Scaling School: How to Scale the Pull-Up

This may seem weird, but pull-ups have the power to make me feel like I am the best CrossFitter in the world, or the worst athlete that ever existed. When you see pull-ups in a WOD, you generally fall under the “WOOP WOOP” category or the “NOOOO” category. If you are efficient you can’t understand why anyone would dread a WOD with pull-ups. However, there are many of you who fall in the second, less efficient category. We want everyone to fall under the “WOOP WOOP”  category, which is why we are spending the next month focusing on our pull-ups.

Why do we do pull-ups?

This simple movement is great for building shoulder strength! When done properly, it works a lot of larger muscles in your shoulders, arms and back.

The primary movers: the latissimus dorsi. Your lats are like wings on the sides of you. This muscle must be engaged to efficiently do pull-ups.

So how do we engage these wings? If you stand with your arms above your head, and pull your shoulder blades down, like you are pulling them in towards your spine, you should feel your flexion in your lats. This is what you want to do when you are getting ready to pull-up on that bar.

You can’t do this RX?

As someone who loves CrossFit, I try to get everyone to try it. Its out of love; I want everyone to have this wonderful experience. When trying to convince people the most common excuse I hear is “I can’t even do a pull-up”, as if you are less than qualified to do CrossFit because you can’t get your chin over a bar. Most of us are not athletically gifted like Matt Williamson, and we need to scale the pull-up in order to build strength.

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How do I scale APPROPRIATELY?

I’m glad you asked.

If we want to build strength we have to choose the right scaling option. If we aren’t challenging ourselves we won’t see improvements. Yet if we choose an option that is not attainable we will either injure ourselves or leave feeling frustrated. So here are some options:

The Jumping Pull-up

  • Who is if for?
    • This is a great movement for beginners or those trying to learn the kip! If you are unable to do at least 10 strict pull-ups with a green band, this is the best option for you. You are able to use your legs as much or as little as needed, while pulling with your arms.

Ring Rows

  • Who is it for?
    • Those trying to build strength for the pullup
    • Those who have found that the jumping pullup is not challenging enough
    • You can make this movement more difficult by making your body more parallel to the ground. Put a box underneath your feet to challenge yourself further.

Strict Banded Pull-ups

  • Who is it for?
    • Anyone who can do strict banded pull-ups. When you choose this movement in a WOD you want to be able to do at least 7-10 pull-ups in a row, otherwise it will be more efficient to do them on the rings.
    • These handy bands will reduce the amount of weight that you have to pull up with. Don’t kip with these bands, it defeats the purpose of building strength. IF you cannot do a strict pull-up with a green band, move back to the ring rows.

Partner Assisted Pull-ups

  • Who is it for?
    • If you are close to getting a strict pull-up, but you can’t quite get your chin over the bar, this exercise is for you!
    • These are not ideal to do during a WOD (unless it’s a partner WOD and your partner has the energy to help you), however during our skill work, this would be a great time to have a friend assist you.

Once you are able to do strict pull-ups, you can move on to learn how to do kipping and butterfly pullups. In Part 2 of “Scaling School: The Pull-up” I will discuss how to decide which modification to choose depending on the desired stimulus of the WOD, as well as how to build strength on the pull-up. We can all love pull-ups, but they require time and skill work!

Whit

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