If you’re looking to add width and thickness to your lats, good old-fashioned pull ups are one of the best exercises you can perform.

Unfortunately, many people who are just starting out aren’t quite strong enough yet and can’t do pull ups using their own bodyweight.

Because pull ups are such an effective exercise for stimulating growth in the lats and biceps, I would strongly recommend that you immediately begin taking steps towards correcting this.

For a solid, long term muscle-building program, pull ups really should be included in your back routines.

The quickest and simplest solution is to use an assisted pull up machine.

This machine allows you to place your knees on a pad and change the resistance up and down in order to vary the difficulty of the exercise.

If your gym has one of these assisted pull up machines then you’re already set to go. Simply start with a level of resistance that allows you to perform at least 5-6 reps in proper form and focus on progressing onward from that point.

Write down the resistance that you used and how many reps you performed, and aim to improve upon those numbers in the following week.

As you progress further and further you’ll eventually reach a point where you no longer require assistance from the machine and can perform pull ups using your own bodyweight on a regular bar. (And of course, as your bodyweight becomes too light you will need to begin adding resistance with a dumbbell or weight belt).

Now, I understand that not everyone has access to an assisted pull up machine, and for those of you who don’t the process will be a bit different.

If you don’t have access to this machine, the road to bodyweight pull ups will be paved through a combination of lat pulldowns and eccentric-only training.

The first thing you should focus on if you can’t do pull ups is the lat pulldown movement.

Ideally you should perform this using a traditional lat pulldown machine with a straight bar attachment. Grip the bar overhand about 6-8 inches outside of shoulder width. This movement essentially simulates the pull up, except that you’ll be pulling the resistance downward instead of pulling your body upward.

Until you can perform pull ups with your bodyweight, the overhand lat pulldown will be used instead.

Your goal of course is to make continual gains in strength by increasing the amount of weight you can pull down and the number of reps you can perform. Increasing your strength on the lat pulldown will assist you in building your pull up strength.

After you’ve performed your lat pulldowns, you’ll move on to your eccentric-only training.

The “eccentric” is another word for the negative phase of an exercise. In this case, we’re referring to the lowering phase of the pull up.

If you can’t do pull ups in a positive fashion, the only other option is to do pull ups in a negative fashion. The body is actually about 2.5 times stronger on the eccentric phase, and many studies have revealed that more muscular damage actually occurs on this phase as opposed to the positive.

By performing negative-only pull ups, you’ll actually be building up a significant amount of strength that will eventually allow you to chin yourself positively.

The way to perform these is simple: jump yourself up into the starting position where your chin is over the bar (it will probably be helpful to use a platform for this), and then lower yourself very slowly back down.

I would recommend doing 2-3 sets of “negative-only” pull ups of about 5-7 reps each. Keep the lowering phase slow and under control and aim to lower yourself in about 4-6 seconds.

Try to make it a bit harder each week by either increasing the reps, increasing the lowering time, or adding resistance with a weightbelt or dumbbell.

After a few weeks of lat pulldowns and negative-only pull ups, you should start to see your strength increase signficantly. Continue with this process until you can perform at least 4 positive reps using your own bodyweight, and then simply aim to progress forward from there.

If you currently can’t do pull ups, the advice outlined here will help tremendously.

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