I’ve wanted to be able to do pull-ups most of my life. I was always amazed by girls who could do them. I thought surely after starting CrossFit in 2012 I’d get there — but it wasn’t that simple. Looking back, I know realized I could have reached my goals back then if I’d known how to get there.
I finally did my very first strict pull-up earlier this year — and recently, I did 5 strict pull ups IN A ROW. So, after five years of trying and not getting even one — what made this year different? If you want to learn how to get a strict pull-up, listen up!
1. Strengthen your upper back muscles.
You may think pull-ups are all about the arms. They’re not. It’s the back muscles that really get you where you’re going. I began focusing on accessory work that was all about my upper back. Things like lat pull downs, bent over rows & lateral raises. I’m talking 4 rounds of 10-12 reps a piece at the heaviest weight you can manage for that many rounds/reps. Here’s a list of ideas.
2. Be very consistent.
As to the exercises listed about, do a variety combo of them three times a week. You can’t do this once a week and expect results. Dedicate the time to it — or it won’t happen. I spent extra time after workouts to do this. I also cut back on the cardio to fit it in so that I could reach my goal. Work with the time you have but don’t skip this.
3. Practice pull-ups.
So you can’t actually do them now? Buy a resistance band and do what you can with it. I have two different weights for resistance bands and when I started, I had to use the one that gave me the most relief. You can get them in plenty of sizes so get one that works for you. I also bought a home pull-up bar because you need to practice more than just at the gym (or if you don’t go to a gym, you definitely need one!) Just hop on there a couple times a day and give it a try. The more you do it, the closer you will get to getting a pull-up — or multiple pull-ups!
4. Negative Pull-ups.
If you can get yourself up to the top of the pull-up position and slowly let yourself down (count do 10) to the bottom, you will strengthen the muscles you need to pull-up there in the first place. It can be a painful process at first…not fun at all really…but it definitely contributes to your success.
5. Strengthen the helper muscles.
Biceps & triceps are also a big part of pull-ups so don’t neglect them! The CrossFit crew may not love bicep curls, but I sure do them on the regular — as well as tricep extensions and dips. I cannot do ring dips or strict dips (yet!) so I modify on a bench or with a resistance band. I’d recommend doing these exercises twice a week in addition to the back exercises mentioned above.
6. Keep a tight core.
This is good advice for pretty much ANY exercise ever, but it’s going to be easier to pull your body up when it’s tight! So when you are doing pull ups, squeeze your tummy & butt — and take a deep breath to focus.
7. Lose a few pounds (if you can spare them)
I didn’t intend on losing weight but I did lose around 5 pounds and hey — a little less weight is always helpful when getting something new. This is certainly not necessary but I do think it helped me initially. My next feat will be to try a weighted pull-up. I think I can do it because if I can do 5 unweighted in a row, I should be able to do at least one weighted!
8. Fuel correctly.
If you read this blog regularly, you know I give a lost of credit to my change in diet. The change was simply this: adding protein and eating a 2:1 carb:protein before and after my workouts. I get a good chunk of my protein from Premier Protein shakes I drink daily and also just paying more attention to what I’m eating. You need to eat properly around workouts for your muscles to grow and thrive — so that’s what I did and I think it helped.
9. Kick butt attitude.
This last one is all mental but I’m convinced it makes a difference. When I went to do those 5 pull ups for the video below, I got all pumped up in my mind. I had never done five in a row and wasn’t sure I could but I got my game face and mind on and felt determined. You need to go in there with a “can-do” attitude and this will help amplify all the other stuff you have going on. This isn’t the only thing you need, but it’s certainly important!