Recently, I’ve had a lot of members ask about improving their pull-ups. Some say they aren’t getting any better at pull-ups – they’re stuck on the same band – or they just aren’t getting any easier.
Here’s the thing: if you want to get better at something, you need to work on it a few times a week. Sometimes repetition of the given movement you are trying to get better at is all you need, while at other times you’ll need to attack the movement from different angles, using accessory movements and different variations of the end goal.
In this article, I will go over exercises that have worked for me and many others; I perform most of these movements on a weekly basis. Even if your pull-ups are good, it’s important to always works on parts of the pull-up to achieve maximum efficiency.
Getting Started – The Hollow Position
The hollow position is a movement that strengthens and stabilizes your midline; it is the basis for every gymnastic movement. This is a drill you could do every day if you wanted, either as a warm-up or a cool down. When you perform this movement, it should be extremely hard to hold. When you first start you may only be able to hold the proper position for 5 seconds to start, that’s ok! I’d rather you hold the proper position than cheat the position. Below is an image of the proper hollow position.
You could start with Tabata Hollow Rocks or Holds, 8 sets of 20 seconds of Work followed by 10 seconds of rest, or start by accumulating 60 seconds in the Hollow Position in as many sets as needed.
Once you get comfortable and it seems to be getting easy, increase the time to two minutes. You could even try holding this position while hanging from the pull-up bar. Getting strong in this position will only help your gymnastic movements.
Scapular Pull-ups and Shoulder Engagement
Scapular pull-ups are another way to help strengthen your position on the bar. This is a movement that could be performed as a warm-up for any of the gymnastic movements and also a great warm-up for your shoulders. The Scapular pull-up not only strengthens your positioning, but it teaches you proper positioning when hanging from the pull-up bar.
In the image above, notice on the left how close the subjects shoulders are to his ears. On the right you’ll notice he is engaged, in an active position. The right is the position you want to hold when performing any gymnastic movement on a bar (Toes-to bar, Pull-ups, Bar Muscle-Ups, etc.). A Scapular pull-up is going from the disengaged position to an active position.
Start with 3 sets of 5, don’t rush this movement, and build from there. Below is a video demonstrating the scapular pull-up…
Depending on your abilities, just hanging onto the bar can be a challenge. Practicing an active hang position for as long as possible may be the best starting point for you.
Once you’ve mastered the Hollow Position on the ground and the Scapular Pull-up, try putting the two together. Try performing Hollow Rocks on a pull-up bar while being in an active position. Start small, 2-5 Reps and get off the pull-up bar. Performing Hollow Rocks on a bar will transfer to the kip that we all want to master!
Moving Ahead: Building Strength
I know we all want to do kipping pull-ups, but before you start performing kipping pull-ups it is recommended you develop the strength to perform at least one strict pull-up. Here’s the reason: if you start kipping before you develop the strength to do a strict pull-up, this will lead to overuse and other shoulder related injuries. Strict pull-ups will prepare your muscles and protect your shoulder from the kipping movement. Performing strict pull-ups with a band is a great place to start if you need assistance, you’ll just need to find the band that works best for you.
Negative pull-ups are another exercise to help you get stronger at Pull-ups. To perform a negative pull-up, get your chin over the bar (use a box and jump to get your chin over) and lower yourself as slowly as possible. Start with 2 X 3-8 depending on your ability. It’s better to do fewer reps and make them count, than do more reps and cheat the reps. Here is a video on Negative pull-ups (start at the 1:00):
Ring rows are great for developing a stronger Pull-up. You can scale Ring Rows to your ability; you can make Ring Rows harder than a Pull-up. Here is a video demonstrating the Ring Row and how to scale it:
You could also perform reverse rows on a fixed bar. One of the kid’s pull-up bars in the back room is perfect for this exercise.
Row variations can also help build pull-up strength. There are many different row variations you can choose from.
Working on your Chin-up is another way of strengthening your pull-up. Chin-ups are performed with your palms facing you. If you need assistance grab a band!
Band Assisted Pull-ups
I’m going to finish off this article with talking about bands. Bands can either hurt you or help you. First off, when you get in and out of the band be careful, especially when you’re sweaty and breathing hard! Sometimes getting in and out of the band is the most challenging part, it’s best to use a higher box to get into the band. When using a band you want to always make sure it’s challenging you, if the band you pick is catapulting you up, chances are it’s too easy. You want the band to be a struggle, but you want it to be able to allow you full range of motion. Full range of motion in the Pull-up is arms fully extended when at the bottom and your chin is clearly over the bar at the top. Below you will find approximately how much assistance the bands aid you…
Black Band: 130lbs
Green Band: 90lbs
Blue Band: 60lbs
Red Band: 40lbs
Purple Band: 20lbs
Orange Band: 10lbs
You can always mix and match the bands, once you get to the orange you’re pretty much there!
There are a lot of other exercises to work on that will aid you in getting stronger at the pull-up. These are the exercises that have helped me and I’ve seen work for other athletes. Remember that we all start somewhere; I started on a blue band. The hardest part was getting rid of the band, I remember feeling like I needed it, but really I didn’t. If you put in the time and effort eventually you WILL get strong enough and you’ll no longer physically need the band. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask!