A pull-up in its most basic form, as we define it, is when you hang from a bar with straight arms and pull your chin over the bar. What happens between the start and finish position demonstrates the wide variety of pull-up options. You can do jumping pull-ups, banded pull-ups, strict, kipping, overhand, underhand, and more. One of the most sought after movements from new and experienced members at Industrial Athletics is one unassisted pull-up. That means the athlete hangs from the bar without his or her feet touching the ground and pulls his or her chin over the bar without any assistance from a band or anything else.
Those who can do an unassisted pull-up don’t appreciate the incredible amount of upper body strength that is needed. This who can’t do a pull-up yet, hang from the bar with a feeling of impossibility. We say “yet” because we’ve seen countless members who started at IA unable to do a pull-up accomplish their goal with some time and dedicated work.
Building the strength to do a pull-up is the same as any other movement we do in the gym. If we talk about increasing a back squat by 5#, most people understand how to do this. You practice back squats at higher weight through rep ranges of 5, 3, 2, and 1. Understand that building strength to do a pull-up is very similar, we are just talking about a different part of the body. It is all a matter of adjusting resistance to something challenging today that will progress you toward your goal tomorrow. Therefore, step one is to figure out what you can “lift” today.
Start with a ring row. Find a set of gymnastics rings suspended from a pull-up bar and adjust them to the height of your armpit. Holding the rings, fall backward and pull your chest to the ring. There are ways to make ring rows harder and easier by moving your feet forward or backward, or even elevating your feet off the ground. Work on ring rows until you can do 50 under good control without having to stop more than once or twice.
Once ring rows become too easy, start to move to assisted pull-ups. The easiest way to perform an assisted pull-up is with a band. These are large rubber bands that hang around the gym. The thicker the band, the more assistance it provides. Again, find what you can do today. If you start with one pull-up with the thickest band, keep working until you can do five pull-ups with that band. We’ve learned over the years that when you can consistently do five reps with one band color, you can probably do one rep at the next harder band. Now, build strength at the new band until you can do five reps, and then move on to the next one.
Most people who are committed to getting a pull-up and dedicate the time to that goal will achieve a pull-up following this progression. Some have found it helpful to work one-on-one with a coach through personal training or our Coach’s Corner program to work through individual limitations and to achieve the goal faster. If you have any questions about getting your first pull-up feel free to reach out.