I remember a while back in my days at globo-gyms, walking up to the pull-up bar, hitting 3 or 4 strict pull-ups, and think to myself, “This sucks!” and I would then stop.
It’s not that I was thinking pull-ups suck; it’s that I sucked at them and I had no plan on how to get better at them. Not having a plan on how to attack pull-ups and then doing them on occasion was the reason I was terrible at them.
If the above sounds like you, keep reading, because by including a pull-up routine in your normal workout you will develop incredible upper body strength. Don’t believe me, look at any gymnast and how they can maneuver their body weight. They’re all able to perform strict pull-ups on command.
If you need help hitting your first pull-up or just need to hit more pull-ups to become stronger in general, you can use the following assistance work to get you there.
Barbell or Ring Rows
If you are incapable of holding yourself from a pull-up bar this should be your first step as you can determine by body placement how easy or hard you want to make the row. This will get you accustomed to pulling your body weight up. The end-goal is to be able to perform a set of 10 barbell/ring rows before moving on to negatives.
As shown in the video, the barbell and rings are slightly above waist height and my feet are resting on the ground. I slowly raise myself up and lower myself down while my body maintains a straight line.
Start with 5 sets of 5 with a barbell or ring level you can best handle and work your way week-to-week to 5 sets of 10. The more horizontal your body lies, the more difficult the exercise becomes.
Holds are great for building grip strength and for working those sticking points in the pull-up. Start by standing under a pull-up bar and either jump or raise your hands to grab the bar.
How long can you hold yourself at this position? Can you make it 30 seconds? This should be your goal.
If you can’t yet hold yourself in a dead hang position for 30 seconds break your hangs into intervals using sets of 3 for 10 seconds or 6 sets of 5 seconds. Decrease the number of sets you perform each week to where you end up in a 30 second dead hang hold.
Need a tougher challenge, raise yourself up to the top of the bar and hang at sticking points along the way.
Negative pull-ups only include the lowering phase or eccentric portion of the pull-up. The key is to lower yourself in a controlled manner to get the most out of this exercise. The reason this works is because it’s much easier to lower yourself by slowly working with gravity than by fighting against gravity to try and pull yourself up.
You will need a box or a chair to allow you to stand up to where your chin is over the bar. You will then get in pull-up position; palms facing outward while gripping the bar and then slowly lower yourself down. Make sure you are engaging your lats by trying to keep your elbows in.
The idea is to perform this if you have yet to master a pull-up. To get you there, first determine how long you can hold a negative. Once you do so, perform the following 3 times a week:
* 8×1 Negatives at a pace of 5 seconds faster than your initial test. Ex: If you can perform a negative for 10 seconds you will do 8 negatives at 5 seconds with 1 minute rest in between.
* Each week you will increase your negative hold by 1 second so that by the 5th week you are doing your max hold 8 times over. You will then rest 2 days and come back and perform a max negative.
I know this seems like a long time (5 weeks) to get through some negatives but the time will fly by and it’s an easy thing to include as part of your warm-up before a workout. Just get to the gym 10 minutes earlier.
What About Bands?
Do bands help get you your first pullup? I don’t agree with using bands to help you get your first strict pullup as it does nothing to develop the strength needed to master the pull-up.
After all, how many individuals have you seen easily do banded pull-ups but can’t do one strict pull-up? Reason is that bands take the load off the hardest portion of the pull-up, the bottom.
Also, momentum is created from the tension of the band which does nothing for you when trying to hit a strict pullup. If you can’t hit a strict pullup you are better off doing timed holds and negatives.
Using bands in a WOD is a different animal as it will help with metabolic conditioning but it does very little to help you tackle the strict pull-up.
However, for WOD purposes, bands do give you a scalable option based on the diamater of the band. So, if you’re in a WOD, go ahead, use bands. Otherwise, stay away.
NOTE: If you’re using bands in a WOD, absolutely no kipping. I mean, get real. You’re already using a band, kipping on a band isn’t going to make you a better athlete.
It’ll just make you stupid as you either A) slap your head up against the pull-up bar from all the momentum you are creating, or B) the band slides off your foot and smacks you dead in your sensitive areas. Yeah, good luck.
Hopefully these tips will help you master your first, fifth, or 10th pull-up. Above all else, put in the work and enjoy the process. Best of luck.
Until next time…Stay Jacked, Stay Strong.