Why You Don’t Have Strict Pull Ups Yet

It would mean the world to some people if they could just get their first Strict Pull-Up. If you’re striving towards smooth and efficient pull ups, here is the secret sauce.

Improve your strict strength.

We can agree at this point that having a certain amount of strict pull ups is absolutely crucial before we even talk about kipping pull ups. There’s many opinions on what that number should be — but let’s keep it simple and look at it like this.

You must be able to demonstrate control throughout every inch of the movement.

When it’s time to start kipping, you’ll no longer rely on pure luck and a wild hip pop to get your chin over the bar. You’ll start to move your body at will.

pull ups crossfit athlete
Build that strict strength

Why You Don’t Have A Strict Pull-Up Yet

There’s two questions I would ask you:

  • How long have you been trying to get these?
  • What have you tried so far?

I ask that because when I take a look at the athletes I coach, quite a few have gotten stuck in the “bandit” lifestyle.

By that I mean, you don’t know where to start outside of the traditional method with resistance bands.

Don’t get me wrong, they are a great tool for scaling pull ups in a class setting. And ring rows are absolutely essential to mastering your strength.

The glaring issue is that we’re glossing over how to create tension in the movement patterns we’re trying to improve.

Let’s say I ask you to engage your lats while you’re hanging on the pull-up bar. If you don’t have a physical sensation to connect that back to, that cue is meaningless. This will trip you up when you Snatch. It will trip you up when you do Pull Ups, TTB, you name it.

Your proprioceptors don’t have a chance to slow down and learn where your body is in space.

So using things like Ring Rows and One Arm Hi-Pulls to build your strength in different planes is crucial.

The icing on the cake is, over time, your body will learn how to apply that tension back to the pull-up bar. You’ll eventually reach a level of automaticity.

Holds Aren’t Sexy, But They’re Effective

There’s nothing like using holds to build strength and control in the positions you’re trying to improve. You get immediate feedback when something is off and you’re losing control.

You also make connections intrinsically after the first few sessions. What is it like to hold on for dear life? What does it feel like to really create engage my lats?

Here’s what Pavel Tsatsouline said in Tools of Titans, “When in doubt, strengthen your grip and your core. Strengthening your midsection and your grip will automatically increase your strength in any lift. With the abs, the effect is partly due to greater intra-abdominal pressure and partly to improved stability. With the grip, you are taking advantage of the neurological phenomenon of irradiation — ensign ‘radiates’ from the gripping muscles into other muscles.”

For the following movements, we’re going to use a Supinated grip which allows you to work on external rotation and counterbalances all the Pronated work we do.

Supinated Chin Over Bar Hang

The extra couple inches from CHIN over the bar to having your CHEST touch the bar allows you to fully extend the thoracic spine and strengthens the downward rotators of the scapula.

Supinated Bent Arm Hang

In the video, we’re using a supinated grip. You can also try this with a pronated grip, which will activate your back a little more. 

Hollow Hold

Believe it or not, your ability to stiffen the body and maintain a hollow position directly affects everything. Even your strict pull ups. 

Strict Pull Ups – Putting It All Together

Let’s say all you’re doing right now is the daily whiteboard workouts. I’ll make the assumption that you only have 5-10 extra minutes after class to do this. An easy way for you to get started is to pick just ONE of the above movements per day. Couple it with another movement that helps prepare your shoulders.

For the holds, start by seeing how long it takes you to Accumulate 60 seconds (for time).

Over the next few weeks, build up the intensity by working in bigger sets. Ex. :10 holds, :15 holds, :30 holds.

Work your way to a point where you can do sets of 60 second holds. And then you can write me a thank you email when you start eating pull ups for breakfast.

3 Day Sample

Monday

  • Single Arm Hi Pull – 3 x 8 / side
  • Hollow Hold – 6 x :10

Notes:

  • “The Single Arm Hi Pull essentially un-impinges the shoulder. It works on upward scapular rotation. You’re loading the rotator cuff eccentrically, which is great for tendinosis (If you feel better while moving around as opposed to feeling worse when you’re moving around). It reorganizes that tendon. We see in the vast majority of CrossFitters are deficient in this. When you give the shoulder what it needs, it will function better.” – Dr. Jeremy

Wednesday

  • Supinated Chin Over Bar Hang – 6 x :10
  • Farmer’s Carry – 3-5 x 100ft

Notes:

  • There is rarely any carrying in a class setting, which is understandable because of space. But if we’re talking about structural balance, your carrying abilities should be 110-120% of your Back Squat. I don’t mean to say that to make you feel bad, I say it so you really push it on this movement. Especially if you don’t have Farmer’s Handles. It’s very low skill. You have to move an object from Point A to Point B. Remember, a strong grip will lead to great things.

Friday

  • Supinated Bent Arm Hang – 6 x :10
  • Landmine Row – 3 x 8 / side

Notes:

  • Julien Pineau recommends this exercise to really target your lower lat and oblique. Ring Rows or DB Rows are great too. But watch him explain why using the Landmine Row makes it harder to cheat so you really work on those two weaknesses.

As you can see, it’s not just about what you can do on the pull-up bar. We want to look at your movement overall to find all the low hanging fruit. Everything above is a phenomenal way to get started tomorrow.

If you have another 5-10 minutes, I would build in a few other components to build your strength.

Whether you’ve hit the ceiling with your core lifts like Back Squats or can’t seem to dial in your Handstand Pushups, I have something you might find useful.

You can get a free in depth training video at the airborne mind, which will walk you through how to apply this blueprint to any weakness you’re working on right now.


pull ups crossfit athlete © RX'd Photography

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About The Author

Misbah Haque helps recreational CrossFitters improve mobility and strength using bodybuilding and gymnastics practices. He hosts a podcast called The Airborne Mind Show, where he brings some of the smartest minds in fitness together each week. For anyone looking to improve movement quality, he’s giving away a few free gifts at theairbornemind.com.

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