contract or where they also work against the gravity.
To better illustrate this, the concentric part of a push up is the movement up, and of a pull up it is the movement up again. You are pushing or pulling up, and as a result, you are contracting your muscles. (while the gravity is pulling you down in both cases)
This is also considered the hardest part of any exercise movement because it requires the most force and strength exertion.
The second part is the eccentric part. This is the lengthening of the muscles or the part where the muscles work with the gravity in the same direction. Here you are essentially only controlling the pace and speed of the movement.
This is the easier part of any exercise movement.
The eccentric part is also called negative. So in short eccentric pull-ups and negative pull-ups are the same thing.
It has been discovered that by just doing the eccentric part of any exercise, we can build enough strength to do both parts of it eventually. (the eccentric and concentric)
This is why negative pull-ups are recommended as one of the best methods to develop enough strength to do a full pull-up.
How to Do Your First Negative Pull-Up?
Now that you have a deeper understanding of the mechanics and what is happening in the background, and the potential reasons as to why you are struggling with your negative pull-up we can move on to what you should do.
This is going to be the most important section of this article as all of the things we will go through next is going to bring you closer to achieving your first negative pull-up and will pave the road to doing way more than that. So read on.
What Exercises Will Help You to Do Your First Negative Pull-Up
If you have a hard time doing negative pull-ups, then all you need to do is take a step backward and kind of reverse engineer the exercise. Then you need to take a look at which muscles you need to strengthen. And we have already gone through that so you should have a good understanding of what areas of the body you need to strengthen.
Now, all we need to do is start doing easier exercises that will target each of these muscles individually.
We are all different, and some people may need to focus more on certain muscles compared to others. Use your own judgment if you want to focus on specific muscle groups more. However, I recommended an overall approach that doesn’t focus on one aspecific muscle group but all of them.
There are a few exercises that will help you do your first negative pull-up. In fact, they may even help you in doing a complete pull-up. Let’s take a look.
- Inverted bodyweight rows
Inverted bodyweight rows are best performed on dip bars or any other place that will allow you to do the movement with the right range of motion and angle. They can be done even on a table or railings.
Inverted bodyweight rows are an excellent way to build your strength as they target many of the same muscle groups that you will need in order to do a negative pull-up. However, it is significantly easier.
- Dumbbell rows
If you have access to a set of dumbbells, you can use them to strengthen your back muscles. In fact, a set of dumbbells will be useful in even more ways. There is a good reason after all why one of the few fitness equipment I have in my home are a set of dumbbells.
Dumbbells will allow you to train your lats and at the same time will give you the chance to adapt the intensity and weight you use. They can be used for strengthening other key muscle areas of your body too.
- Hammer curls
Well, I did say dumbbells will be quite useful, didn’t I?
One area that most people are weak at is their forearms. Frequently weak forearms/brachioradialis muscles are one of the reasons why they cannot keep themselves on the bar and may fail to do even a single negative pull-up.
Hammer curls are a perfect way to strengthen these muscles.
- Shoulder raises
Here I am including training all three of the shoulder heads.
- Rear delt raises;
- Side delt raises; and
- Anterior delt raises.
Although The rear delt will be more important, you need to make sure you strengthen all areas of your delts (shoulders). The shoulder girdle is one of the important factors that play a significant role in pull-ups. Weak delts will not just make negative and regular pull-ups a tough nut to crack, but it is also asking for trouble (or should I say for injury).
- Shoulder shrugs
Shoulder shrugs will train your trapezius muscles which are very important in being able to hold yourself in the upper position of the negative pull-up.
Weak traps will mean that you may drop really fast and not be able to hold on the bar for long enough time.
- Dumbbell biceps curls
Last but not least, I’d like to point your attention to strengthening your biceps.
Bicep muscles are used during negative pull-ups, regular pull-ups, and especially during chin-ups. So these exercises will benefit more than your negative pull-up progression.
- Assisted negative pull-ups
Even if you cannot hold yourself long enough on the bar, an assisted negative pull-up may still be a viable option.
Depending on what you have access to, a chair, rock, elastic band, or a training buddy who can hold your legs can be one of the easiest way to build up the necessary strength needed to do a negative pull-up.
How Often You Should Do Negative Pull-ups
Do not train every day of the week. This is way, way too much, counterproductive, and just plain dangerous. Now with that out of the way training three times a week is more than plenty.
Any more than that is completely unnecessary as your muscle size and muscle strength grow when they rest.
The Right Diet
Eating the right food is essential. You cannot expect your body to fully recover if it lacks essential nutrients and especially protein which is the building blocks for your muscles.
A poor diet will stunt or even completely stop your progress.
Stress is another factor that may really affect the speed of your progress. Stress has been associated with increased cortisol levels and decreased levels of testosterone.
Make sure to try and avoid high amounts of stress as much as possible. Easier said than done, I know. But this is how things work.
Amount of Rest
Sleep is another important step. Poor quality or lack of sleep will be detrimental to both your energy levels, recovery speed, and strength.
Make sure get enough quality sleep each night.
Can Negative Chin-Ups Help Negative Pull-Ups?
Chin-ups are easier than pull-ups. So is the case with negative chin-ups compared to negative pull-ups.
Negative chin-ups may be a lot easier for some people who can easily translate to doing more negative pull-ups. As such, it may be beneficial to incorporate some negative chin-ups into your workout routine if you can hold them.
Can You Train Other Muscle Groups?
You can, and you should.
One of the muscle groups that you need to focus on and not neglect are, of course, the legs.
In addition to that, don’t forget to train your chest muscles, and triceps too.
Neglecting any muscle group in your body while focusing on training a specific muscle group can be dangerous as it can create muscle imbalances which can translate into possible injuries.
Also, not training certain muscle groups may lead to less overall progress.
What to Do After You Achieve Your First Negative Pull-Up?
Now that you have conquered your first negative pull-up, you are on the road to performing your first regular pull-up.
And you are closer to achieving it than you may think.
At this point, you are faced with a couple of options.
You can continue doing the supplementary exercises which we went through earlier, as they will help you achieve not just your negative pull-up but the regular or standard pull-up as well. And in the meantime, you can continue doing negative pull-ups.
On the other hand, you may decide that you want to just focus on doing more negative pull-ups. That may work just fine as well. Since this is what I decided to do when I was learning how to do my first pull-up.
Either way, you will get to your first pull-up. As long as you make sure you keep your training routine structured adequately as to allow progressive overload.