The No. 1 goal on every CrossFitter’s list

Ah, the pull-up. Who doesn’t want to check that glorious milestone off their goal list? Check the Alchemy goal board and you’ll see it’s the No. 1 aim of our members. It’s an entirely achievable goal, too, but it just takes time.

Follow these tips and you may lessen that time, however.

Lose the bands

Bands are a great way to get in volume; they also teach you the mechanics of the movement. The downside: they do very little to build the strength needed to perform an unassisted pull-up. Bands are elastic, so the more the stretch in the band the easier the challenge, especially during the hardest part of the movement, the initial pull.

Here are some options that will help you build the strength you need to do a pull-up on your own.

The Hang

Go back to basics and simply reach your arms up and hang from the bar. As you hang, activate your back to raise your lats. The hang will create a deeper awareness of the muscle contractions involved in getting your first pull-up. Once you’re able to hang for 30 seconds you can move on to the next step.

Body Rows

The Body Row is my favourite exercise for developing a strict pull-up. One of its greatest benefits is that it’s so adaptable. You can make it more or less difficult based on your current capabilities and it will, over time, develop your pulling strength. Research suggests that the greatest amount of pulling strength is achieved when the arms are at 90 degrees, i.e., the same place where you would finish a body row.  If you are new to this exercise make sure to begin in an almost standing position. As you develop strength, lean back and start walking your feet forward as you bring your body closer to parallel with the floor.

Bar assisted Pull-up

When people find push ups difficult what is the first thing they do?  They go to their knees to complete a rep. This makes sense because it takes away from having to push your entire body weight, making it slightly easier. This is the same reason we do a segmented pull-up.  So instead of using a band, stand on a box, which will take some of the weight off to complete the pull-up.  It is infinitely scalable as you just raise the height of the box until the point where you are able to pull yourself over the bar for a pull-up.  Just make sure that when you lower yourself, you lower all the way down to a dead hang position.

If pull-ups are on your list to conquer this year I would add this to your regular programming every week

Day 1:  30 seconds of dead hang

4×7 body rows

Day 2: 30 seconds of dead hang

3×5 bar assisted pull-ups

Day 3: 4×7 body rows

1 set of max bar assisted pull-ups


Broder McNeill is a coach and co-owner of Alchemy CrossFit. 


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