10 Tips, Exercises and Progressions to Improve your CrossFit Pull Ups

The expression ‘CrossFit Pull Ups’ is used in the context of this article as an umbrella term to encompass the wide variation of pull ups that appear in CrossFit workouts. Some of these tips, exercises and progressions are general, and others are specific for certain forms of pull up. At the basis of everything, there needs to be good movement and strict strength, as without either of these two pillars, your CrossFit pull ups will fail, or worse, you will get injured.

CrossFit Pull Ups – Which Progressions Should I Use?

Using a band?

Well at the bottom of the pull up that is when the band is most elongated therefore making the hardest initiation of the pull up the easiest part, also the thicker the band the more tendency there is to start swinging, you may feel like you’re doing pull ups because your chin is going over the bar but you’re not going to build any real strength. Fine for wods and getting your sweat on, not for pull ups if you can’t do them yet.

Jumping pull ups?

No, just no.  You’ve deleted the entire start of the movement, even if you can lower down slowly you’re still not initiating the movement yourself, your body isn’t learning anything.

Ring rows?

Yes, a phenomenal fundamental exercise that should be performed by everyone BUT in relationship to a pull up, the direction is totally different, a ring row is a horizontal pull, the pull up is a vertical pull.

Tip 1 – Beginner Pull Up Progression

Here is a great example of a pull up progression, and guess what, it’s no different to what you would see in the kids classes, for some reason as adults we can’t be seen to be going for the simpler option, but truthfully if you’ve never done these before those gains are just sitting there waiting to be had! Check it out:

Yes it sucks but you have to be committed to get the pay off. Strict, kipping or butterfly, to be successful with workouts you need to master all of these different CrossFit pull ups.

Ring Exercises To Build Strict Strength for Pull-Ups

Do you want to crush kipping and butterfly pull-ups when they show up on the board?

Maybe you’re still on your journey to your first pull-up.

Either way, what is the secret sauce to more pull-ups?

upper body strength pull upsSource: RX'd Photography
train hard!

Build your strict strength.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely technical elements that you need to work on to be efficient with kipping and butterfly pull-ups. Let’s dig a little deeper though. What’s the limiting factor for most people when we see 50 pull-ups on the board?

Why do technical breakdowns happen?

From the athletes I work with on-site, I can tell you that a majority of the time, the answer usually leads back to building a strong base of strict strength. If you’re not strong enough, all your technical abilities will start to diminish once you start approaching your threshold. And I’m not sure about you, but I’m not a fan of feeling like a flailing fish trying to get my chin over the bar.

Banded Pull-Ups and Ring Rows are great tools for building your strict strength, but should absolutely not be the only things in your toolbox. Sure, if it comes up in a class workout, you may use these as scaling options.

But what are you doing outside of the workout to prepare your body to handle high volume gymnastics?

Tip 2 – Strip the skill away

That means we can put kipping and butterfly in our back pocket for now. Let’s focus on developing the structures necessary for efficient pull-ups:

  • Strong lats
  • Stable shoulders
  • Death grip
  • Core of steel
  • Spidey-sense-like body awareness

This doesn’t necessarily mean we always have to hop up on the pull-up bar. The phases of strength I like to think about when it comes to gymnastics movements were pointed out to me by Dave Durante.

They’ve stuck with me ever since:

  • Phase 1: Creation of body shapes
  • Phase 2: Static and controlled movement
  • Phase 3: Dynamic action
  • Phase 4: Routines, complexes, and sequences

The following exercises are focused on improving Phase 2. If you find yourself skipping phases or focused too much on dynamic action (kipping and butterfly pull-ups), you’ll be surprised with what can happen when you start feeding your weaknesses with the earlier phases.

  • Hang on to the bar longer
  • Perform large sets unbroken
  • Reduce and prevent shoulder/elbow pain
  • And much more

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