Are you struggling to see progress on the pull-up bar? Are you still short on achieving your first pull-up? We have a 6-week program for you! This milestone achievement in fitness is not an easy one and therefore needs a specific plan of attack. First, we need to determine what is holding you back.
What factors are holding people back from doing a pull-up?
- Body weight
- Kinesthetic Awareness & Coordination (if kipping or trying to do a higher skill pull-up progression).
We will take some time to address each one of these factors. Most of our time will be spent addressing the strength gap. With that being said, one of the easiest ways to see progress in your pull-up progression is to decrease the weight your pulling up.
Lightening the Load on the Pull-up Bar
We understand that body weight and image are a sensitive subject for many people. However, physics are at work here as gravity wants to hold you to this earth. E = mc² states that energy and mass are equivalent, so if we decrease mass then it will simply require less energy to do pull-ups. However, size does NOT prohibit you from achieving a pull-up. We have seen some of our larger athletes achieve many pull-ups, chest-to-bar pull-ups and even muscle-ups! It simply means that if you are a heavier athlete, then you are going to have to do more work and gain more strength.
If you’re interested in losing weight, then you will NEED to meal plan. Some people cut weight and body fat simply by eliminating junk or sugaryfoods in combination with exercise. Good for them! I’ve found in my 17 years of training that most people need to meal plan. Success does not happen on accident. Success begins with a good plan! If you get off plan, simply correct course and make good decisions to get back on track. However, having no plan can lead to bad decisions and weight gain.
Do you have to count every calorie or macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein and fat gram)? Not necessarily, but tracking a day of calories and macronutrients for an average day of eating can be quite eye-opening. I HIGHLY recommend doing this to gain insight into what may be holding you back in the gym. You can use MyFitnessPal or any other nutrition tracker to help you log your daily nutrition.
In general consuming less calories and burning more through exercise will help you lose body fat and body weight. The real challenge is eating an appropriate balance of macronutrients (not eliminating a macronutrient through a fad diet) based on the metabolic need of the person. Most people consume too much fat, sugar, carbohydrates, alcohol and therefore calories. Focus on proper portion control, consume more protein and vegetables and you will improve your progress in the gym. Now, let’s get back to pull-ups!
Let’s Build Some Strength. Do MORE work!
Most people fail to improve pull-ups, because they do not work on training pull-ups with enough volume or frequency weekly. The same is true of any skill in the gym such as squats, deadlifts, snatching, handstands or running. If you want to get better at something, do it more! So, we are going to train pull-ups twice weekly. Also, we are including accessory work to develop even greater strength and hypertrophy. So, this 6-week plan will include both pull-ups and accessory work for a total of twelve (12) pull workouts. The accessory work will include a mix of barbell, dumbbell and cable work for the back and biceps.
I want to speak to our CrossFit Extremity members for a moment, because many of them are asking for help with their pull-ups. A basic scale that we suggest in many CrossFit workouts is inverted ring rows and jumping pull-ups. We also train kipping swings, hanging knee raises and various exercises that train grip work. These are all good exercises. However, this program will include extra “homework” or open gym work that should take less than 30 minutes most days and no more than 40 minutes on the higher volume days. Now, let’s talk about the workouts.
Negatives or Tempo Pull-ups
We are going to build most of our pull-up strength in this program by performing a negative or 3-second count down on your pull-ups. If you do not have any pull-ups, then you can use a band looped over the pull-up bar for assistance.
Let’s Talk Bands
I recommend EliteFTS bands, because they are great quality and often on sale. The progression is Gray (Average)-> Orange (Light) -> Green (Monster Mini) -> Red (Mini) -> Pull-up! Reducing band assistance is not an easy task and can take several weeks to make progress from band to band. A thin orange (micro mini) band may be used as well between red mini band and actual pull-up or between the light orange and average gray band by adding it to the larger orange band. We are going to do two (2) pull workouts weekly to improve this progression.
Accessory Work Tempo, ROM & Rest
While on the subject of tempo and negatives, we are also going to suggest a 2-second negative on ALL accessory work and 1-count squeeze or contraction on your back and biceps muscles during every set and repetition. Also, be sure to work full range of motion (ROM) on every exercise and strive to maximize a mind-to-muscle connection. Start with a full hang on the pull-up bar and your chin as high over the bar as possible. Improving time under tension and overall tension is going to have a tremendous impact on hypertrophy or muscular growth.
The final piece of this program to discuss is rest between sets. Take at least 2 minutes between each set of pull-ups. Take 1-2 minutes between each set of accessory work. You need oxygen to exert maximal force and will need lactic acid to subside to maintain the tempo work with good form and control. We love high intensity work, but you may need some old-fashioned strength training to improve your pull-ups.
6-Week Beyond Limits Pull-up Program
Downloadable PDF below. Track your progress!
Practical Application of the Program
A great starting place for some extra pull-up work is being able to do one set of 5 pull-ups with the orange light band chin over the bar. However, if you need to add an extra red or green band feel free to do so. Simply decrease band help as you progress through the program. Also, choose a lighter weight for accessory work that you are able to perform for all the repetitions with full range of motion, appropriate tempo and control.
Gradually increase weight during the sets working towards a heavier set near failure on your final set, but strive to achieve all repetitions without rest. Bonus sets are extra rep “drop sets” essentially in which you are actually adding extra band tension for extra repetitions.
Also, you can use the same progression for strict pull-ups without bands or even weighted pull-ups if you want to build even greater pulling strength. You can achieve great progress with the same program on weighted pull-ups. You can even repeat the program if needed, but we do recommend taking a break from extra pull-up work for a week before repeating.
Kinesthetic Awareness & Coordination
This area is focused on our CrossFit athletes or gymnastic enthusiasts. When progressing from pull-ups to kipping pull-ups to chest-to-bar pull-ups to muscle-ups, strength may be the issue. However, timing, awareness and coordination on the pull-up bar or rings can be a great hindrance. If an athlete can perform 10-15 strict pull-ups or dips, then a muscle-up may be possible.
However, focus on improving your kinesthetic awareness and timing by building basic capacity weekly from 5 pull-ups 1o pull-ups and from 1 chest-to-bar pull-ups to 5 chest-to-bar pull-ups and from 1 muscle-up to 3 muscle-ups. At this point, we are beyond this program and focusing more on regular CrossFit programming or perhaps some additional weekly gymnastic work once or twice per week depending on programming. With higher skill movements we certainly advise in-person coaching in the gym.
Time to Improve!
Extra practice and preparation will most certainly increase your success in the gym. Take some extra gym time to make additional improvements, set a plan for daily nutrition to support your goals in the gym and be relentless in your pursuit for improvement. Each time you step in the gym is an opportunity to improve!