6 Ways to Properly Develop your Pull-up Strength

There are two reasons why I’m writing this article.  First, 89% of people suck at pull-ups…That’s science. Second, I always get asked, “Coach, I hate pull-ups but how can I get good at them?”.  My Gut reaction is to quote Ronnie Coleman: “Aint nothing to it, but to do it”.  But the reality is that the average person needs to develop a strong foundation of strength built throughout the full range of motion before they’ll be able to get their first strict pull-up.

Most people fall into 1 of 2 categories:

  1. Don’t do pull-ups because they suck at it
  2. only do pull-ups when it comes up in your CrossFit Class

If you fall into one of these categories I have good news!!! Bad news first: the only way to get get good at pull-ups is to do pull-ups. Good news: with a specific plan of action designed for you where you are in your pull-up development, you can get to that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel ALOT quicker then you think.

If you read Part 1: Why bands are killing your pull-up, you’ll know why we aren’t the biggest fans of utilizing bands to develop your pull-up.  As such, we utilize other exercises and different modalites to aid in mastering the pull-up. Where you are in your strength development will determine where you start:

  1. Isometrics Holds:  Utilizing a lower bar or a bench/plyobox to safely get into the top position of a pull-up (with your scapula’s safely pinned back in a stable position), hold on as long as you can.
    • Start with 3 sets of 10-20 second hold
  2. Ecccentrics: aka “negatives”, is the lowering portion of the  movement.  Thus, in a pull-up it would be the downward motion away from the bar.  NOTE: DO NOT go to absolute failure as eccentric work has to potential to absolutely crush you!!!
    • Start with 3 sets, of 1 rep lowering for 5 seconds.
  3. Horizontal Pulling:  if a traditional pull-up is considered a vertical pulling movement, then any movement in which you are pulling with your torso (relatively) horizontal to floor would be considered a horizontal pull.  These are great as the intensity (weight) can be adjusted by changing the angle of the torso: The more horizontal = harder.
    •  start with ring rows feet on the ground for 3 sets x 5 reps, progressing to a barbell
  4. Work on your grip strength: Your back muscles are large muscle groups that  can move a large amount of weight.  But for many, the ability of the smaller muscles in the forearm tire and fail much sooner then the larger core-muscles.  In this case, the larger back muscles never truly get a workout as grip strength is the limiting factor!!!  Mix up these accessory works either as a warm up- or finisher for your workouts
    • Farmer carries.
    • Alternate/mix between supinated/pronated grips.
    • Dead hang from a bar.
    • Get a bucket of sand and try to work your hand to the bottom.
  5. BICEP CURLS: Look at all the crossfitters who just closed this window haha.  Whatever your hand position, pull-ups involve ALOT of biceps.  Don’t believe me? Try Cindy and tell me your biceps are swole AF!! haha ….Back to point #4, if the smaller muscles in the arms are developed proportionately, the larger core-muscles are granted the ability to do what they do best!!!
  6. Develop Scapular Strength: the ability to maintain a properly positioned, stable scapula will allow you to generate the necessary torque from core to extremety WITHOUT causing any undue harm/stress on your shoulder and spine!!!
    • Start with scapula shrugs and mix in isometric scapula holds while hanging from a bar.

Don’t be afraid to touch base with one of our coaches on tips, tricks, and fixes.