How To Do Your First Pull Up (Or How To Start Something)

I’ll never forget this one day when I was in gym class as a middle school kid:  My class was sitting around this pull up bar, and the phys ed teacher was calling each of us up one by one to do pull ups while he wrote something in a notebook.  In the meantime, all the kids either clapped or laughed hysterically at each other as we all attempted this feat.  Honestly, I think this would qualify as capital punishment these days. But there we all were, sitting and waiting to be marched to the gallows.

Needless to say, I got up there and failed miserably.  Hell, I could barely hang there, let alone even think about pulling my body up.  Add a huge fro, bulletproof glasses (tinted, of course), and a ton of zits and you have a not-so-great-day-in-the-life of little Tony.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and say that this event scarred me for life.  But in retrospect, it did delay training to complete a pull up until 27 years later.  I have attempted a pull up from time to time over the last couple of decades, yet each time I have had the same result as my middle school self (without the zits, but definitely with laughing if friends were around).  Finally, two months ago, I said screw this…I’m going to figure out how to do one pull up, just one, and I can cross this off “the list”.

It’s worth noting at this point that this post is not only about how to do a pull up  (I will show you how I can do 10 at a time now below).  It is mainly about the concept of starting something new.  

As my trombone teacher once told me:

“The hardest part of practicing is taking the horn out of the case”.


If you want to be able to do one pull up, get on a bar every day.  If you want to be a better writer, go sit down and start typing.  Just start.  Make a habit of starting something in particular every day for one week.  Let the rest take care of itself.

This is way easier said than done, of course.  We face resistance from ourselves to even start things we love, let alone new habits that are tough.  Trust me, humbling myself at the pull up bar sucked for the first few days.  It is uncomfortable for us to start something new sometimes, especially since we like being comfortable; even if the comfort is from something bad (junk food, sedentary life, etc.).

Here are some tips on creating a habit of starting something:

  • Dedicate 5 minutes of your day to just getting something started.  5 minutes.  Anyone can do that.  I took 5 minutes to attempt a pull up for the first 3 days.  The 4th day I put a chair under the bar to help support my weight.  On day 7 I bought a resistance band that I hooked up to the bar and executed a bunch of pull ups (obviously easier).  On day 10 I did one pull up by myself.  I dedicated 5 minutes to this every day…5!!  Man was I proud of myself when I did my first one unassisted!
  • Make sure the thing you want to start can be done close to you, preferably without driving.  Having to take a trip can seriously thwart your efforts.
  • Start something with a friend, especially if you have to walk somewhere to start something; have them meet you there.  You don’t want to ditch them, so you are more likely to show up!
  • Start a “watered down” or easier form of a new habit.  Just as I used a chair to assist me with a pull up, you can lace up some shoes and take a 5 minute walk if your goal is to run eventually.  If you want to eat healthier, drink many glasses of water daily while changing nothing else about what you eat for starts.  You will be surprised at the action steps you choose to take after implementing these tiny changes.

If 5 minutes is too much to commit, start something for 1 minute.  Heck, start for 30 seconds!  You can do that, no problem.  If you are a musician like me, do what my teacher said:  Just take the instrument out of the case.  It’s a start!

What type of new habit have you had difficulty starting?  What did you do to get going?

The programs I used to execute my first-ever pull up:

Or check out these sites:

Kayak Lake Mead Blog

Scooby’s Workshop

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