One of the questions we get frequently at SGPT is about how to do better at pull-ups.
I am just like you — I need to work on my pull-ups and improve. Even though I try to keep my body still in the dead hang, I have a slight kip when I get tired.
I know and am working to improve that.
If you intend to join the military or intend to switch to the special ops, you need to polish your pull-ups.
Sometimes it is never that serious. You probably are just trying to work on your upper body strength and stay in shape. You need to improve on your pull-ups if you want to achieve your fitness goals.
TIP #1: TEST YOUR CURRENT LEVEL
Get on the pull-up bar and test to see how many pull-ups you can do.
If you can’t do a pull-up, then do Australian pull-ups or ring rows.
Print out this page and put your pull-up number here______X_______
The goal is to improve our pull-ups over the next few weeks
Check out the video below of my baseline test for pull-ups to see how I did.
Train like a Navy SEAL and learn to improve YOUR pull-ups
TIP #2: USE A VARIETY OF PULL-UPS
Don’t limit yourself to regular pull-ups.
Use chin-ups, Australian pull-ups, mountain climber pull-ups, narrow grip, etc.
Check out the video below on how to do a variety of pull-ups.
Check out our review of the Stud Bar Wall or Ceiling Mount Pull Up Bar
To do an Australian pull-up
- Use a bar placed two or three feet from the ground. Lie facing up under this bar with your body forming a vertical line from head to toe.
- Use an overhand grip slightly wider than your shoulder to hold the bar
- Pull your chest upwards to the bar
You can adjust the height as you wish. You can also secure the bar with some weighted blocks. Whatever you do, keep your core tight.
The more you use a variety of pull-ups the more you’re going to get better at regular ones.
You have to work your muscles differently, otherwise you’ll plateau and limit improvement.
TIP #5: WORK ON YOUR GRIP STRENGTH
Train your weakest link by training your grip.
How many athletes have you heard say that they could do more pull-ups but their hands gave out?
You can have a strong back and shoulders but if your grip is weak you’ll fail at pull-ups fast.
A good cardio pull-up workout we like to do is the CrossFit workout “Nicole”:
Complete as many rounds in 20 minutes as you can of:
- Run 400 meters
- Max rep pull-ups
- Note rounds and reps in comments below
TIP #6: LOSE A FEW POUNDS IF NEEDED
This is a no-brainer. If you’re carrying around 20 extra (unneeded) pounds then that is like wearing a weight vest.
Drop the extra weight by increasing your cardio and eating clean fuel (paleo diet). Being lean and mean can have advantages.
Eventually you can add on weight to your pull-ups but in the beginning stay basic then work up to adding weight.
TIP #7: CREATE A WORKOUT ROUTINE YOU DO A FEW TIMES EACH WEEK TO IMPROVE
Like the suggestion above—do a variety of pull-up workouts each week.
If you want improvement you have to practice.
You won’t see improvement in your pull-ups if you only work on them once in awhile.
Doing a complete cycle of pull-ups should take you anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour. But by all means, it can take more time and that is alright if you are sticking to the correct form all through.
One mistake lots of people make is to cut back on the dead-hang pull-up in favor of a higher number of reps.
If you do this, you are short-changing yourself. The number of reps you do is not as significant as the quality of the pull-ups.
Note: It is certainly okay to do a bit of kipping towards the end of the workout when you are getting tired. However, kipping to reach higher numbers is strictly forbidden.
Question: What is a good CrossFit workout that I can do at my local playground?
Answer: Good question, check out this workout “Nicole”
As many rounds as possible (AMRAP) in 20 minutes
400 meter Run
Post time in comments
Another pull-up workout we like is the workout “Cindy”.
TIP #8: IF YOU CAN’T DO PULL-UPS, DO NEGATIVES
Work your way up to doing basic pull-ups by going in reverse.
The procedure for completing a negative is as follows:
Stand on a box and hold the bar with wide overhand grips.
Pull your chin or chest upwards above the bar and then slowly lower your body downwards to the ground
Stand back up on the box and repeat the movement
Tip: Maintain some resistance in your arms as you lower yourself slowly down. This trains the biceps and the lats to get acquainted with the bodyweight pulling down in a negative position.
When you first start you may drop quickly but try to create resistance by activating your upper back muscles.
Build up to where it takes you 5 long seconds or more to lower down.
Check out this SGPT article on Negative Pull-ups for more detail.
TIP #7: DO ASSISTED PULL-UPS
Use a pull-up assist stretch band or have your buddy assist you (grab your hips and help you up).
This is a good method to work as a team and help you get your pull-ups.
Don’t use the weight machine you see at the gym. That adds too much assistance. You need to get used to working with your own bodyweight.
Start with a thicker band to learn how it works and slowly work down to a skinnier band.
TIP #8: MIX UP THE REP COUNT
This keeps you working harder and your muscles guessing. This creates improvement.
Try to do 50 pull-ups for time.
Add weight and do sets of 3 to 5 reps to build strength.
Confuse the muscles by mixing them up.
Or try a ladder or pyramid workout.
The ladder is where you keep adding on one rep (1-2-3-4) each set and stop.
The pyramid is a workout where you count up then back down with reps each set (1-2-3-4-5-4-3-2-1).
Here is a workout we like to do:
TIP #9: USE A THICK BAR
This will help strengthen the hands and forearms.
This is also a great way to work out grip strength.
You can wrap a towel around a bar—or make a bar with PVC pipe (double it for strength).
You can place a thick device like the Fat Gripz on a regular bar to make it thicker.
TIP #10: VARY YOUR WORKOUTS AND HOW YOU USE YOUR HANDS
Try something different like a Spartan Race where you have to climb over walls and up a rope.
If you have the ability—go climb outside on boulders or walls (Parkour) or an indoor climbing gym.
Find a way to make your fingers work more. They are a huge factor in grip strength.
This will give you variety and let you test your skills on real world actions.
Test your pull-up progress monthly and see how you do.
Insert your score here________
BONUS TIP #1: READ AND WATCH VIDEOS
Check out the SGPT interview with Lee Wade Turner—one of the Bar-Barians.
BONUS TIP #2: MAKE SURE YOU’RE ALLOWING FOR RECOVERY
After a hard workout like Murph, you should take a day of rest.
Foam roll your muscles, stretch them and do some yoga. To be a long term athlete — if you’re rocking workouts in your 40s and 50s – you need to take care of your body and stretch.
Pay good attention to your wrists and forearms. If you get tendonitis, use the tips below.
Question: What is a good weighted vest to wear during workouts that will last a long time and have a good price?
Answer: You get what you pay for with a weighted vest. You could spend $40 and the vest will tear after a few uses.
Or you could spend $100 or so and get a great vest like a MIR weighted vest. This vest will last you a very long time.
Question: What is a good tip to improve on chin ups?
Answer: Similar to the tips above on pull-ups – use the chin-up movement and do the workouts above.
Using proper technique is most important in learning to perform pull ups.
The correct form that we’ll learn is the dead-hang with fingers pointing away from your body. Going straight up then straight down. That is the traditional pull-up that you need to master.
When done correctly, the workout strengthens back muscles. Biceps, forearms, grip, and spinal muscles.
If you do the pull-up enough times, it will help you learn how to better lift your body weight. It will also contribute to developing a stronger core.
The reason why military units include pull-ups as part of their training regimens is because of the benefits it offers.
- It is an excellent way to work up body strength
- Pull-ups do not require specialized or expensive equipment
- Pull-ups can be customized according to the level of expertise. Beginners get one form and experienced practitioners get different settings
You can scale your pull-up bar as you wish. It all depends on your level of practice as well as your intended goals.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad McLeod is married with two kids and an all around average family guy. His SGPT audios have been downloaded in 27 countries around the world. He grew up in Tallahassee, Florida and despite training all the wrong ways – made it to Navy SEAL training in Coronado, California.
He flunked out of Navy SEAL BUD/S training after making it over half way through (6 months of grueling training). After a year in the Fleet Navy on a ship he came back to graduate and serve on SEAL Team Four. His story is simple – Don’t Ever Quit on your Dream! Put one foot in front of the other and fall forward.
Proceeds from this website go to help raise funds for the Navy SEAL Foundation on CrowdRise.