The strict pull-up is, without question, one of the best functional movements you can do. Done correctly pull-ups strengthen your core, your arms (especially your forearms and biceps), your shoulders, and your back.
But, as you may already know, strict pull-ups aren’t easy to do. In fact, they’re down right hard. So, in this article I’d like to offer some practical tips for how to get that first strict pull-up. And, if you can already do a few strict pull-ups these tips will hopefully help you get even more!
The first tip is pretty straight forward… lose weight! The more you weigh the more you have to pull. And if you don’t think 5 to 10 extra pounds make a difference go ahead and hang a 10-pound weight around your waste and attempt a pull-up. It’s MUCH harder.
We’ve covered nutrition many times before but, to summarize, we suggest eating grass-fed meat, fresh veggies, and good fats like avocado. We also suggest avoiding processed sugar the same way you avoid rat poison.
Hang From Bar With Active Shoulders (Dead Hangs)
Once you’re focused on losing weight it’s time to head to the bar for some pull-up progressions.
First, try hanging from a pull-up bar with active shoulders. In other words, ensure your shoulders aren’t limp and disengaged. Instead, engage your shoulders and hang from the bar.
Here’s a progression you could experiment with.
- See how long you can hang from the bar with active shoulders. Let’s say, for example, you’re able to hang for 50 seconds.
- Once you know your “max” cut that time in half, so in our example this would be 25 seconds, and do 3 to 5 sets of those. In other words, you would hang from the bar with active shoulders across 3 to 5 sets of 25 seconds per set. Rest for 30 to 60 seconds between sets.
- Do this 2 to 3 times per week.
Hold at Top
Another technique worth trying is holding at the top.
Now, if you’re not able to do a pull-up you may need help getting to the top. Try standing on a box, or chair, and jump up to the bar while pulling. This should help you get to the top. If that doesn’t work ask someone to spot you and help you get to the top.
Once you get to the top, meaning your chin is above the bar, hold yourself there as long as you can.
You can do the exact same progression we described in the bar hanging section. Find your max, take 50% of that, and do 3 to 5 sets of these holds above the bar resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets. You can also work on these 2 to 3 times per week.
The last movement I’d encourage you to try are negative pull-ups. For these you’ll need to get to the top of the bar with assistance… then hang out at the top for a second or two… then slowly allow gravity to bring you back down. If possible, do a 4 to 5 second count on your way down.
This lowering phase, called the eccentric portion, is really important to work on and will definitely help you get that first strict pull-up!
Try to do 3 to 5 sets of these a few times each week.
What About Bands?
Finally, I’d like to address the use of bands, which make doing pull-ups much easier since you’re basically standing on a giant rubber band and allowing it to pop you up.
There’s conflicting information out there related to the use of bands… some suggest using them when first learning to do pull-ups while others strongly encourage you to avoid them since they’re very easy to get hooked on.
I was recently in a large CrossFit box and learned they threw most of their pull-up bands away since folks were using them for years and still unable to do a strict pull-up. The few bands they kept are only used for mobility exercises.
So, my suggestion is to first give it an honest go without bands. Try the three different movements described above a few times per week for at least 2 months while also losing some weight. I’d be very surprised, even shocked, if you’re not able to do a strict pull-up by the end.
Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups (and pull-ups)!