What are we going to do?
This post serves as a programming template for progressing towards strict Pull-Ups. The goal is to develop the upper body strength required to perform a single strict Pull-Up and then increase the capacity to complete multiple repetitions. As always with gymnastics movements we want to develop a strong base and ability to perform the movement in a strict manner before progressing to anything involving momentum and inertia (kipping/butterfly.) We recommend that the gentlemen be able to perform 6 strict Pull-Ups and the ladies 3 prior to progressing to any kipping movements.
Everything here shall be performed for quality and throughout the full range of motion. There are many little ways to ‘cheat’ a gymnastic movement and in the end you’re only cheating yourself. Be anal about your virtuosity and scale appropriately to your ability level. It’s a bit of an art form to scale to a level that you can perform with good technique while also adequately challenging yourself. Keeping a workout log will really help to dial this in.
Why can’t you do a Pull-Up? CrossFit Invictus went into detail about it here – but I liked how one of the commenters summed it up best. Either you’re too weak, you’re too broke, or you’re too fat; or perhaps any combo of the three. Do you just need to develop the strength? Then this program will be great for you. Do you have an injury that’s holding you back? Now is the time to focus on recovery. Injuries don’t necessarily mean that you can’t work out – but you need to be smarter about it and avoid anything that aggravates the issue. Are you too fat? It may be an uncouth way to address the topic, but from personal experience this makes a huge difference! You can’t outwork a bad diet in the gym. If you’re having troubles with this join us next month for the Whole Life Challenge, which can be an immense help to evolve some healthier habits.
How are we going to do it?
We’re looking to develop absolute strength here so we’ll keep most things in the 3-5 sets/reps range. We get stronger by recovering from a stress (working out) not from the stress itself. It’s imperative to follow this cycle if you want to get your Pull-Ups. Something like a 30-day challenge of ‘x’ Pull-Ups per day is a great way to break down the musculature that you’re trying to build up. So we’re going to aim for a 1-day work, 1-day rest ratio. Don’t worry if you don’t hit this exactly, but just keep in mind the basic concept that working out + recovery = getting stronger.
What do we want to avoid? Many of the standard CrossFit scaling methods for Pull-Ups actual hinder your progress in the long run. Banded Pull-Ups give you the most assistance at the hardest part of the movement (the bottom part of the pull.) Keep this in mind when you see Lat Actives programmed and how difficult they can be. Jumping Pull-Ups have very similar limitations as well. These variations can be great for getting the heart rate up in a metcon – but will limit your progress to a strict Pull-Up. They don’t need to be avoided like the plague, but definitely used in moderation and awareness.
Keep in mind we regularly perform full body, functional movements in our CrossFit workout. It may be difficult to grasp but almost everything we do is going to help you in some way with your Pull-Ups. Why? Well a simple answer is that everything comes back to midline stability. You need to be able to get your trunk into a solid/stable position to do most of what we do and pull-ups are no exception. Back Squats help your pull-ups (let alone front and overhead which would do even more.) Wall Balls help your Pull-Ups. Box Jumps help your Pull-Ups (especially when we progress to the kipping movements.) So while this is a specifically detailed program keep up with everything else too!
If you find that this programming conflicts with the regular WODs don’t worry about it too much. They’ll clash a bit and feel free to omit some things from here that were already covered during the MetCon.
What is a Pull-Up? The movement starts in a dead hang from the bar with the elbows fully extended and shoulders active. The body should stay in a gymnastic hollow (global flexion) position the entire time. The athlete will then pull down against the bar until the chin passes over the top. A Pull-Up is performed with the hands in the pronated position (thumbs pointing towards each other.) A Chin-Up is performed with the hands in the supinated position (thumbs pointing away from each other.
How to follow the programming?
Any time a set/rep scheme is defined the goal is to successfully complete all of the sets and repetitions at the same difficulty level. This difficulty level should be challenging to you and you should strive to increase this from week to week. Small increases add up to big gains over time!
- If workouts are grouped together you can perform them as a superset. Using the below as an example you would do 5 Ring Rows then 5 Push-Ups then 5 Curls (then repeat this 4 more times.) 5x5 Ring Rows
5x5 Barbell Bicep Curls
- Unless otherwise noted take ~60s rest between sets.
- Move quickly through this! If you don’t dawdle you should be able to finish the work portion in 10-20min depending on the day.
Record your results! What gets measured gets improved. Keep a workout journal for everyday and jot down what you do. If you complete this during your rest time you won’t have any added time to your workout. This will be critical from week to week for trying to make small improvements and PRs.
Warming Up and Mobilizing
Warming up properly is critical to preparing your body for the work ahead. If you’ve just finished up a CrossFit WOD chances are you’re already warm and ready to go right into the work. If not you can follow a warm up routine like the one below. This should take around 5-10min – feel free to omit some of the movements to suit the time frame.
10 Shoulder Circles Forward / Backward
10 Arm Circles Forward / Backward
10 PVC Dislocates Forward/Backward
10 Reverse Grip PVC Dislocates Forward/Backward
3x10 Superset: Ring Rows and Push-Ups (feel free to scale these so they’re not too difficult – this is the warm up not the working set.)
Animal Crawls – Inchworm, crab walk, bear crawl, spiderman, etc.
Mobility is key for Pull-Ups and for minimizing the risk of injury, especially as you progress into the kipping movements. Basic maintenance on your body can be performed daily and you don’t need a recovery period from this. Below is a list of upper body stretches that you can do daily. Pick and choose and work on your weaknesses. Aim to spend between 30s and 3min in each stretch. Don’t forget different mobility options with rollers and lacrosse balls as well. Ask a coach if you have a question.
Happy Puppy (Elevated Happy Puppy)
Lat Stretch - Rig
Rig Assisted Sholder Stretches
Ring Assist Overhead
Thread the Needle
Below are the resistance details for the bands that we have at the gym. You can use this to get an idea of how to pair the smaller bands for greater assistance.