You are looking to lose some fat and hoping that pull ups will help. Pull ups are a great compound-movement, upper-body exercise and are good for many things, but are pull ups good for fat loss?
Pull ups alone are not good for fat loss. Fat loss requires a calorie deficit. There are about 3,500 calories in 1 lb. of body fat. You only burn about 1 calorie per pull up. While pull ups can help, fat loss requires much more than just pull ups.
In good news, pull ups can (and should!) be used as part of an effective fat loss program. Let’s find out how you can use pull ups to help you burn some body fat.
Why Pull Ups Alone Are NOT Good for Fat Loss
To lose fat, you need to be in a negative calorie deficit.
To be in a negative calorie deficit, you need to use more energy than you consume over time. You may already be familiar with this saying:
Fat Loss = calories in vs. calories out
In many ways, fat loss really is that simple so long as you are generally healthy.
Pull ups, however, are not an efficient form of consuming energy or burning calories. In fact, each pull up you perform will only burn about 1 calorie. On top of that, pull ups are difficult to perform. If you are already overweight, you may only be able to do a few repetitions at a time. You might not be able to do them at all.
You might feel great completing 10 pull ups, but you only burned about 10 calories. To put that in perspective, 1 lb. of fat is about 3,500 calories.
Clearly, pull ups alone are not enough.
How Many Pull Ups Would You Need to Do to Burn Fat?
Assuming the following:
- 1 lb. of fat equals 3,500 calories
- you burn 1 calorie per pull up
- you start training pull ups 7 days a week
- your diet does not change
- the rest of your physical activity does not change
- you are a healthy person
With these assumptions, this chart shows how many pull ups you would need to do each day per week (without rest days) to achieve your desired fat loss goals:
|Fat Loss Per Week (Lbs.)
|# Pull Ups Per Day
That’s a lot of pull ups! Even at 125 pull ups per day, every day, you would only lose about 0.25 lbs. of fat per week.
I challenge you to even be able to do 125 pull ups per day!
How to Include Pull Ups into Your Fat Loss Routine
A healthy, maintainable fat loss goal is between 1-2 lbs. per week. To achieve this, you will need to be in a negative calorie deficit of between 500 to 1,000 calories per day.
That best way to do this is with proper nutrition and a well-rounded workout plan.
With respect to working out, the best exercises to focus on are compound-movements. Compound movements work multiple muscle groups at the same time, giving you more bang-for-your-buck.
Five excellent compound movements to include into your routine are:
- Deadlifts – 1x per week
- Squats – 2x per week
- Bench Press – 2-3x per week
- Shoulder Press – 2x per week
- Pull Ups – 2-3x per week.
Other important types of training include:
- Cardiovascular Training – not only does it support a strong heart and lungs, it also helps burn calories.
- Flexibility Training – before and after every workout. It can include stretching and foam rolling.
- Core Training – a stable, strong core makes everything better
- Balance Training – improves posture, helps prevent falls and injury, and so much more…
On top of that, you can simply increase your NEAT, which is short for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. This includes all of you daily activity which is not sleep or dedicated exercise. Increasing your NEAT, and generally being more active, is a great way to burn more calories. Some examples include:
- Walk, don’t drive
- Take the stairs, not the elevator
- Walk, don’t sit, during your lunch break
- Do a few pull ups on your doorframe pull up bar every time you walk in and out of a room!
Even with all of this training, which includes pull ups, your nutrition is still the most important part of your fat loss plan, not the number of pull ups you do each day.
Use an online calorie calculator, like this one from Calculator.net, to get an estimate of how many calories you need each day to lose weight.
No matter how hard you train, pull ups or no pull ups, you cannot out-train a bad diet!
WARNING: Why You Might GAIN Fat Doing Pull Ups
People have a tendency to do two things:
- We overestimate how hard we work.
- We underestimate how much we eat.
Now, add to that a phenomenon which occurs after we train… we feel like we need (or deserve) to eat more.
We overestimate how hard we work. We underestimate how much we eat.
Let’s say you happened to do 100 extra pull ups beyond what you normally do each day. Then, you reward yourself by eating an extra protein shake followed by some bread with peanut butter as a well-deserved post workout treat.
Well, you probably just consumed 300 calories, if not much more. That puts you in a 200 calorie per day surplus. That adds up to about 2 extra pounds of fat gain per month, not fat loss.
And yet you thought you were doing the right thing!
Tips for Burning Fat with Pull Ups
You still want to burn fat, and you still want to do pull ups.
Great! Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your training:
- Focus on lower weight and higher repetition pull ups! This will allow you to burn more calories as you are getting more reps in over time.
- Use assisted pull ups bands! Regardless of your level, but especially if you are a beginner, these bands take some of the weight off and allow you to perform more repetitions. This extra volume helps with weight loss, not just building strength and/or muscle mass.
- Don’t over-eat after your workout! Stuffing your face after a workout will cause you to gain weight, not lose it. It might help you to get bigger and stronger, but it won’t help with burning fat.
- Focus on your nutrition! You have the most control in achieving your negative calorie deficit goal per day by controlling your diet. Put as much, if not more, time on your meal plan as you do on your training plan.
- Have a well-balanced training routine! Make sure that pull ups are a part of your training, not your only form of training.
Pull Ups: My Current Obsession
I did my first unassisted pull up at 34 years old. Better late than never! And I am just getting started…
I am on a mission to improve my pull ups this entire year. In fact, I went from 1 to 4 pull ups in my very first month of training. That’s a 300% improvement in one month. You can read all about it here: My Pullups Improved 300% in 30 Days (How I Did It)
You can also follow my progress on my Jack Clancy YouTube Channel. Check out my first month results right now:
PRO TIP: Watching this video and hitting the like button will allow you to do one extra pull up and will burn two extra calories!