Possibly one of the most daunting movements that the general population let hold them back from physical fitness is: The Strict Pull Up. I’ve heard it time and time again and the story usually goes something like this:
“There’s no way I could ever come to one of your CrossFit classes. I can’t even do one pull up!”
Usually there’s one of two ways to go about it from here – either give up and avoid the one movement that could be beneficial for your performance for your strength and health in life, OR do something about it!
Having struggled with the movement myself in the past, I can honestly say that there are right and wrong way to go about it. Here’s a good few places to start checking in with yourself in preparation for the strict pull work.
Strengthen up that core!
Keeping the body in the right position during the hang will prove to be essential for getting that chin over the bar. Without the core in a braced position we are actually blocking ourselves from the full potential of our strength. Hanging with an open hip and an arched rib cage reduces torque on the bar and leaves you hanging from smaller stability muscles and ultimately leading to unstable shoulders. Learning how to hold the hollow body positions is huge for the pull up game. We often programme these are a part of the warm up for sessions that require a bit more a gymnastic effort, but if you still struggle with it you can check out this vide from GMB Fitness as a reference to how you can scale the movement to work for your own flexibilities.
Tighten up that grip
Some of us actually have a surprising amount of strength in us to get our chin up and over the bar, but our grip from our forearms weakens first! Embracing the benefits that can be gained from farmer’s and waiter’s walks would be an excellent place to start. These movements not only aid your grip, but when done correctly will help to strengthen the stabilising muscles through the back, rotator cuffs and the core – all of which will help to bulletproof your shoulders and help to prevent injury in the future.
Another great way to work on the grip is to get to hanging off of that pull up bar! Working on static hanging is a great way to get a feel for holding your own body weight for grip strength. Dynamic holds will also do you some good here, so working on jumping up to the top of the pull up and holding with a tempo descent will give you some big strength gains for developing the pull from a dead-hang. Check out this awesome article from the depths of the Thames blog for a more in-depth look at the hang and all the gains that can be had!
Work on the pull
There is a right and a wrong way to pull. When the body is put under foreign tensions of movement it sometimes compensates by recruiting the wrong muscles. Through spending some time with a movement like the Ring Row, we can work on activating and developing the right pulling muscles while varying the body angle for our own personal level of difficulty. Getting strong chest to ring pulls can really help to strengthen the muscles needed to get through the final pull at the top of the movement. Bent Over Row and Batwings are also killer movements for working on any asymmetries in pulling strength.
“But if I can kip why should I go back to basics?”
I’m not shunning the kip by any means. It is in fact an adaptation of movement that has its time, place and need, however the transferrable benefits from working on a strict pull up are far from endless. Let me highlight just a few:
- It will develop strength in the pull for your Power and Olympic lifts
- Your rowing power output will rise noticeably
- They will help improve your posture, especially if you’re stuck at a desk for +8 hours per day
- Proper pull up movement will develop stable and strong shoulders and prevent injury
- You’ll always have two tickets to the gun show!
As former Royal Marine PTI Sean Lerwill says – “A lot of guys get fixated on their bench press best, but I think your total pull-ups effort is a far better indicator of a strong, stable and functionally fit upper body that has real-world performance capability.”
So it’s time to reclaim your strength over the bar – let’s get those strict pull gains!
Workout of the Day:
A) Strength – Back squat
Establish a 3RM
27-21-15 reps, for time of:
Back squat 75/52kg (no rack)
Workout of the Day:
15 Minutes on Each
A) 2-4 Rounds
10 SandBag Squats
10 Sandbag Presses
10 Dynamic Push Ups (Using Sandbag)
B) 2-4 Rounds
10 Get Ups
10 Partner Ham Raise
10 Hamstring Curls
C) 2-4 Rounds
100m Farmers Walk
100m Front Rack Carry
100m OH Carry