How to Stop Sucking at Pull-Ups

by Al Kavadlo on October 16, 2018

Al Kavadlo Pull-ups

I used to suck at pull-ups. It’s true.

When I first got into calisthenics as a teenager, I was able to manage a couple underhand chin-ups, but I could not do a single overhand pull-up with a full range of motion.

So what did I do?

Well, I started by doing what I could, which meant lots of chin-ups. Even though I could only do a few at a time, I would just do as many as I could, then rest and repeat. I did this every other day for months. Then one day I tried an overhand pull-up again and I could do it!

Soon after this, I encountered a pair of wide grip pull-up handles at a local gym and I was back to not being able to do a single rep. So I kept doing them on my doorway pull-up bar with the narrower grip.

Again, I just did as many as I could, then I’d rest and repeat the process several times. Since I was a teenager, I had a lot of testosterone and was able to recover pretty quickly. I did this every other day for a while and eventually I was able to do 10 in a row. Then I went back to that wide grip set-up and was suddenly able to do a few reps!

Over the course of the next several years, I continued to discover challenging new pull-up variations: Commando pull-ups, L-sit pull-ups, archer pull-ups and of course, the muscle-up. They all gave me a major humbling when I first encountered them, yet they were all ultimately achievable with consistent effort.

I’m far from being a teenager these days, and I don’t recover quite as quickly as I used to, but I still apply the same principles to all of my workouts.

The key to conquering any physical goal, whether it’s to do 10 wide-grip pull-ups, perform a human flag, or run a marathon, is the same regardless of the task. All you have to do is find a regressed version of your goal (a less difficult progression, fewer reps, shorter distance, etc.) and practice that consistently for several weeks or months. Once it gets easier, you slowly start inching your way toward the goal.

So, what if you can’t even do a chin-up yet? Then start by just hanging from the bar!

Al Kavadlo Bar Hangs Dead Hang

From there, you can eventually build toward flexed arm hangs and negative chin-ups. (A flexed arm hang is when you hold the top position of the chin-up; a negative chin-up involves slowly lowering yourself down from that position.) If you’re patient, consistent and dedicated, the results will come. Guaranteed.

I did not get good at pull-ups overnight. It took many years and countless reps, and I experienced numerous setbacks along the way.

There wasn’t any magic pill or secret formula, so I just focused on my training and did the work. I still do.

There will never be any other way.


Al Kavadlo is the Lead Instructor for Dragon Door’s Progressive Calisthenics Certification and the author of several best-selling books, including Get Strong, Street Workout and Pushing The Limits! Al has been featured in The New York Times, Men’s Health,, T-Nation, TRAIN magazine and many other publications around the world. To find out more, visit

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PCC Austin 2018 Human Flag

The last time that my brother Al Kavadlo and I rolled into Texas was back in 2015. It was also the last time the Lone Star State had hosted a Progressive Calisthenics Certification. It had been too long…

A lot has happened between then and now. Our latest Dragon Door title (and the only one to provide a definitive 16-week program) GET STRONG went to #1 on the Amazon charts. We also released our “calisthenics encyclopedia” of sorts, Street Workout: A Worldwide Anthology Of Urban Calisthenics.  We’ve been busy!

And speaking of “worldwide”, in addition to the many PCC certifications throughout these great States, we’ve also had the privilege of instructing numerous workshops in Europe, Asia and even Australia. Between then and now, the PCC family has gotten even bigger!

In fact, last week in Austin was very much indeed a family affair… literally!

The father/daughter team of Mark Walker and Julia Harris proved their mettle as they re-certified and certified, respectively. They cheered each other on all weekend and ultimately smashed the Century! Also in attendance was calisthenics-couple Joe and Kristy Agan, who celebrated their 17th wedding anniversary by attending PCC! Happy Anniversary guys—Joe’s first flag (pictured above) is our gift to you!

The father/daughter team of Mark Walker and Julia Harris.

The father/daughter team of Mark Walker and Julia Harris.

There were multiple PR’s over the course of this two-day event. It was truly an amazing thing to behold. The calisthenics killers of Capital City popped pistols, pressed push-ups and muscled-up high. There was even a first time stand-to-stand bridge in the group. There is something about the exquisite energy of a motivated and passionate team that cannot be replicated. It must be felt firsthand.

Al Leading Pushups

At the end of the day, what really made this PCC special was the experience: That feeling of being surrounded by like-minded individuals—us “freaks and geeks” of fitness—training, learning and living life together. That’s where the bonds grow; it’s the magic of calisthenics and community.

There are three more Progressive Calisthenics Certifications scheduled for 2018 in three spectacular cities: New York, Amsterdam and Shanghai. I hope to see you there! If Austin is an indicator, then you don’t want to miss these. HELLYEAH!

Austin PCC Workshop 2018

The posse’s getting bigger,


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