Why Do I Suck at Pull-Ups? And How to Get Better at Them

Pull-ups might seem like a straight forward movement, but it’s not uncommon for athletes to struggle at it. This gymnastics exercise requires a fair amount of strength from various parts of your body, including your back, shoulders, arms and core.

Even athletes who are able to do one pull-up might struggle to string a handful together.

The short answer as to why you suck at pull-ups is lack of strength. But of course most answers aren’t usually as simple.

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 you’ll risk injury.



The upper body strength necessary for the strict pull-up is highly demanding and often requires detailed progressions to maximise results for those struggling.

If you’re not able to lift your bodyweight you’ll need to build up the muscles in your back, chest, core and arms. It’ll also be beneficial to work on your grip strength.

If you’re not strong enough, all your technical abilities will start to diminish once you start approaching your threshold.

The reason you suck at pull-ups most likely directly correlates to your strict pulling strength and your ability to stay tight throughout the movement.


There are many types of pull-ups, from close to wide grip and hands facing in or away. You can play with leg positioning, number of fingers on the bar, pulling with just one arm, adding weight, kipping…

You might be trying a variation too advanced for your current athletic skills and it might be a good idea to scale it down until you develop the necessary strength.

The different positions you use for your arms and hands will dictate the set of muscles worked during the pull-ups.

Positioning and movement

Bad posture could be what’s keeping you away from stringing pull-ups together. A flailing body, undeveloped muscles or misalignments in your upper body can all affect your ability to push your chin over the bar.

Work on your mobility and movement, and spend some time decoding all the steps and positions of the pull-up.

Male crossfit athlete pull up bodyweight wodSource: RX'd Photography

CrossFit Arm Workouts for Upper Body Strength and Muscle (Scaled and Beginner Options Included)


  • Deadhangs – deadhangs are an effective way to build shoulder stability and grip strength, both of which you’ll need before you can perform a pull-up.
  • Push ups – push ups are your friends when working on developing strict strength for pull-ups. Most athletes are able to perform at least a dozen push-ups unbroken before they have the strength to perform pull-ups.
  • Ring rows – ring rows follow a similar movement pattern of a pull-up except you get the extra aid from having you feet on the floor. Alongside with ring dips, ring rows are a great exercise to develop strength for pull-ups.
  • Bands – use a band to get yourself used to the movement pattern of pull-ups and know exactly which muscles will be taxed. Bands take some weight away from your body and help you perform the movements easier.

Big word of warning: don’t become over-reliant of bands. Assisted pull-ups have their place as a developmental exercise but you should combine them with other variations and progressions to develop better pull-ups.

  • Slow pull-ups / negatives – in your quest to becoming stronger, slow pull-ups are probably one of the most effective exercises. Jump onto the pull-up bar so your chin is over it and hold this position for a few seconds. Then, lower yourself as slowly as possible until your arms are extended again.

A big mistake people tend to make here is letting go just before the arms are extended, but that last bit is the key to getting the initial pull strength for the pull-up.


Getting the initial pull

Remember, practice makes perfect. By setting aside 10 minutes to work on your pull-ups after your CrossFit class you’ll learn to create efficient movement patterns, increase your work capacity and see results.

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

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