Are you on the road to your first strict pull up? Quite a few of us have gotten stuck in a rut of ring rows, jumping pull-ups or bands.
It’s not uncommon for us to hear, “I’ve been trying to get a strict pull up for a year now.”
I'm not going to tell you to do more Ring Rows. I’m also not saying that I can help you get this first pull up right after starting these exercises. But these tools will leave you WAY closer to your goal because the progressions are full of purpose and intent. You will also be surprised at how much this accessory work will impact ALL of your movements in the gym.
The truth is that you need to rack up contractions in every aspect of your upper pulling.
Our most common progressions that we prescribe are:
Active Bar Hangs
Pull Up Negatives
Band Assisted Pull Ups
These are all great tools to use in your training. The part that often gets overlooked is sharpening the mind-muscle connection with the muscles you will be using. The issue that we’re glossing over is how to create tension in the movement patterns we’re trying to improve.
WARNING: Some technical words ahead. Ask one of your coaches if you get lost in them!
This alone will help you get closer to your goal of:
Getting your first strict pull up
Improving your current number of unbroken reps
Preparing your musculature for more dynamic variations like kipping or butterfly
Let’s say one of the coaches ask you to engage your lats while you’re hanging on the pull-up bar. If you don’t have a physical sensation to connect that back to, that cue is meaningless. This will trip you up when you Snatch. It will trip you up when you do Pull Ups, TTB, you name it.
A quick note is to practice this before you're fatigued. Come in ten minutes early to warm up and work on it or, at the very least, rest for a few minutes after the WoD. By the end, I’ll map out what an accessory session can look like. But first, let’s look at why we’re using each of these exercises and familiarize ourselves with the names of the muscles:
1 - Dumbbell Upright Row
This exercise is unique in the sense that it forces you to work on your upward pulling, which is a motion that we can easily ignore. Even though pull ups are you “PULLING UP”, it is technically a downward pulling motion.
One of the best things you can do is fill in the gaps where you have weakness in your pulling strength. This specific exercise will feel awkward at first. You may even notice that you experience some shoulder impingement (Lack of range of motion). The trick is to work with the range you have for now, because after several bouts of this exercise, you will see it paying dividends in shoulder health AND scapular movement.
Think about leading with the elbows getting as high as possible vs bringing the DBs as high as possible.
Here is a video of Head Coach Anthony demonstrating the dumbbell upright row: https://youtu.be/EmUEy-g6liw
2 - Ring Row Hold
I’m sure you’ve done a million Ring Rows by now. What you probably do realize is the effectiveness of the isometric hold in this movement.
The idea here is to think about engaging the entire upper back. Imagine squeezing a pencil between your shoulder blades. Can you touch the rings to your chest? You can challenge yourself by bringing yourself more horizontal. Similarly you can bring yourself more upright to find the appropriate amount of challenge.
Hold the top of the ring row -
Easier: Standing more upright, feet flat on the ground
Harder: Heels on a box or bench so that you are parallel to the ground
These are the muscles that will help you get your chin over the bar. Focusing on isometric holds will allow you to get familiar with the sensation we are looking for when we go back to the pull up bar.
3 - See-Saw Kettlebell Row
This is a good one because it works on your horizontal pulling, which is another plane of motion we want to keep in the mix. The unilateral (single arm) aspect of this exercise great for bringing awareness to how you engage with your muscles side to side. The challenge here will be resisting rotation as you pull one kettlebell up to your chest. Notice how this is a similar motion to the Ring Row Hold.
4 - Ring Face Pull
This is a great step up from your traditional Ring Row. The amount of range you get exposed to is wildly helpful in realizing, “Oh wow, i didn’t know my scapula could move like this.” You start with a neutral grip (palms facing each other). Then you start to pull towards your nose, rotating the back of the hands together. You’ll notice this internal rotation allows you to connect with you the entire upper back. It’s like realizing you have a set of wings. Those wings are what will help you translate to things on the pull up bar. Wings also look great in Instagram photos!
5 - Seated Strict Pull Up
This is a more movement specific variation that allows you to connect all the lessons from the tools above. The beauty of this exercise is how you can use your feet as a way to increase or decrease assistance based on what you need. At first, you may be pushing off your feet a little more than usual to achieve the full range of motion. With more exposure, the goal is to be less reliant on the drive from your feet, which puts more demand on your upper body doing the work.
Putting It All Together
Here’s a circuit you can use twice a week to help get closer to that first pull up. I've included video links in case you decide to begin it or have questions before you see us.
A) Seated Strict Pull Up
22X1; 4-6reps; rest 2min x 4 sets
Remember, Superset means you alternate exercises, doing one set of B1 and then one set of B2, then back to B1
B1) Ring Face Pull https://youtu.be/xfvgTRehAr0
20X2; AMRAP @ tempo; rest 60sec x 3 sets
B2) Dumbbell Bench Press
30X1; 8-10reps; rest 90sec x 3 sets
C1) See-Saw KB Row
20X2; 8-10reps; rest 60sec x 3 sets
C2) Ring Row Hold
30-45sec; rest 60sec x 3 sets
C3) Side Bridge
30sec / side; rest 2min x 3 sets
I hope this gives you an idea of how to tap into your existing musculature. The ability to connect with these structures are what will allow you to build the strength we need to get you your first pull up!
Keep in mind that the sample above is a general sample. Even just doing this session 3x a week will get you closer! Head Coach Anthony and Coach Juan both offer skill-based personal training to help you with any goals you have. Put it out there and let's make it happen!