Pull Yourself Together: The Art of The Strict Pull Up Programme

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Hello Perpetua Nation,

This month I am writing to you on one of the key gymnastics skills the Pull Up. I have included an extremely useful article by George Economou, on how to establish and perfect the Pull Up – an example programme to follow.

Pull Ups are a skill like any other that requires strength, midline stability and positioning. Patience is the key this will not just Happen. It will take some work and consistent effort at that but if the athlete is persistent, can be really successful.

Currently one of the focus of Strength an Movement is the developing the Pull Up.

I have also included a couple of YouTube clips from Dr. Kelly Starrett and CrossFit starring the legend Chris Speller that help to explain body position and how this along with strong strict pull ups will help you develop other skills like Chest to bar pull ups, butterfly pull ups and muscle ups.

Please read the article, watch the videos, consult your coach and come to strength and movement if you want to dominate your pulling power!!

See you down the rabbit hole!


The Pull-Up – by George Economou


It’s a sad thing, but most people grow up without ever knowing how wonderful the pull-up can be. Unless you’ve spent time in the army, prison, or in youth gymnastics, there’s a good chance you could have gone through life without ever having been exposed to the pull-up.

Regardless of whether you’re looking to be a CrossFit athlete, an Olympic or power lifter, want to excel in any sport requiring upper body strength, or want to improve your health and fitness, the pull-up should be a part of your plan. From a strength perspective, mastering the pull-up does for the upper body what the deadlift and back squat do for the lower body. Aesthetically, the right addition of pull-ups will make your upper back look like Michelangelo himself sculpted it.

The basic pull-up is a simple movement.

Step 1: From a reliable bar of your choice, hang with your arms fully locked out and extended (arms and legs should be in-line with your torso).

Step 2: Pull your shoulder blades and elbows both back and down until your chin passes over the top edge of the bar.

Step 3: Lower your body back down to the starting position.

Step 4: Repeat.

Aside from the strength improvements and looking better naked, there are other advantages to working with the pull-up. Assuming you start a program with good shoulder health, the pull-up further promotes shoulder function by improving the way your muscles fire and sequence in order to perform the exercise. And for training, the many variations of pull-ups available to train with gives you a huge bang for your buck: pronated grip (palms facing away) supinated grip (palms facing towards), neutral grip (palms facing each other), wide, medium, narrow, rope, towel, one-arm, one-hand, kipping, jumping, flying…….

That said, the strength requirements to do just a single pull-up keep it out of reach for heavier folks and those with a low strength base. And for these people, it may seem tempting to want to jump straight into a more efficient movement (like the kipping pull-up), especially for CrossFit workout, but that could be a mistake. While the pull-up can promote shoulder health, it’s more dynamic cousin, the kipping pull-up could be a bit rough on a weak or imbalanced shoulder. Accordingly, we recommend that a person be able to do three strict pull-ups before learning the kipping pull-up. This helps to ensure that the athlete’s shoulders are stable and strong enough for the additional demands of the kipping pull-up.

So how do we get there? A lot of patience, dedication and hard work. First the exercises, and then the program.

The Exercises:

1. Negative Pull-Up – Starting with your chin over the bar, lower your body down in a controlled descent until your arms are fully locked out. People typically fail with this movement for one or two reasons. First, they do not start with their chin over the bar, but rather jump 6-10 inches to try and get into position. They then fall straight down, unable to exercise adequate control in the descent. The second common mistake is not completing the full range of motion. Starting with chin below the bar is easy enough to remedy, but the most common mistake is failing to control the descent all the way through full lockout. Too commonly we will see a beautiful controlled descent until and slight beyond 90 degrees, but then a very rapid descent below that point. Remember, we want to work hard to control the descent all the way through to full extension.

2. The Double-Leg (DL) Assisted Pull-Up – Starting from a hanging position, bend your knees and cross your ankles. Have a partner assist your pull-up by supporting your ankles through the entire
movement. The partner should give just enough assistance so that the person hanging can just perform the movement – no more, no less. If you need more assistance to complete a rep, just drive your feet against your partner.

3. The Single-Leg (SL) Assisted Pull-Up – Similar to the double-leg assisted pull-up, but this time you only bend one knee and your partner only grabs one ankle.
4. Waist Assisted Pull-Up – Start from a hanging position, with your arms and legs in-line with your torso, and have your partner grab your waist to provide assistance.

The Program:

Training Phase 1

Monday – Three sets of: Negatives x 5 reps @ 31A1 (A = assist), rest 90 seconds
Wednesday – Three sets of: DL Assisted Pull-Ups x 12 reps @ 2110, rest 90 seconds
Friday – Three sets of: Negatives x 5 reps @ 31A1, rest 90 seconds

Training Phase 2

(don’t move on to Phase 2 until you can complete all of Phase 1)

Monday – Three sets of: Negatives x 5 reps @ 51A1, rest 90 seconds
Wednesday – Three sets of: SL Assisted Pull-Ups x 12 reps @ 2110, rest 90 seconds
Friday – Three sets of: Negatives x 5 reps @ 51A1, rest 90 seconds

Training Phase 3

Monday – Three sets of: Negatives x 4 reps @ 71A1, rest 90 seconds
Wednesday – Three sets of: Waist assisted Pull-ups x 12 reps @ 2110, rest 90 seconds
Friday – Three sets of: Negatives x 4 reps @ 71A1, rest 90 seconds


Do I really have to stay in Phase 1 until I can complete all reps and sets?


Is this before, after, or during the regular workout?

Whenever you can fit it in. Probably better after a short warm-up and before your body is too severely taxed. If this is a priority, make it one.

Can I use a band instead of the partnered assist?

Sure you can, but it’s not nearly as effective. The partner will adjust their assistance based on your abilities…the band cannot do that.

Should I continue to Phase 3 if I can do pull-ups after completing Phase 2?

You can, but now there are some more tools available to getting you stronger at pull-ups.
So what if you can do a few pull-ups but want to go from 5 to 15?

The answer…do more pull-ups. Here are a couple of ways.

Grease the Groove (GTG)

This comes from Pavel Tsatsouline and I’ve used this with great success with pistols, pull-ups and push- ups. Simply perform many sub-maximal efforts throughout the course of the day. So, if you’re currently stuck at 5 strict pull-ups, GTG may look like this for you:

For one week perform 3 pull-ups every 90 minutes, and retest for a max effort set at the end of the week. Let’s say you get in six sets a day, that’s 18 pull-ups a day, and 126 a week. When you retest and find out you can now do 8 pull-ups, the following week bump your number up to 5…that’s 210 in a week.

Increase your variety by throwing in a finisher like this once or twice a week.

Three sets of:

5 x Wide Grip Pronated Pull-ups
Rest 45 seconds

5 x Medium Grip Pronated Pull-ups
Rest 45 seconds

5 x Narrow Grip Pronated Pull-ups
Rest 45 seconds

5 x Medium Grip Supinated Pull-ups
Rest 45 seconds

Play around with reps, tempo, and movement and this finisher will never get old.

Here are also some excellent links to some videos that may help you understand your positioning for the pull up.

Kelly Starrett “Pull Up Mechanics”

Chris Spealler

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