The pull-up: it’s been called the king of upper body exercises, and for good reason. It’s unrivaled for building upper body strength. But for such a seemingly simple movement it can be very elusive to those struggling to get their first one.
Just to be clear, for the purpose of this article when we say “pull-up” we’re talking about the strict variety. Kipping pull-ups should only be utilized after the strength foundation has been laid down by mastering strict pull-ups first.
There are 4 basic rules to getting your first pull-up. Here they are:
1. Nutrition. This is the number one factor. If you lose 5 pounds of body fat and maintain your current level of strength, getting your first pull-up will be that much easier. It’s pretty common to see folks do a nutrition challenge only to find out they can crank out a few strict pull-ups, a feat they were unable to do before. Dial it in!
2. Variety. Too often we get stuck doing the same things. When pull-ups come up in the WOD we grab our trusty green band and bounce our way through 30 reps. Change it up! There are more than just bands and ring rows! More on that to follow.
3. Consistency. This is one I learned as a young Marine. On every Marine Corps base there is a pull-up bar outside of the chow hall. It’s an unspoken rule that you crank out a max set before entering for your meal and another max set upon leaving. That’s a minimum of 6 sets a day… do the math and the average jarhead is cranking out between 60-100 reps of strict pull-ups a day! Moral of the story… if this movement is a weakness and you’re only doing them when they come up in the WOD (once a week), it’s time to start putting in the work.
4. Wide grip (wider than your shoulders)and palms out. The lions share of your pull-ups should be done this way. Many people use a grip that is too narrow, simply because it feels easier. And it is… the problem is it’s going to be harder to build strength that way. Narrow grip pull-ups focus on the smaller muscles of the arms, while a wider grip will utilize the larger back muscles. When most people switch to a wider grip their pull-up numbers drop initially, only to increase later on. Think 1 step back and 3 steps forward.
So now that we know the basics of getting our first pull-up, how do we implement them? Below is a 3 day per week program you can follow, to be done before or after the WOD. If the days training already has pull-ups in it, skip it that day. These sessions should take less that 10-12 minutes.
Max set seated pull-ups (keep your hips behind the bar, it’s not a ring row!)
Then, 5 sets at 50% of your max
1 minute chin over bar hold
Then, 3x20L/20R Single Arm Bent Over DB Row (heavy!)
25 negative pull-ups (4 count negative)
Do this program for 5 weeks, then take a week off. Resume the program after the back off week, and add some reps and weight. Or, mix it up a bit with some other movements. If you need ideas for this, talk to your coaches!
Now get on that pull-up bar!