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Pull-up Progressions: Getting There, The Right Way


Pull-up Progressions: Getting There, The Right Way

One of the most exciting accomplishments an athlete can achieve in their Crossfit journey is the pull-up. We watch, with awe, as the pros string together tons of butterfly pull-ups at competitions and hope for the day when we are there. My goal in this article is to outline for you a structured template to help you get there safely. It is important to understand that the shoulder joint is sensitive and can be easily injured if its structures (rhomboids, delts, lats) are not adequately developed. This is why I recommend to all my athletes that they work towards achieving 1-3 strict pull ups prior to practicing multiple kipping pull-ups. I have developed the following template with this in mind. Much of my recommendations are based on the research and expertise of Coach Chris Stroud, as well as my former coach in California Colin Jenkins, an accomplished Regionals athlete. These practice sessions are intended to be done in warm up before and/or cool down after your regularly scheduled WOD.

Before you begin, please be sure there are no orthopedic issues that will inhibit the ranges of motion necessary for these movements. Talk to your coaches if you are unsure. And finally, this may seem like a lot to get done in a week on top of your regular workout. But spending any time at all with any of these strategies can help you have a stronger pull-up. So please, don’t let it overwhelm you.

Phase 1: Current ability is 0 strict pull-ups. The goal of Phase 1 is to achieve 1 strict pull-up by strengthening the structures in the shoulder, primarily lats and rhomboids. You can move to Phase 2 once you can do 3 strict pull-ups in one minute (broken).

Warm up:
Day 1: 5×5 self assisted pull-ups. (feet on box or bench. Trying to limit help from legs)
Day 2: One negative pull-up EMOM for 5-8 minutes (can increase volume within minute as you see fit)
Day 3: 3 sets of 5-8 3-count ring rows. Slowly count to 3 as you pull your self up and slowly count to 3 as you lower your self down.

Cool Down:
Day 1: Accumulate 25 ring rows (Increase volume 3-5 reps per week until phase 2) increasing difficulty.
Day 2: 3 sets of 8-12 barbell bent over rows
Day 3: 5×5 self-assisted pull-ups (feet on box or bench. Trying to limit help from legs)

Do this each week until you achieve 1 strict pull-up, then start doing as many as you can in one minute EMOM style for 5-8 minutes. Once you get 3 in one minute, go to phase 2.

Phase 2: Current ability is one strict pull-up like a boss. The goal of Phase 2 is to achieve 5 strict pull-ups unbroken (no kip!) Focus is on strength in the hollow rock position and to increase volume of pull-ups each week.

Warm up:
Day 1: EMOM 1-3 strict pull-ups for 5 minutes. Increasing volume each week as you see fit.
Day 2: Tabata kip swings or kipping pull ups. Increasing volume each week.
Day 3: Kip swing practice. Focus on hollow rock core position in the hang. With each kip swing, try to get more “air” by aggressively squeezing the glutes.

Cool Down:
Day 1: Accumulate 20 hollow rocks. Add 3-5 each week.
Day 2: 3×1 strict pull-up with 4 count negative descent (after you pull yourself to the top, take 4 seconds to lower yourself back down)
Day 3: Kip swing practice. Focus on hollow rock core position and active shoulders when hanging from the bar. Try to get more “air” with each kip by aggressively squeezing the glutes.

One you can get 5 strict pull-ups unbroken, and your kip is efficient you can begin practicing multiple kipping pull-ups. Stay tuned for Phase 3!

5 Responses

  1. Jennifer Sargent

    I notice that this doesn’t mention using bands? I’ve also noticed more of our coaches suggesting not using bands. What’s the scoop on whether they help get to strict pull ups?

    1. Anna Dooley

      Hey Jennifer! Bands are a great tool to have in your pull-up arsenal. The downside to bands is that they help you more at the bottom of the pull-up and less at the top. They can be great to use in workouts because you can move through your pull-ups quickly, but as a strength building tool (like when you are working on pull-ups before or after class), the progressions listed here are going to serve you better.

      Does that help answer your question?

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