By Coach Christian Fox
There are a bunch of reasons to get better at doing pull ups. For one, we do a
bunch of them in CrossFit. They’re also a great way to increase the
strength of your upper back, arms, lats, grip, and help to have a
balanced and healthy shoulder girdle. You should be able to do strict
pull ups with a variety of grips, and once you can consistently do few
pull ups at a time it may be time to start working on the kipping pull
up. Here’s how you’re going to get better, no matter where in the scheme
of it you are.
(No pull ups, or “I did one, once...”)
3 sets of 12 reps of either: Ring Rows or Band Assisted Pull Ups. Use an
angle or band that makes completing all the repetitions challenging. Rest as needed between sets.
Followed by, 3 Supersets of 12 reps of either: Dumbbell Curls (I know you’ve secretly wanted to do these anyway) or Dumbbell Rows
with either: Dumbbell Bench Press or Dumbbell Floor Press
Choose a weight that feels like you could have done another rep or two at the
end of the set. Take minimal rest between exercises in the superset.
10 ‘mini sets’ of 1 rep each of 5-10 second negatives using either a pull
up or a chin up grip on the minute for 10 minutes. You can jump to the
top or set a box up that allows you to start at the top (collar bone
above the bar). Yes, that seems like a lot of rest in between reps, and
no, it’s not a lot of total reps. That’s a good thing, trust me.
Alternate between the A day and the B day with a day of rest between workouts. An example would be:
Monday A - Wednesday B - Saturday A - Monday B - Wednesday A - Saturday B
(Can do 3-5 pull ups at a time)
Week 1) 6 sets of 2 reps. Rest 1 minute between sets. Perform twice a week.
Week 2) 5 sets of 3 reps. Rest 1 minute between sets. Perform twice a week.
Week 3) 4 sets of 4 reps. Rest 90-120 seconds between sets. Perform twice a week.
Week 4) 3 sets to failure. Rest 3 minutes between sets. Perform twice a week.
This program can be used until you have 3 sets of 10 reps in the 4th week.
In other words, if you don’t get the 3x10 in week 4 restart at week 1 by
adding a rep to the sets. Week one would be 6x3, week 2 would be 5x4,
and week 3 would be 4x5, then retest in week 4.
End each session by practicing kipping pulls ups for a few small sets, no
more than 5 sets and no more than 8 reps. Terminate the set if you fall
out of rhythm. It’s all about developing a rhythm that you can control
and maintain. Remember that a solid kip uses your whole body and don’t
forget that your abs need to be engaged throughout. If you fly open in
the front of the kip you are leaking tons of energy away from the bar.
Check out this video for a peak at what an efficient pull up should look like.
(Can regularly do sets of 10 or more strict and/or kipping)
Congrats, you stud or stud-ette. You are now on your way to becoming elite! Don’t expect though that your pull ups will magically become better if you
don’t practice them. You should still be working on both strict and
kipping pull ups. Mix up the grip that you use when you practice. Try
1) Once a week do a set or two to near failure. Start with a pull up grip
(hands outside shoulder width and palms away) and when you are 2 reps
shy of failure switch to a chin up grip (hands inside shoulder width and
palms toward you). When you are 2 reps shy of failure switch to a mixed
grip (1 palm in, 1 palm out) and do the same before switching again.
2) You can practice similarly by doing a set or two of max strict pull
ups, immediately switching to kipping and again going till failure (or a
rep shy of it).
3) Start doing weighted pull ups/chin ups, 3 sets of 5 reps, and seeing if you can add weight each week.
4) 30 seconds on/30 seconds off for 5 minutes of max reps kipping pull
ups. The set ends if you come off the bar. Remember to stay engaged in
the trunk. Don’t leak energy out in front. Remember this video.
5) Each time you’re in the gym do a 3-5 sub-max sets of kipping pull ups,
trying to add a rep each time you do the drill. You want to feel fresh
and stay shy of failure here. Terminate the set if grip becomes the
limiting factor. Again, remember to stay engaged and not leak energy out
of the front of the kip. Once again...
6) If you have a solid kip that just seems to go away on you when you get
gassed then try practicing your pull ups under duress. Do 50 double
unders or sprint down the block and back followed immediately by a set
of 10-15 pull ups.
If one of the days that you’re in the gym involves a lot of pull ups then
consider that a replacement day for one of the days on the above
programs. Also consider this...it’s no mistake that smaller, lighter
people have an easier time with pull ups. While the barbell exercises
can be scaled easily to ability, calisthenics can not. If you have some
weight to lose then a solid nutritional program can work in tandem with
the above programs to help you achieve the pull up. Check out the folks
over at Whole 9 or our buddy Robb Wolf for lots of info from simple tips to detailed programs to get you started. Three cheers getting yer pull ups up!!!