Skip to main content

How to achieve a pull-up? I used to hate pull-ups! Confession – I’ve skipped a few WOD’s just because they were part of the programming. Between just not having the physical strength to do it and high chance of tearing up my hands…no thanks!

The thing I love/hate about CrossFit though is you can’t keep escaping your weaknesses. You have to face and conquer them. So when it came time to do the 3-month goals I knew I needed to achieve a pull-up. Well, I did it! And here are the most valuable lessons I learned from our coaches – and a bit of my own research – to get there.


1. Find your weak point and focus on that

After much researching, I now appreciate how technical of a movement a pull-up is. It’s not just having the strength to get your chin over the bar. It uses your shoulders, lats, core, biceps, not to mention you need the mobility and grip strength to hang on.

For me it the challenge was activating my lats and holding on to the bar. So I worked on just hanging from the bar and activating my lats in that bottom position. “Upper back arched, look at the bar, bring your shoulder blades together.” That is what’s going through my head.

2. Build strength to achieve a pull-up

Goes without saying that you need the strength to be able to pull yourself up. Unanimously, our coaches kept telling me to do these:

  1. Ring rows – Doing proper ring rows! Legs straight, body parallel to the ground, and pulling myself up all the way. I wasn’t able to do many at first, but I really felt my muscles working and I noticed progress as my reps increased.
  2. Holds – I really enjoyed holds! So easy to throw a tabata clock up and hold at the top or the bottom position. The whole time I focused on activating and engaging my lats and shoulders.

3. Lose the ego

One thing Coach Matt preaches is “Establishing the Mechanics, then working on Consistency, and then increasing the Intensity.” To do this, the ego has to go. To make progress you have to accept the weaknesses and work on them. For me I started to incorporate strict banded pull-ups (as opposed to kipping) whenever possible. It might take me a little longer, but oh well. It’s the end result that matters, right? Oh, and don’t get stuck using the same band you’ve been using the past 3 months. Challenge yourself!

4. Say goodbye to kipping (for now)

If we’re going for volume and speed, kipping is great! However if we’re working on building strength for a strict pull-up, there are better methods to get you there. I learned to kip a few months ago and it’s been so easy to rely on that to get through the workout as quickly as possible. By re-focusing myself on the intention of the workout and my goal, I realized kipping won’t help me get there as quickly as ring rows, holds, and strict banded pull-ups are the better approach.

5. A little bit of work, often goes a long way

How much extra time did I devote to achieve a pull-up outside of class? Honestly about an extra 10 minute. Think of it this way – a tabata is just 4 minutes long. That’s it! Once I got that through my head I really had no excuse to stay just those few minutes after class.

So there you go! That’s what worked for me, hopefully you can find something in there that clicks for you. One thing Coach Jen suggested was everyday to see how far I can pull myself up. No band, no kip, you probably won’t even get to the bar, but you’ll notice progress and see where you’re the weakest. I did that on a daily basis, in between warm-ups, strength and MetCon’s and all of a sudden I was only an inch away, and then I was up there! You can’t do it if you don’t try, so just try every day.

Huge thank you to all the coaches and all the other CrossFitters that pushed me through this. Couldn’t have do it without you!

Join the discussion 5 Comments