Use your productivity on Pull Ups – Sun 1.08.17

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We’re a week into the New Year.  How is your productivity chain going in whatever endeavor you are focused on?  Be it nutrition, strength, business goals, family goals, skill work, using the productivity chain method works!

I would like to see more people get legitimate, strict Pull Ups and Muscle Ups, OR stronger and more reps at those movements.   When I program for The Compound, if the movements are performed correctly, most of the exercises we do should help you increase your strength in the muscles required to perform Pull Ups or Muscle Ups!

You can’t really consider yourself fit if you aren’t good at Pull Ups. That’s just the way it is.  But there are things you can do to improve right now!  Let’s look at a few of the limiting factors:

1) A HUGE component to any pull-up challenge is total bodyweight.  Regardless if you’re 300 pounds of cheeseburgers and fries or 300 pounds of striated muscle, all that extra weight is going to make performing the Up more challenging.  Obviously, dropping body fat never fails to drive pull-up numbers sharply.  Good nutrition and a consistent CrossFit program should fix that right up!

2) Another problem area is strength, or lack thereof. You don’t have the necessary strength to pull your own body weight up, so it’s obvious that you need to get stronger.  Again, Good nutrition and a consistent CrossFit program should fix that right up!

3) Not knowing how to use the muscles properly.  The primary muscles working in the Pull Up are the lats, biceps, and rear deltoids, with numerous synergists including the forearm flexors, elbow flexors, rhomboids, teres major, external rotators, and trapezius; even the core and legs, to a lesser degree.  But how do you put that all together?  Practice…..and lot’s of it!

4) Pull Up Technique.  As with all lifts that involve some skill, the technique on a pull-up is important.   Most people know the basics, but the key to begin mastering Pull Upsis to learn how to kip properly.  A kip is when you use some other muscles and momentum to perform the Pull Up.  But, there are two types of kips: conditioning kips and controlled kips.

  • Conditioning kip is when all you care about is getting the chin up over the bar at all costs – and to accomplish this you use every ounce of lower body momentum at your disposal. That’s definitely not what I’m talking about.
  • Controlled kip is a relatively subtle movement that involves some power generation in the legs and hips, where that power is then transferred to the upper body.

Make no mistake, it definitely makes the exercise easier, but if you can’t do any strict Pull Ups at all (or hardly any), it’s best to use the controlled kipping variety, at least for the time being.

What’s A Good Kip?:

  • The first part of the kip is a slight raise of the legs (hip flexion). The knees should absolutely not go higher than the hips and in many cases they just move up 10-20 degrees; but when you’re learning you’ll lift the legs up higher than that.
  • The movement needs to lead into a near-instant transition into a hip thrust,where you try to use some of your biggest muscles in your body (glutes and upper hams) to do some hip and trunk extension. It’s a little like the pull in a hang clean; the hips thrust forward and that propels the upper body upward. Again, when learning it feels more exaggerated, becoming subtler as experience and power increase.
  • The chest should be up as you pull yourself up to the bar. I think of trying to pull my upper chest to the bar – your chest may not literally hit the bar, but thinking “chest up” can help with form. Often when people think “chin above the bar,” they round forward and protract at the end to jut their chin forward, which is not the position we’re looking for. You want to keep the chest high and tall, with the shoulders down and back. In looking at the trunk (not the arms), the finish position of a pull-up is actually similar to the finish position of a heavy curl or deadlift.
  • When you perform a kip right, the exercise will feel a bit easier, and that’s what we’re after. Don’t worry about “squeezing the lats” or anything; they’ll get enough stimulation from the exercise itself. Our goal is performance, not size.

Here’s a partial list of exercises that will help you improve your Pull Up:

  1. Pull Up: Using a pronated grip, start with the arms extended and pull yourself up so your chin is above the bar. Compared to the chin-up, pull-ups place more emphasis on the rear delts, mid back, brachialis, and brachioradialis. It’s generally considered harder than a chin-up.
  2. Chin Up: Using a supinated grip, start with the arms extended and pull yourself up so your chin is above the bar. Compared to the pull-up, chin-ups place more emphasis on the lats and the biceps. It’s generally considered easier than the pull-up.
  3. Flexed-Arm Hang: Get your chin above the bar and hold that position for a set time. The grip is normally supinated but can be pronated.
  4. Negatives: Get your chin above the bar and then lower yourself back down until your arms are straight, attempting to keep control of your body at all times. Generally, negatives are 6-10 seconds in length.
  5. Ring Rows: Perform a row on the rings, keeping your body as straight as possible.  Pull your chest as far through as you can.  As you progress, lower your body to more parallel to the floor and eventually with your feet on a box as your rows get better!
  6. Kipping Pull Ups: As previously described this involves using some momentum to do a pull-up. This is in contrast with a strict pull-up (legs immobile, full stop at the bottom, full range of motion).
  7. Partials: Get your chin above the bar and then lower yourself down as low as you can without losing the ability to come back up. In short, anything less than full range of motion is a partial, and the shorter the range of motion, the easier it is.
  8. Partner Assisted Pull Ups: Cross your legs and have your partner hold your feet pressed up against his upper thigh. He’s not lifting you, he’s keeping his hands stable. You press against him (perform a leg extension) to push yourself up; thus you can regulate how much help you need. The more tired you are, the more you push.


When working any or all of theses movements regularly, not waiting for the movements to show up in workouts, you will increase your ability the way nature intended……slowly but surely!  In two to three months, you should see a significant difference in your Pull Up strength, not to mention your back and upper arm musculature.

We didn’t even start talking about high-rep Pull Ups, Weighted Pull Ups, Muscle Ups or any other variations of scaling the Pull Up up.  But we can, there are plenty of coaches at the Compound ready to help you reach your goal!

Seek out a coach for a plan to attack this movement.  Or listen to this podcast for more advice!

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