Jeff Cavaliere of Athlean-X™ can do 20 pull-ups in one set, and he thinks that you should be able to, as well. This may sound unbelievable if you are overweight or a novice in the gym, but the key to adding more pull-ups to your routine is one word: “progression.” If you begin doing pull-ups at the level appropriate to you, you can start adding a lot more of them to your workout routine and reap the benefits of this versatile exercise, which works not only your back, but your arms, fore-arms, and core. In fact, exercises like pull-ups are commonly called compound movements, because they work many muscles at once throughout the body, and these movements are especially important for anyone who is just starting out in the gym and would like to begin making gains.

How to make pull-ups easier

So what is Jeff’s secret? First, you should find a bar at about neck height. Next, hold the bar and lean back – the angle that you choose will depend on your level. If you are just beginning, you want to be more aligned with the bar. As you become more advanced, you want to increase the angle – after all, the greater the angle, the more work you will have to do to pull up your weight. And conversely, the smaller the angle, the easier each rep will be.

In either case, you will gradually pull yourself up towards the bar. Jeff recommends that you keep your elbows wide and engage your core. The more you engage all the muscles involved in the movement, the more reps you will be able to do – and the more you will reap the benefits.

Continuing with your progression, switch to using only one arm. Jeff cautions not to twist your body as you come up and to keep your forearm engaged so that your hand does not touch your chest at the end of the rep.

Working up to the one arm inverted row

If you have mastered this progression, which is called a “one arm Inverted Row,” you are ready for full-on pull-ups.

Continue applying the same principles: tighten your quads to keep your legs from swinging, squeeze your buttocks, engage your core, and pull. This helps to control the movement as you go up and down so that you can focus your full energy on lifting and lowering – and the more energy you have to focus, the more reps you’ll get.

If you follow Jeff’s advice, you too can start doing more pull-ups. With the right workout program and proper nutrition, you will be on your way to great gains in the gym. Just be careful not to overdo it -- according to the American Council of Exercise, if done incorrectly, pull-ups may put unhealthy stress on your shoulders. As always, if you feel pain after doing this exercise, you should rest and make sure you are using the proper form.