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Get Your First Pull-up!

One of the most common goals for most people when they begin working with us is to get their first pull-up. This is an awesome milestone to work toward! There’s a lot of bang for your fitness buck here too, because other goals can be incorporated along the way to get you to that first pull-up. Things like developing upper body strength, building shoulder stability, and improving body composition.

We are firmly in the “strict first” camp when it comes to pull-ups. We could easily teach you a kipping pull-up (a gymnastics technique that uses momentum, and the stretch properties of our muscles), so you can get your chin over the bar sooner. Part of our job is to keep you healthy and injury free though. Kipping is not inherently dangerous. We just want you to have a solid foundation of strength first.

The plan outlined below is intended to help you get your first strict pull-up. Shoutout to my better half, Lesley, who used this plan to get her first strict pull-ups earlier this year. If you’re already a pull-up wizard, it can also be used to build pull-up capacity, or applied to other exercises.

Let’s start with a basic upper body warm up.

  • 1-2 minutes of thoracic extensions (foam roll your upper back)
  • 10 dowel pass throughs (remember to keep your rib cage tucked down, and a full grip on the bar)
  • 30-100 band pull aparts (to taste)

I also recommend this as a daily warm up to anyone interested in improving their shoulder mobility. It takes about 5 minutes, counteracts some of our less than ideal day-to-day postural habits, and if done consistently can make a big difference (I used it to help me go from struggling with overhead squats to competing at a relatively high level in the snatch).

On to the workout!

Day 1
Every Minute on the Minute for 20 Minutes: 2 Strict Pull-ups

*Use a level of assistance or resistance that you KNOW you can complete all 40 reps with. Attempt at least 1 pull-up every minute for 20 minutes. If the 1st is successful, go for a 2nd. If any reps are unsuccessful do not attempt additional reps that minute. Rest and get ready for the next set. Your score is xx/40. The best possible score for this drill is 40/40.

Day 2 (2 or 3 days after Day 1)
Every Minute on the Minute for 20 Minutes: 2 Strict Pull-ups

*Using MORE assistance, or LESS resistance (easier reps) than Day 1.

Execute your pull-ups in a tight, hollow body position (feet together, toes in front of the bar, head behind it), with full grip on the bar (pinky knuckle on top, thumb wrapped around the bottom). Think about pressing your elbows down, rather than pulling your chin up.

I strongly suggest starting at a level that you KNOW you can complete all 40 reps with. It will give you room to grow. Don’t worry if it feels easy. You will advance quickly.

To progress this drill, once you complete Day 1 (all 40 reps), the next week you will use the same level of assistance of resistance and attempt to complete 3 strict pull-ups for the first 10 minutes, and 2 for the final 10 minutes. Follow the same guidelines (if any reps are unsuccessful do not attempt additional reps that minute. Rest and get ready for the next set).

When you are successful with all 50 reps of this scheme, attempt 3 strict pull-ups every minute on the minute for 20 minutes, still using the same level of assistance or resistance. After you have completed 60 reps you will move on to reduce the assistance, or increase the resistance, and begin again at 2 strict pull-ups every minute on the minute. If any Day 1 workouts are not successfully completed in their entirety, repeat them the following week.

Day 2 is always 2 reps every minute on the minute for 20 minutes. The only requirement is that the reps are “easier” (more assistance or less resistance) than Day 1. Day 2 changes when you graduate a level on Day 1 by completing 60 reps.

For example, here are what the first 4 weeks of this program looked like for Lesley:

Week 1

Day 1

Every Minute on the Minute for 20 Minutes: 2 Strict Pull-ups with an Orange Band

Day 2

Every Minute on the Minute for 20 Minutes: 2 Strict Pull-ups with Orange and Red Bands (more assistance)

Week 2
Day 1

Every Minute on the Minute for 10 Minutes: 3 Strict Pull-ups with an Orange Band

Directly into…

Every Minute on the Minute for 10 Minutes: 2 Strict Pull-ups with an Orange Band

(Week 1 Day 1 was successful, so she added reps)

Day 2
Every Minute on the Minute for 20 Minutes: 2 Strict Pull-ups with Orange and Red Bands (same as Week 1 Day 2)

Week 3
Day 1

Every Minute on the Minute for 20 Minutes: 3 Strict Pull-ups with an Orange Band

(Week 2 Day 1 was successful, so she added reps again)

Day 2
Every Minute on the Minute for 20 Minutes: 2 Strict Pull-ups with Orange and Red Bands

(same as Day 2 in Week 1 and Week 2)

Week 4
Day 1

Every Minute on the Minute for 20 Minutes: 2 Strict Pull-ups with 2 Red Bands

(Week 3 Day 1 was successful, so she reduced the reps and level of assistance)

Day 2
Every Minute on the Minute for 20 Minutes: 2 Strict Pull-ups with an Orange Band

(assistance was reduced on Day 1, so the resistance on Day 2 is also reduced)

This plan is intended to build a large volume of high quality strict pull-ups. The limited time under tension (small sets) keeps soreness and fatigue to a minimum. This makes it easy to incorporate as a side quest with your other fitness adventures. This isn’t sexy. There are no flashy, new exercises. It’s all about doing the work. Pull-ups. The keys are consistency, patience, and progression.

Let us know if you decide to give it a try, and keep us updated on your progress. Of course, if you’d like some help with your pull-ups, or any other exercises, we’re available for personal training too!

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