How Many Pull-Ups Should You Be Able To Do? (Realistic #s)

Pull-ups are the king of back exercises, but not everyone can do them.

So, how many pull-ups should you be able to do? And how many pull-ups are considered good?

This post will teach you what is realistic and how to increase your pull-up strength efficiently.

Let’s get started.

man doing pull-ups - cover image

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Okay, let’s get started.



How Many Pull-Ups Should You Be Able to Do?

If you are a beginner with no training experience, you will likely be unable to do a single pull-up.

However, fit and active men should be able to do at least 4 to 8 pull-ups in one set. Fit and active women should be able to do at least 1 to 3 pull-ups in one set.

Any number above 8 for men and 3 for women is very good.

You are in the highest percentile if you can do 12 to 15 pull-ups or more with good form.

What About by age?

Below is a chart of an average number of pull-ups you might expect to achieve by age, provided you are training consistently.

These numbers are based on my experience of seeing hundreds of people attempting the exercise.

AgeFemale
Beginner
Male
Beginner
Female
Intermediate
Male
Intermediate
Female
Advanced
Male
Advanced
≤1200-11-21-3
13-180-10-21-34-85-812-15
18-400-10-21-38-128-1212-15+
40+0-10-11-28-108+10+

How much of your body weight Do You Lift During a pull-up?

A pull-up lifts close to 100% of your body weight. The only body parts you are not lifting are your hands and forearms.

Therefore, doing pull-ups will be much more challenging if you are overweight.

How long does it take An average person to do a pull-up?

An average person with a normal body mass index (BMI) will likely be able to do a pull-up within four to twelve weeks of consistent strength training.

If you are overweight, it might take you longer.

Is Just Doing Pull-ups Enough For A Workout?

Pull-ups are a great way to work out your upper body and back muscles, but they’re not the only exercise you should be doing.

A well-rounded workout routine should include a variety of exercises that target all the major muscle groups in the body.

With that said, it also depends on your goals.

If you’re looking to build muscle and total body strength, you should also include horizontal pulling movementspushing exercises, and lower body exercises.

However, if you’re merely looking to maintain some level of fitness in your upper body, something is always better than nothing.

How many pull-ups should you do To Have A Good workout?

You should aim to do at least three sets of however many pull-ups you can do with good form.

For an intermediate lifter, performing sets of five to eight pull-ups per set will be an ideal number of repetitions.

I recommend training the movement approximately two times per week.

How Do I Get Stronger at The Pull-Up?

There are many ways to improve your pull-up strength.

The three most common reasons for not being able to do a pull-up include:

  • Inadequate grip strength
  • Inadequate scapular strength
  • Inadequate upper back strength

You can improve your grip strength by training the dead hang.

This exercise will make you comfortable in the starting position of a pull-up while strengthening some of the muscles involved.

The second exercise to get good at is scapular pull-ups.

In this movement, you pull yourself up by bringing your shoulder blades together. This effective exercise will strengthen the upper back muscles that initiate the pull.

Thirdly, you can train negative pull-ups (aka eccentric pull-ups).

In this exercise, you perform the exercise in reverse, overloading your arm and back muscles with your entire body weight.

Last but not least, you can also do assisted pull ups using a resistance band.

A resistance band will allow you to perform a full range of motion pull-up using the assistance of a band.

I show you how in my post on the best resistance band exercises.

Bonus: The lat pulldown machine

Lat pulldowns are an exercise that replicates the same movement as the pull-up, targeting the same muscles from a seated position.


If you want a comprehensive workout program that helps you achieve your first pull-up and train the rest of your body using just your body weight, check out my Home Workout Program For Busy Professionals.

home-workout-program cover

Each workout lasts just 20-30 minutes and consists of four levels based on your fitness level.

Other Related Questions

What are the primary muscles worked during a pull-up?

The pull-up is a compound exercise. It strengthens many muscle groups simultaneously, including:

  • Latissimus Dorsi
  • Rhomboids
  • Posterior Deltoids
  • Mid and Lower Trapezius
  • Biceps Brachii
  • Forearms/Grip

There aren’t many other exercises that train this many muscle groups using just your own body weight!

Can pull-ups get you ripped?

Pull-ups can increase muscle tone in your upper back, latissimus dorsi, rear deltoids, and biceps.

However, the best way to benefit from the pull-up is to incorporate it into a full-body strength program.

Will pull-ups give you abs?

If you do pull-ups correctly (with your pelvis posteriorly tilted and abs engaged), they will activate your core muscles. In addition, you can activate your abs even more by doing L-sit pull-ups.

l-sit-exercise

How Many Pull-ups Should You Do A Day?

In general, you should never train the same exercise every day. You should only train the pull-up no more than two to three times per week.

Anywhere from 15 to 24 pull-ups per workout is a good number to shoot for.

Are Chin-Ups Easier Than Pull-ups?

The difference between a pull-up and a chin-up is the orientation of your grip. Pull-ups involve a pronated grip (overhand grip, palms facing away from you), while chin-ups use a supinated grip (underhand grip, palms facing you).

Chin-ups are easier than pull-ups because:

  • The supinated grip keeps your arms in external rotation, which is more comfortable for the shoulders, and
  • the chin-up recruits the bicep muscles more, which increases the number of muscles available to pull yourself up with.

Is 20 pull-ups a lot?

Yes, 20 strict pull-ups with proper form is a lot! The vast majority of people cannot do that many pull-ups.

Final Words

The pull-up is one of the best exercises of all time. If you can’t do a pull-up, don’t be discouraged – many people can’t.

They are a lot harder than they look.

How quickly you can do full pull-ups will depend on your weight, fitness level, and dedication to improving your upper body strength.

Now I want to hear from you.

How many pull-ups can you do?

How long did it take you to get your first one?

Comment below and let me know!

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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM Certified Personal Trainers, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a resource dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals using time-efficient strategies. Their advice has been featured in My Fitness Pal, Prevention, Livestrong, Reader’s Digest, Bustle, The Active Times, and more. Learn more about them here.