One of the many goals we hear our clients talk about is the strict pull-up. We have had many people over the past year get their first strict pull-up. For some it comes easy, for other’s its like a white unicorn.
The strict pull-up is the king of upper body pulling movements. It is a very useful tool to build upper body strength, carve a nice body, and just feel like an overall badass.
So how does one go about achieving their first pull-up? Here is a simple progression that we use:
Step 1) Master the ring row & any horizontal pulling movement (DB Rows, Bent Over DB Rows, Pendlay Rows/Barbell Rows) – vary these movements with a slow tempo. For a beginner you would want to think “higher” reps. Generally beginners don’t have much muscle in their lats and biceps, this will help.
Step 2) Train Isometric Holds – (think static holds – where the muscle does not contract or lengthen) A good starting base would be to achieve 30-60 seconds pronated chin-over bar hold. The reason I say 30-60 seconds is because i’ve seen people not be able to hold 30 seconds, but can do a pronated strict pull-up, and others than can hold over 30 seconds and can’t perform one. It definitely is individual specific (Ie -body weight, etc).
Step 3) Train the Eccentric – (think negative/where the muscle lengthens) at Southwest Strength we call these negatives. This is why we train our lifts always at a tempo, we are always WAY stronger on the eccentric/negative side of an exercise. Once you achieve a good isometric hold/chin-over bar hold, you can now move on to training the eccentric.
Start with your chin-over the bar (pronated – palms away from you) – hold for a second, (@ 40×1) then lower for a count of 1,2,3,4 – get fully extended – jump back up over the bar and repeat. Now this will eventually vary, if you have a good coach or program – this should be progressive over time. Ie – > the first week you do , a total of 10 negatives with just your body weight. The next week you do 15. The next week you do 10 negatives with added loading. This should always be progressed until you can no longer achieve the progression.
This will vary for everyone individually, but test and retest – after a few weeks of training the eccentric, try a pull-up. Can you do one? Now its time to re-assess. The big thing to take away from this is we can’t get stuck in a routine and keep doing the same reps, same tempo, same volume. We will need to vary and progress the movement and constantly challenge the individual so we can see progress. I would say if an individual can get to the point where they can do a few reps and sets at a 10 second tempo eccentrically with some added load they are probably ready to do a strict pull-up.
Step 4) Accessory/varied training – on top of the isometric holds and eccentric training you will need to add in a variety of accessories to build strength and muscle. Here are a few tips:
Vary your grips. Don’t just train the grip you are good at, do pronated, supinated, wide grip and mixed grip. If you have a set of rings, do some semi-palms facing grip training.
Dead hang from pull-up bar. Do some dead hang work on the minute mixed in with isometric holds/ ring rows/ negatives.
Barbell/Dumbbell/Ring Rows. Like stated above this is a very useful tool to build strength in your upper body pulling. The best part is gravity for your own body weight isn’t involved. Everyone can do these!
Bicep curls. Yes, these will help you achieve your first pull-up. If your arms are stronger that is definitely not a bad thing. Plus, your arms will look awesome.
Using bands. Bands can be useful as an accessory. Wrap a band around a pull-up bar, put your foot in it and start doing STRICT pull-ups. If you can’t do a strict pull-up yet, do high reps 6-12 reps for 3-5 sets.
Achieving your first strict pull-up is a big deal. For some this may come easy and for some it may take some time to achieve this. Unfortunately gravity isn’t very friendly. Some situations may mean all an individual has to do is lose some weight and they automatically get one. Hopefully this little how to guide has given you some insight and knowledge on how to achieve your first strict pull-up.