How to Do a Pull Up When You’re Fat


in Questions last updated September 2022

how to do a pull up when you're fat

As someone who has carried a little extra weight their entire life, something I always dreaded was those standardized tests that involved tasks like running a mile and doing a dreaded pull up.

Let’s be honest. When you weigh more, you need more upper body strength to support your weight and get your chin up over that bar. Fortunately, even if you haven’t been able to do it yet, it’s something that you are 100% capable of with a little bit of training.

So, are you ready to get into how to do a pull up when you’re fat?

Traditional pull ups require a lot of upper body strength, especially when you’re overweight. For people who are just getting started, techniques like inverted pull ups or banded pull ups provide that little bit of extra support you need to do the pull up even when you don’t have the upper body strength just yet.  

Below, I’ll break down how to do banded pull ups and inverted pull ups. I’ll also get into the proper form for a traditional style push up when you’re ready to try it and answer some questions you might have.

How to Do a Pull Up When You’re Fat

Honestly, the best way to do one of those standard pull ups that I’m really not fond of from my school years is to work your way up to it over time. There are a lot of people who struggle with the more traditional pull up or chin up and it has a lot more to do with upper body strength than your weight.

Pulling the weight of your entire body from the ground and up over the bar is hard, especially when you’re overweight. Plus, while people who are overweight can be stronger when it comes to lifting than the average person, they’re more likely to build muscle in their lower body.

That being said, one of the best ways to do a pull up as a bigger man or woman is to build the muscle groups involved in a pull up and work your way up to it over time. Two ways you can do this include by doing inverted rows or by doing banded pull ups. I’ll get into how to do each of these next.

How to Do Inverted Rows

The major benefit of the inverted pull up is that you aren’t supporting your entire weight, but you are supporting enough of your weight that it works the muscles in your shoulders and upper back. Inverted pull ups also allow you to work the upper back and glutes without straining the lower back, which makes them a great choice for people who struggle with back pain.

To do an inverted pull up, you’ll need a pull up bar that sits about the height of your waist. You’re going to lie facing upward with your heels on the floor and your shoulders positioned right under the bar.

You can use an underhanded or overhanded grip when doing an inverted pull up. It really depends on how comfortable you are and which muscle groups you’re trying to work.

Underhand pull ups are considered easier because they require strength in the biceps, which is the larger group of muscles at the top of your arm. To do an underhanded pull up, you’ll position your hands about shoulder width apart with your wrists up toward the ceiling.

If you want to work your laterals or are looking for a challenge, you can also try an overhand or prone pull up. To do this, you position your hands so that your wrists are toward the floor. Your grip should be slightly wider than your shoulder length. Here’s a closer look at underhand vs. overhand pull ups.

As you get better at doing inverted pull ups, you can also increase the resistance and challenge yourself by positioning your legs on a block or bench. The less of an incline your body is at, the more work it is going to take to do a pull up. You could also wear a weighted vest.

How to Do Banded Pull Ups

Banded pull ups are another great alternative to the more traditional chin up or pull up. To do these, you’ll use a resistance band to give yourself that extra bit of support you need so you aren’t starting with the weight of your entire body.

To start, you’ll need to find the right resistant band. It needs to be long enough for your height, but it also needs to be short enough that it isn’t doing all the work for you. You’ll find that the strength of the resistance band matters, especially when you’re a little heavier because a resistant band that stretches too much isn’t going to work.

Once you have a resistance band, you’re going to place your foot in it for added support as you pull yourself up to the bar. Some people also use a resistance band on either side of them.

Alternatively, you can opt for a shorter resistance band and place your knee instead. As you continue to progress in your pull ups, you should be able to use a thinner band with less resistance. The ideal goal is that over time, you won’t need this band at all.

Working Up to a Traditional Pull Up

The more that you work on building up the muscles in your arms and back, the closer you’ll be to doing a traditional pull up or chin up. The exercises mentioned already help increase the muscles in your arms, upper body, and back.

Like when learning to do something like jumping rope, paddleboarding, swimming, or any other type of physical activity, there is a learning curve when you’re overweight. Basically, this means that you may not be able to excel at the exercise right away, but it is easy enough to build up the muscles you need for the activity over time.

Something else that is going to help is improving your ability to grip the bar. Even the muscles in your hands play a role in how effectively you can do pull ups. To work on strengthening your grip, all you have to do is grab onto the bar and lift your feet, without trying to pull yourself up.

You can do an underhanded or overhanded grip depending on what is most comfortable and which muscle groups you want to work. However, underhanded usually works better when you’re starting out because it’s the easier grip to use for pull ups. You can work up to an overhanded grip later.

You can also work up to a traditional pull up by trying other exercises that work the muscles in the upper body and back. We’ll go over a few of these exercises at the end of the article.

What Are Some of the Benefits of Pull Ups?

A pull up is one of the most strenuous exercises for the upper body, however, it is also a great work out for the same reason. Pull ups belong to a group of exercises called calisthenics. Basically, calisthenics are exercises that use the weight of your body to workout with little to no equipment, like a push up, pull up, sit up, or even a squat.

The obvious challenge that comes with doing calisthenics when you’re overweight is that you have more body weight than the average person, so you physically are working out with more weight. This is the reason it’s important to build up the strength over time, to avoid straining yourself too much or injury.

Some of the benefits of doing pull ups include better hand grip, improved strength in the hands, arms, back, and shoulders, and better strength and fitness overall. Regular exercise and movement also improves flexibility.

Of course, like any type of exercise, there are also benefits for your mental health. One 2010 study found a link between reduced levels of anxiety, stress, and depression, as well as a greater sense of well-being resulting from regular strength training.

What Other Exercises Work the Upper Body Muscles?

In addition to inverted rows, banded pull ups, and traditional pull ups, there are tons of exercises that work your upper body muscles. By doing any combination of these, you’ll build the strength to do pull ups over time.

Some easy exercises that work your upper body muscles include seated dips, ring rows, push ups, and bent over rows. Any type of strength training is also beneficial to these muscle groups. You can lift dumbbells while standing, sitting, or laying down and bench pressing can also help.

If you aren’t sure about these types of exercises, heading to your local gym and trying out the equipment could help. Using equipment gives you a great range of exercises you can do and it’s a plus that it’s not taking up a lot of space at home if you don’t have the extra room.

Final Word

When it comes to how to do a pull up when you’re fat, the best thing you can do is work up to it. Pull ups are hard regardless of a person’s size, particularly if they don’t work out regularly or have a lot of upper body strength.

That being said, there’s no reason not to try inverted pull ups, banded pull ups, or other upper body exercises to help build strength until you are ready to do a chin up on your own. Best of luck!

Camila R.

Camila is a body positive blogger and fat activist that's focused on helping people of all sizes live life big! That means accepting yourself at any size and just enjoying life! She lives in New Mexico with her husband and two chihauhuas.

Recent Posts