Pull ups are a pretty standard movement incorporated in CrossFit workouts. They are an integral movement in your fitness regime. Helping to develop quality muscle, power, explosiveness and body awareness. But if you think about it it’s not that basic of a movement, it ranks on the intermediate level of gymnastic style movements. For many pull ups can be hard and intimidating, especially if you’re newer to the movement or fitness in general.
But if you work toward setting a goal like your first pull up (or getting better at them), commit toward small changes and stick to a consistent program you will see improvement. It is definitely worth it, not only will you get the physical benefits of being able to do pull ups, but you’ll feel like a total badass for being able to pull your own weight!
Here are a few tips and exercises to aid in your path toward pull ups:
Proper hang position:
This is the starting point of being able to pull ourselves up. And for many just being able to hold ourselves on the bar can be challenging within itself. Being able to properly hang on the bar will build a strong foundation to your pull up and build the grip strength that is necessary for it as well. What is important in this hang position is making sure our shoulders are active and that we are not simply dangling in a dead hang. Keep shoulder blades down and chest up.
Work on trying to hang on the bar as long as possible, test and re-test yourself.
Scap pull ups help in learning lat activation to begin your pull up. It also reinforces putting your shoulders in a better position by pulling your scapulae back and down.
You’ll begin in your hang position with arms at full extension and without bending your arms work on pulling your shoulder blades together. Hold this contracted position for a few seconds then return to your full hang and repeat.
A key factor in being able to get your first pull up or get good at pull ups is to build your strength. There are a few ways I would recommend doing this:
Ring Rows, these are an excellent way at developing upper body strength and also can be varied by changing your body position to make it more challenging as you get better. The movement can be made easier by bringing feet back toward standing position, creating a larger angle from your body to the floor. The difficulty can be increased by moving the feet more forward creating a smaller angle from your body to the floor. Focus on a maintaining a straight and rigid body position (tight core-squeezing glutes and abs) while doing this movement, pull to the chest while trying to keep the arms and elbows close to the sides of your body. Return to the starting position in a smooth and control descent and repeat. This can also be varied with grip positioning, instead of thumbs up (as pictured) hands placed in a pronated position (thumbs facing one another) which is more similar to how you would grip the pull up bar.
Dumbbell Rows / Batwing row
The dumbbell row works on targeting your back muscles aiding in building back strength, but also works the biceps. Utilizing a bench or box, place your knee onto the bench/box and hand (same side as knee) onto the bench/box with arm fully locked out. Focus on keeping your back straight, maintaining a neutral position is crucial. Grabbing a dumbbell with your opposite hand, keep your palm facing toward the bench and begin to bend at the elbow and pull toward your chest. Try to focus on pulling the weights up to your chest while thinking of bringing your fist to your armpit and elbows close to the body. Focus on a straight line of movement. Begin with lighter weight and increase as you feel stronger and more confident in the exercise.
Batwings target your middle and upper back helping increase your pulling strength.
Start by choosing the appropriate weight of dumbbells/KBs for you. Lie face down on a bench with your chin over the end of it. Pull your elbows up trying to touch your thumbs to your armpits. Hold this top position for a few seconds squeezing your shoulder blades together. And lower weights back down to the floor.
Pull up Negatives:
This exercise focuses on the eccentric portion of the pull up (lowering part). This will work on developing strength and skills necessary to complete the full pull up. Starting at the finish position of a pull up you will work on lowering yourself down to the hang position. You want to focus on a slowed and controlled lowering down of your body to the hang position. Engaging your upper body muscles the entire time down and make sure to maintain a tight core.
If you find this difficult to do use resistance bands to aid in controlling the movement, but keep in mind the goal is to work toward doing it without a band.
You may have noticed there is no mention of doing actual banded pull ups. Though resistance bands have their time and place in certain applications, you’ll see that if you take a step back from using them with pull ups and work on some of these foundational pieces how much a difference it’ll make! Stick to a game plan of how you’ll tackle each exercise and progress your way through them. The dead hang in proper from is going to be a crucial first step in starting our path toward pull ups. From there scap pull ups help us with proper position of the shoulders and scapulae and lat activation. Once we’ve worked through those exercises and mastered them, we move on to strength building. Ring Rows are a great exercise in strength building, work on challenging yourself more and more the better you get at it by adjusting your foot positioning. Work in some dumbbell rows/batwing rows to help develop upper back strength. From there move onto pull up negatives. Dedicate yourself to working on these movements a few times a week and sure enough you will be on your way to getting pull ups!!!