Have you been doing CrossFit for some time now and you still can’t get your pull ups to work? Or are you quite new but you feel ready to move past ring rows and heavy bands? Luckily for us, coach Vic from the Barbell Beauties has designed a simple sequence for all the CrossFit ladies that are struggling with strict pull ups. Give this pull up improvement method a try. Coach Vic uses a box and jumping starts to get the most of the pull-up movement benefiting your back muscles. Keep up the hard work and good luck girl! You’ll get your first pull up in no time.
STEPS on How to Do a Proper Pull Up
These seven steps have been developed by our talented coach Vic from the Barbell Beauties to get strict pull-ups for beginners. The good thing is that you don’t necessarily need to be at the gym. You can get a pull-up bar at home and start your training. Whether you are at the gym or at home, the only equipment you need for pull ups, besides the bar, is a box to stand up and reach the bar easily and safely. Depending on your height, you will need a small box or even a kitchen stool so that when you are standing up on it, your hands are reaching the pull up bar while your arms are straight and your knees slightly bent.
Dead Hang Position : Pull Up Beginners Women Step 1
Stand on your box (or jump to the bar), go under the bar and grab it with both hands in a full grip, palms facing forward. Pay attention to the position of your hands, as they should be shoulder distance apart and your arms should be close to your ears. Keep the shoulders and jaw relaxed and just hang there. The goal is to be able to hang for 20 to 30 seconds. This passive exercise will help strengthen your grip.
Active Hang : Pull Up Progression Step 2
From step one, the dead hang, transition to an active hang by pulling up only your shoulders. You want to engage your shoulder blades and traps. By doing this small movement, you will see that your arms are a bit further from your ears. Once you are there, keep your legs straight and your core active by bringing your toes in front. Keep this position, engaging your core for another 20 to 30 seconds. This is often called a hollow position, but I like to call it the banana pose, where only the lower part of your body is in front while your arms are straight and your core strong.
Chin Up Over The Bar Hold : Pull Ups Progression Step 3
Start by standing up on your box, reach the bar with extended arms, grip the bar with both hands, your knees are slightly bent and from there jump up so that your chin ends over the bar and hold there, don’t forget to bring your toes up front (think banana shape) to activate your core. This is a challenging position. It’s normal to start shaking since you are engaging a lot of your muscles. Keep focused, breathe in and out by the nose and try to hold there for 10 to 15 seconds. It always helps to bring a smile to the pose!
If holding your chin up over the bar is still difficult for you, or you can’t maintain holding for 10 seconds, no worries! Coach Vic has great alternatives that you can try at your gym.
First, set up both of the hooks of the bar rack above your knees (remember you start this movement by standing up on a box). Then, place one pull up band around the hooks so the elastic band is horizontal to the pull up bar. After that, stand on your box, grab the bar with both hands, stand up on the pull up band and jump up so your chin ends over the bar and hold there for 10 or 15 seconds.
This will feel much easier with the pull up band support, but trust us, you will still be working on your lats and engaging your back muscles! Coach Vic suggests starting with a wide elastic band, but as you progress on your practice, you might want to replace it with a narrower one. Another option is to drop down the height of the rack hooks, maybe this time try to set them at the level of your knees and continue to lower them down. Eventually you won’t need any elastic band to support you and you will perform “step 3” without any assistance by just using your body weight.
Negative Pull Ups : Pull Ups Progression Step 4
Things are getting spicy at this step! We are going to go from holding our chin over the bar to slowly lowering ourselves down. This is called “negative pull ups”. Stand up on your box, reach the bar with both hands, jump up (same process as step 3) and from there, lower yourself down as slowly as you can until you reach full extension. Be careful to lower down with control until the end, so you don’t hurt yourself by straining or even dislocating your shoulders. If you are losing control when going down, you might want to use some assistance by adding a pull up band to support yourself as we explain in step 3.
Assisted Strict Pull up : Pull Ups Progression Step 5
For this variation you won’t need a box anymore, instead you need a barbell, a rack and 2 hooks. Sit down on the floor, bring your arms above your head and, using the hooks, set up your barbell at the level of your hands while your arms are extended. You start this movement by sitting on the ground with both arms extended above your head and your hands gripping the barbell.
Flex both knees, your feet are flat on the ground and from there set your shoulders down and back, take a deep breath in and pull yourself up, once your chin is above the barbell lower yourself down at a nice pace (no need to hold there) until you are back into sitting on the floor. Your legs are supporting you, so use them as much or as little as you need. If you want to add more intensity use just one leg to support you, this will put more emphasis on pulling with your arms.
You can do this in big sets of 8 or 10 pull ups, adding endurance to your pulling muscles. Pay attention to the position of your body, you don’t want to roll back like when you are doing ring rows. While sitting down with both arms extended, your head is through your arms and you are pulling your elbows down to the sides to get your chin up over the barbell. Your body is vertical, going straight up and straight down.
Band Assisted Pull Ups with a Thick Band : Pull Ups Progression Step 6
We will use the same set up as for step 3. Standing up on a box and placing one wide elastic band (maybe 2) crossed around the hooks so the elastic band is parallel with the pull up bar. This time you want a shorter box so when you are stepping on the elastic band and holding the bar with both hands, there is space between your fully extended body and the box. Start on top of your box, get your grip with both hands on the bar, step on the band so you are fully extended, take a deep breath in, squeeze your core and pull up. Do big sets of pull ups to build capacity.
Band Assisted Pull Up with a Thin Band : Pull Ups Progression Step 7
Same as for step 6 but now we are going to lessen the support of the bands by using a thinner one.With the thinner band, you may only get 2 to 3 pull ups, but that’s great, as you will be working on the pull up strength like a champ! Take a 90 seconds rest (or as much as you need) in between sets of pull ups and keep working on your strength by adding more reps. Daily volume will help you improve your strength and endurance in the pull up. We’re well on our way to that first pull up.
Benefits of Pull ups
Pull-ups hit the majority of the muscles in the upper body and core: the latissimus dorsi (the largest and most powerful muscle of the back), the trapezius, rhomboid, deltoid, biceps, triceps, serratus and core muscles. Thanks to targeting all those muscles, pull ups will improve your strength and ability to perform all exercises at the gym and will enhance your overall athletic skills. Plus, you will develop a defined and sexier upper body and will help you improve your ability to burn body fat. You can get all those benefits by only using a pull up bar and your body weight!
Other Pull Up Variations
Another great way to work on your pull-up strength is to use a resistance band by looping one end of the band around the pull-up bar, and the other end around your foot. It might get tricky to reach the band with your foot, so use a box to help you up; and set the loop at one side of your body not in the middle, you don’t want to be slapped in the face every time you go down. The band’s elasticity will help carry you up to the bar. This is an awesome method for practicing the full range-of-motion required for a pull-up without being limited by strength at either the top or bottom of the movement. Try 3 sets of 10-12 banded pull-ups, resting 2-3 minutes between sets, and focus on engaging your core and contracting your lats throughout the full movement.
Try 3 sets of 10-12 banded pull-ups, resting 2-3 minutes between sets, and focus on engaging your core and contracting your lats throughout the full movement. Variation: If you don’t have bands, this is a great opportunity to make a new gym buddy by asking someone to be your support using both hands as a band by interlacing the fingers. Using the buddy system to complete a few sets of assisted pull-ups will help you develop strength and will also help your new friend get a little extra upper-body resistance training in the process. It’s a win-win situation!
Since pull-ups are a full-body movement, not just arms strength and upper body, you need to work on your core. Adding hollow holds, planks, side planks and superman poses at the end of your pull up workout will help you continue to develop strength in your core and back muscles. So don’t overlook them! Once that pull up strength is developed, your body will use its muscle memory to set your body into a good position to pull you up.
Common Mistakes While Doing a Pull up
Many of us female athletes struggle to perform pull-ups. It’s not that the movement is too advanced, the issue is that we aren’t training to successfully perform it. Let’s take a look at the common mistakes that prevent us from being able to do proper pull ups.
- Swinging the body forward and ahead of the bar: This might be because we think that pull ups are an exercise purely for the arms, we forget to engage the shoulder blades, core and glutes. Not engaging these muscles prevents you from pulling the body in a shorter vertical line and instead you waste energy swinging your body in both horizontal and vertical planes.
- Not fully extending your arms and therefore not using a full range of motion. Besides not being efficient, this is a no rep!
- Not able to control the shoulder blades. The scapula stabilizers are a link between the arms/shoulders and the rest of the body, they provide the shoulders with stability and mobility as it moves with the arm avoiding the shoulders to wing out or dislocate.
- Violently dropping the body when lowering down, this obviously has the potential to cause injury so remember to engage at all times the muscles of the upper back, shoulders and scapula. You will notice when someone isn’t engaging their muscles when their neck disappears into their body when in the bottom of the pull up.
- Overusing the arms and not engaging the shoulder blades, back and the core.
Your First Proper Pull Up is Right Around the Corner
Let’s be honest, pull-ups are hard, and even more so for women, as our upper bodies aren’t as strong as our lower bodies, that’s our nature. So doing the seven step chin up training method once a week or now and then won’t get you to your goal of performing beautiful and strong pull-ups.
If you are really committed to getting your first pull-up, Coach Vic recommends taking a couple of the steps and doing them two or three times per week at least. She also suggests going through all the seven pull up steps and practicing different levels. Even if you are in step 6, it’s beneficial to practice step two, three and so on, as you will gain strength in the necessary pull up muscles and grip. A good idea is to integrate the seven steps practice before or after your CrossFit session. Enjoy your practice and remember to honor the process as much as the result!
Giuliana is a yoga instructor and Crossfitter from Peru who is currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand with her Crossfit Coach (and husband) Tim.