Remember when we talked about scaling the pullup? Well, let’s shift a little bit and talk about something less gratifying and more gritty: building strength.If you look on our gigantic whiteboard of goals, you’ll see quite a bit of you have your eyes set on completing a series of pull-ups – whether that’s kipping, strict, or butterflied.
The reality is – pull-ups take practice and repetition. We’ve already discussed what you can do to make the repetition part happen via scaling, so let’s jump into the ways you can practice building strength, channeling the right muscles (important!) and getting a better understanding of the mechanics of the almighty pull-up.
First, get to the box early and do some strength work to isolate those LATS! Here are a couple drills to help:
Scap-Ups | 3×10
- Set-up: Hands shoulder width apart, hanging on the pullup bar
- Execution: Activate your lats by pulling your shoulder blades down towards your spine, lifting your body slightly. Go back to resting position
- Am I doing this right? If your shoulders move away from your ears, you know you are doing it correctly.
Bat-wings | 3×12
- Set-up: Lie face down on a bench, with your head off the bend. Take a kettlebell in each hand and hold them directly underneath your shoulders.
- Execution: Pull the kettle-bells up so that your hands are next to your armpits. Control the weight on the way back down. Be sure to send your elbows straight back, the same way you would a push-up.
Kettle-bell Press | 3×10 on each side
- Set-up: Hold your arm at a 90 degree angle, out in front of you. Hold a kettlebell by its horn, bottom up.
- Execution: Press the KB up to full extension, and then slowly come back to flexion.
Barbell Rows | 3×12 (light); 5×5 (heavy)
- Set-up: Stand with feet hip width apart. Hinging at the hips, like you would for a good-morning, hold the barbell about thumbs distance from hips, palms facing up. The barbell should be hanging directly underneath your sternum.
- Execution: Keeping elbows close, pull the barbell toward your body, sending elbows behind you, then return to starting position.
Negative Pull-ups | 4×5 or 3 reps EMOM for 7:00
- Set-up: On the pull-up bar, start with your chin over the bar
- Execution: Slowly release to full extension, try doing this in 3-8 seconds. Keep those shoulders active. The more you can slow this movement down the better.
In addition to isolating those LATS, building grip strength and shoulder strength will also come be essential when trying to improve your pulling strength.
Some of the movements mentioned above will improve your grip and shoulder strength since they are recruited during things like the scap pull-ups and barbell rows.
To improve your grip strength further, walk around with a heavy kettlebell in each hand (aka: Farmers carry), take the kettlebells everywhere, or hang on the pullup bar for an extended period of time. This accessory work will really come in “handy” (get it) during pull-ups, especially when the volume is high.
If you’re on the hunt for more ideas or ways to build strength for the pull-up – get at me! Let’s put together a 6 week strength-building program that helps you hit that whiteboard goal.