Mastering the pull-up isn’t an overnight success. For anyone who has never performed a pull-up, it’s not something you just find you can do and do well. Even those that can surprise themselves by doing one, they certainly won’t be able to do many. Being good at pull-ups and being able to do multiple reps requires a person to be able to pull their entire bodyweight up to a bar and lower it down again multiple times. For most people that’s a real challenge and something that truly has to be worked at. Truly mastering the pull-up takes time and effort.
I am not talking about the kipping pull-up from CrossFit here. This is the true strength, slow, controlled, legs straight and body still pull-up. Although the exercises below will help strengthen the kip pull-up, I would recommend learning the real pull-up as being able to do multiple reps of that will enable you to do many of the kipping variety too.
On the Royal Mares PTI course, when instructing civilian circuits it was imperative that you give a regression for every exercise used for the circuit to ensure everyone can take part. Regressions and the ability to come up with and provide regressions as an instructor are crucial. Pull-ups are one of the most important exercises to regress as very few people can get better at pull-ups with pull-ups alone.
A regression is an exercise that enables you to train the same movement pattern but with an easier exercise. For example a regression of running might be walking. A regression of a press-up might me a press-up on the knees. Regressing a pull-up just requires thinking about the same movements and muscles, and performing exercises that will strengthen them.
- Lat pull down – the same movement as a pull-up but you can set the weight and steadily increase over a series of weeks.
- Assisted pull-up – either with a machine as shown here or with a band over the bar and knees/feet on the band. Same movement but with help/assistance.
- Eccentric lower – jump or pull up and then lower slowly down. Jump or climb up and lower down again. Most people can do more in the eccentric (lowering) phase than the concentric (raising) phase.
- Bent over row – the same pulling muscles are used so this exercise can be used to increase the weight these muscles can pull over time to strengthen them.
- Inverted row – pulling the body weight in a very similar way but with the feet on the floor so not all the body weight is being pulled.
To master the pull-up start with a warm up and some light bent over row/assisted pull-ups. Once warm, try:
- As many normal pull-ups as possible
- 3 sets of 4-8reps eccentric pull-ups (jump up, lower down)
- 3 sets of 6-10reps inverted row
- 3 sets 8-12reps assisted pull-ups
- 3 sets of 8-12 bent over row
- 1 pull-up 30secs rest until you can’t do any pull-ups (make this 2 or 3 or 4 etc as you get better at pull-ups)
Time and patience
Mastering the pull-up takes time and patience, but if you put in the effort you’ll reap the rewards. Anyone who is able to do rep after rep started somewhere, and that was probably being able to do very few if any. Like all things worth having, it takes time, but that makes the end product all the more special.