I’ll never forget that feeling when my chin finally made it over that bar: pure disbelief.
“Wait…. my chin is actually over the bar?? MY CHIN IS OVER THE BAR!!”
Pull-ups were always my nemesis throughout life; did anyone else out there have to get tested on them during gym/P.E. classes growing up? My tall, gangly self would hang from the bar wondering how in the heck some of the boys were making it look so easy.
Fast forward several years.
To be honest, I never had a reason to believe that I would ever be able to do a strict pull-up. Yet once I popped that CrossFit® pill, it quickly became one of the top goals on my list. With some help from my coaches and a whole lot of practice, I managed to finally grab my first after about 6 months of working on pull-up specific drills.
Strict Pull-ups Before Kipping
This is important: you must learn strict pull-ups before you attempt kipping. Kipping pull-ups can put a huge strain your shoulders, especially if you don’t yet have the strength to do strict.
So promise me that you’ll work on strict pull-ups before kipping. Coach Ben’s rule of thumb is that you shouldn’t attempt kipping pull-ups until you can do roughly 4 strict pull-ups in a row, at full range of motion.
Ok, but how can I work up to being able to do 4 strict pull-ups?
You’re in luck. Read on to learn about 5 drills that we at WODprep consider to be crucial in building that strict pull-up strength. By the end of this, you’ll have a great plan to attack pull-ups once and for all.
Strict Pull-ups: Warming Up
Before jumping into any of these drills, it’s crucial to make sure your shoulders are warmed up. Check out the below video from Coach Garry who put together a simple, pull-up specific warm up routine.
Drill #1: Strict Pull-up Negatives
This drill is simple yet crucial in building that strict pull-up strength. Jump from the ground or pull yourself above the bar (start from a box if necessary) and then as slowly as possible, lower yourself down to a dead hang position. Dead hang means that your arms should be locked out at the bottom, and your feet shouldn’t be touching the ground.
The lowering phase of a negative helps to break down and build the same muscles that you need to pull yourself out of that dead hang position at the start of a pull-up.
If it helps, try counting slowly in your head as your lower - to at least 3 - but the longer the better.
Drill #2: Chin-Over-Bar Holds
Start once again with your chin over the bar. But this time, you won’t be lowering yourself down. Hold yourself up there top, focusing on keeping your chin above the bar.
That’s it. Accumulate as much time as you can above the bar. The longer you are able to hang out up there (excuse the pun) the better. Consider throwing on one of your favorite songs beforehand for both distraction and motivation.
As you find yourself being able to hold that position longer and longer, know that you’re making progress and one step closer to your ultimate goal!
Drill #3: Segmented Pull-up Negatives
This drill combines the first two drills. Assume the same position with your chin over the bar. Hold that position for a few seconds, and then lower a few inches. Hold that hanging position, then lower a bit more, and hold once again.
Right before you fully lock out at the bottom, hold that position for a few seconds as well. This drill will quickly show you that there ‘sections’ throughout the negative that are going to be a lot harder than others.
Work on those specific sections and think of them as your ‘sticking points’. Try remember where they are, and seek them out when doing this drill.
For example: If you lower to the final section (towards the very bottom) of the negative, and find that you aren’t able to hold it, this indicates that the initial pull of your strict pull-up is going to need some love and attention.
So keep working on it! Overtime you’ll build up strength in each of the sections, and find that the drill gets easier and easier.
Drill #4: Lat Pull-downs
If you have a lat pull-down machine that you can use, this can be super effective and should be implemented into your strict pull-up accessory work.
No lat pull-down machine? No problem. Try looping a band around the top of your pull-up rig, and then putting a PVC pipe through the other side, mimicking a lat pull-down machine. Like Coach Ben is doing below, sit on the floor and pull-down, engaging your lats.
Building lat strength is going to be especially helpful for athletes who find that their sticking point is the bottom of the pull-up, as this drill works that specific area.
Drill #5: Scapular pull-ups
Odds are that when you first start working on strict pull-ups, your scapulas will need to build strength as well. This is another important muscle that helps with that initial ‘pull’ out of the bottom, as well as finishing at the top.
Scap pull-ups are basically ‘mini’ pull-ups. Start with a dead hang on the bar, and then retract your shoulder blades so that you’re only slightly pulling up. Your elbows should not be bending; keep your arms straight, moving only your shoulders in a downward motion. You can almost think of it like a shrugging motion.
The Road to Strict Pull-ups
Try implementing these drills throughout your week - before or after workouts - and I have a feeling that you’ll start to see progress 🙂 The drills may be difficult, and your muscles will be screaming at you, but it will be worth it when you finally find yourself with your chin over the bar.
All of the above drills helped me to finally get my first strict pull-up - and are included in our Strict Pull-up Strength Pull-up program. Currently the 8-week program is closed, but in the meantime you can check out our free “Ultimate Guide To Strict Pull-ups” which is a great place to start!
Comment below with thoughts/questions, and be sure to tag us on social media when you finally achieve your first pull-up... we love to see WODprep athletes dominating their goals!