Her First Strict Pull-up: A 1.5 Year Journey

Written By Ben  |  Pull-up 

“I always felt like I was close to getting a pull-up, but not quite there, and not sure what to do to get myself there.”  

Can you relate?  

For a lot of us, there’s a time when a movement may seem completely impossible. You feel like you’ve been practicing for months, yet you’re not making progress. 

When that movement is strict pull-ups, it can be extra frustrating. Because without strict pull-ups, so many other movements aren’t even possible to attempt yet (or at least you shouldn’t be…)

  • Kipping Pull-ups
  • Chest to Bar
  • Bar Muscle Ups
  • Ring Muscle Ups
  • Legless Rope Climbs

The list goes on.

One of our athletes, Libby, knew this to be the case and decided that it was time to do something about it. Recently, she made the HUGE leap forward and can now finally do strict, unassisted strict pull-ups (yay Libby!). The journey wasn’t easy, but I’m here to share exactly how she did it so that you can learn, too.

But I don’t want to get ahead if myself. To understand where Libby came from, let’s start back at the beginning...

Functional Fitness To The Rescue

"I was never an athlete - well, besides a couple of years as a cheerleader and a very short track career that ended quickly with shin splints. I thought that people only exercised if they wanted to lose weight, and I was always naturally thin." 

Yet after the birth of her second child, in her mid-30’s Libby found that she had an extra 10 lbs or so lingering that she just couldn’t shake. So she started with running, and progressed rapidly, within a few years completing several marathons and even 2 ironmen.

(I’m impressed.)

And like so many of us endurance athletes (myself included), training eventually began to get repetitive and stress fractures started flaring up.

"A few months later, my husband got me a 1-month trial gift certificate to the local CrossFit® gym for Mother's Day. I was kind of annoyed actually... I wasn't sure I really wanted to try it, and now I felt like I had to use the gift certificate or it would be wasteful! Little did I know at the time that would turn out to be one of my favorite gifts of all time." 

An Instant Hit

CrossFit® grew on Libby and she almost immediately came to love it. From the constantly varied movements, strength gains, and the encouraging community, it was a great fit for her.

working on strict pull-ups

"Being a busy working mom, I loved the efficiency of the workouts. No more 6 hr bike rides and 3 hr runs. It took me a while to realize that an 8 min AMRAP at really intense effort was enough to get the endorphins going and really wear me out! 8 minutes!! Are you serious?"

Libby calls CrossFit® a life changer, due the immense knowledge and confidence gained. Not to mention new friends, which is always a great perk.

"I love the supportive community and the connections I've made through CrossFit®. I love pushing myself and others to be the best version of ourselves. My best friends do CrossFit® and I have the entire family joining in too."

first strict pull-up

WODprep Steps In 

A lot of athletes see heaps of PR’s and progress when they first start CrossFit®, and this eventually begins to plateau. In Libby’s case, she realized that her double unders game needed some extra help to finally master the movement.

The first WODprep program I did was Double Unders Unleashed.  I used to hate double unders and felt like I would never master them, but I am very proficient at them now thanks to the program.

By the end of the program, Libby hit a PR of 125:

To use Libby’s own words, it’s never a ton of fun to work on your weaknesses. However when it finally clicks - or you finally develop that strength you’ve been seeking FOREVER - it’s extremely rewarding.

She knew this would be true with her pull-up game as well, so she signed up for Strict Pull-up Strength next (I think I’m noticing a trend…).

Chasing Her First Strict Pull-up

Remember that quote from the beginning of the article? Those were Libby’s words, not mine. Here it is again:

I always felt like I was close to getting a pull-up, but not quite there, and not sure what to do to get myself there.

So, what was the difference-maker? Libby says it herself that she could do jumping pull-ups no problem, ring rows for days, yet just couldn’t get that first strict pull-up....

I became very proficient at jumping pull ups and ring rows but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't do a pull-up without a little help from my feet. I wasn't sure what specific strengthening exercises to do to make me strong enough to do a pull-up.   

In the end, Libby was able to find the keys to success through:

  1. Education (what drills to do, how often, etc.)
  2. Consistency (3x per week)
  3. Trusting the Process

Most of us are reading this because we love CrossFit® and/or fitness, and want to become better athletes and humans through it. What we often lose sight of is that it isn’t always about hitting as many workouts as possible per week; that isn’t necessarily what is going to help you reach specific goals that you’ve set. 

Sometimes it’s important to take a step back and evaluate what you need in order to achieve your goals - which could be anything from accessory programming, extra work before or after class, or scaling in a new way that you have never tried.

I love going to CrossFit® as much as possible, but over the last 6 months I've backed off a little bit to make more time to work on my specific goals. That has made a big difference.

Strict Pull-up Strength = Progress

When Libby enrolled in our Strict Pull-up Strength Program, she had been trying to get her first strict pull-up for almost 2 years.

I wasn't sure where my strength was lacking that was preventing me from getting pull-ups. So I think it was the cumulative effect of all the drills (in Strict Pull-up Strength), and building those accessory muscles with consistency and time that helped. I also think the negatives were especially helpful.  

WODprep’s programming unlocked exactly what Libby needed to do to get that first strict pull-up, which then led to her being able to string 2 together. She started the program with zero pull-ups, and finished with 2 very strong pull-ups.

Check it out Libby's starting point:

And then her progress by the end of Strict Pull-up Strength:

I decided to invest in the program because previously I had never dedicated a consistent approach to working on them, and for some reason they just weren't magically happening. The drills in the program fixed the weaknesses I had and kept me focused. I just worked through the programming and trusted the process.

Curious what the ‘process’ looks like when working towards your first strict pull-up? Check out a sample of what the programming looks like for week 1 day 2:

First Strict Pull-up Programming

Every drill listed provides a demo video, as well as an explanation video from a WODprep coach.

The Skill Growth Continues

Good news: Libby’s progress hasn’t just stopped at pull-ups. She is also enrolled in our Toes to Bar Transformed, Handstand Push-up Power, and Functional Core programs.

I love the layout of the workouts - they are relatively short, well-explained and easy to understand. Also the feedback from the coaches is very consistent and very helpful. I feel like they really break down my movement and help me fix things to improve my success. 

After this year’s Open, Libby made 5 goals for herself to achieve before the 2019 Open, and has already mastered 2 of those. She’s passionate about setting goals that are achievable through hard, consistent work.

Outside of the Gym

Libby has been married to her husband Andy for 21 years, and they have two daughters - Josie (12) and Ainsley (9). She’s a  Family Practice Physician in Springfield, OH, and also enjoys reading and traveling.

first strict pull-up

My passion is health and fitness. I am currently pursuing my Functional Medicine certification to better help my patients. I love helping people get better without medications but through lifestyle change. The most rewarding days at work are when I can stop medication because the patient doesn't need it anymore.  

^^ This is amazingggggg!

Looking to the future, Libby’s goals are to never stop growing and learning both personally and professionally. She tries to read from an educational book daily, spend time in meditation/prayer, and be intentional with connecting with others.

"I want to be a better crossfitter, but more importantly I want to be a better wife, mother, friend and physician." 

Libby, you freaking rock.

If you’re like Libby and looking for more pull-up help - you’re in luck! We are going to be re-opening our Strict Pull-up Strength course next month, and would love to save a spot for you. If you’re interested in more information, sign up for our free guide below and you’ll get a bunch of free content as well as notifications as to when the enrollment re-opens:

Have strict pull-up questions - or maybe you’re not sure where to start with the process? Working on a different movement and need some help? Want to leave Libby some love and tell her she’s awesome?

Comment below, and we’ll get back to you!

  • I’d Like to thank you for posting this, it has made me feel much better about the fact that I still, after more than 2 years at crossfit can’t do a strict pull up. It is amazing how far you have come Libby , well done and keep at it. I’m going to do the programme you have done, and hopefully soon I’ll be doing them too.

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