It wasn’t that long ago when I was struggling to do pull ups. Every Thursday at the box was pull up progression day and I would dread it, not wanting to fail publicly yet again.
Over the weeks I could feel my body getting closer and closer, until one day my chin was over the bar. As you may know, that feeling is epic.
Having improved my strict pull ups quite a bit now, I often get asked how I did it. If you are struggling to complete your first pull up then this one’s for you. Below are a few of the exercises I did regularly to help improve my strength and help me nail that first pull up.
It’s incredibly important to start building your grip strength and one of the best ways to do that is by learning to feel comfortable hanging from the bar. If you’re already pretty comfortable on the bar, try doing one or two finger hangs or alternating one arm hangs.
2. Scapular Pull Ups
The first move you make in a pull up is activating the lats, which is exactly what this move works on. Basically the movement requires you to hang, target your lats and then pull your shoulder blades down your back. Try adding 2 sets of 10 reps if you are struggling with this initial movement.
3. Lying Bench Dumbbell Row
To improve your pulling strength, lie stomach down on a flat bench. With a dumbbell in each hand, pull the weight all the way back, squeezing your shoulder blades together and hold for 5-10 seconds.
4. Hollow Rocks
To hold a really good pull up position, you need to be able to create the gymnastic hollow rock position. Lying on your back, push your lower back into the floor and engage your core. Then you want to fully extend your arms and legs and lift them above the ground a foot or so. You can either rock back and forth in this position or hold steady for as long as possible.
5. Ground Pull Ups
This can get tricky if you have sparse equipment, but the idea here is to recreate an actual pull up from the ground. From your hollow rock position you will need a bar to hold onto from pull ups length distance, low to the ground. Squeezing together your shoulder blades and maintaining your hollow position, pull your body across the floor until your chin is just under the bar. Repeat several times.
Another great way to build strength is buy using a box to jump up to throat-level on the pull up bar. Hold at the top for as long as you can, then slowly start to lower yourself down. If you’re seeing improvements with your pull ups then you can start to do this with a weighted belt to really help you improve your pull up strength.
7. Assisted Pull Ups
Sometimes two heads are better than one. Grab a partner and have them support you from the back of your ribs. Maintaining good form, start pulling yourself up and have your partner only give you as much help as you need to complete the movement. Sometimes all you need is just the lightest touch to help you get over the hump.
In our post on How to Master Pull Ups we also shared a few more tips and techniques that you may want to check out.
Tell me – which of these exercises have you found to be most helpful as you try and complete your first pull up? Share in the comment section below.
March is the founder of the Barbell Beauties. Her goal is simple… Empower every woman to grab a barbell and LIFT. She’s been an active CrossFitter for 7 years and credits that sport for turning her into a true athlete.