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Pullup Progression

Barbell Shrugged is an awesome CrossFit and weightlifting podcast, and last week they had an entire hour dedicated to talking about pullups. How to get your first pullup, how to improve your pullups, how to add more pullups, etc etc. We have already implemented one of the ideas at Summit Strength with our CrossFit SSP class, and there will definitely be more to come. With this in mind, this week’s fitness blog post is all about pullups, and how to progress from zero to one. This seems to be a pretty common goal among new CrossFit athletes, so hopefully you find something here to be helpful!

Steps:

  1. Isometric Holds: Isometric holds are done by moving your chin above the bar, whether with help from a partner or by jumping/stepping off of a box close to the bar level. With your chin over the bar, hold yourself in that position for up to 20 seconds at a time. If you cannot hold yourself for a minimum of 5 seconds, use a partner to assist you by pushing on your back, thereby lessening the load. The goal here is to build up to a point where you can repeatedly do 20 second bouts of isometric holds. At that point, you know you are ready to move on to step 2.
  2. Eccentric Pullups: The eccentric portion of a lift is the loading phase, or the moving downward portion. For example, when you are dropping into a squat, or lowering the bar back to the floor on a deadlift, you are doing the eccentric part of those lifts. For eccentric pullups, start in the same position in which you do an isometric hold, and then slowly lower your body to the bottom of a pullup. It should take about 3-5 seconds each rep. THESE ARE POTENT. A little goes a long way. Your goal should be 3-5 sets of 3-5 reps, maximum. They will make you extremely sore, so be careful on volume. Once you can do that, you can move on to step 3.
  3. Assisted Pullup: At this point, you are ready to do an assisted pullup. Use a box to get close to the bar, and then push with your legs as you pull yourself above the bar. If you do not have a box, you may also use a partner to hold your feet or push your back and help you over the bar. You should lower under your own power. Once you get comfortable doing assisted pullups, you should be ready to knock out your first strict pull up all alone. If not, go back through and repeat steps 1-3.

As for programming in a workout, I am not a fan of banded pullups. They tend to help you most in the strongest portion of the lift (the bottom) and not at all at the most difficult part (the middle). Therefore, I sub them out for ring rows with athletes that do not have pullups down yet. Ring rows are a fantastic exercise, and our CrossFit SSP class has actually seen one athlete progress from no pullups to 3 strict pullups using only ring rows. They are a wonderful example of scaling being useful, so use them!

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