Mastering Pull Ups Through Simple Progressions

July 22, 2013

Why do we love pull ups so much at Sparta? It really goes back to our core philosophy of simple, objective, effective prescriptions.

  • Simple requires that you can do it almost anywhere and does not require excessive technical mastery. Otherwise you will be doing “technique work” for a decade.
  • Objective generally refers to standard requirements for range of motion and movements that can be progressively loaded.
  • Effective is the final requirement, basically “bang for your buck”, bicep curls might feel good, but their effect on muscle growth and strength pale in comparison to chin-ups (see Sparta Point).

The only “problem” with pull ups is that they can be so hard! Now, we are not going to shy away from a movement just because it is challenging; especially when it satisfies the Big 3 requirements of a prescription. However, you can build in progressions to help work up to pull up goals.

Pull Up Progressions

The goal of pull ups is to do more reps, and ultimately affect your movement signatureTM. Goals refer to the required standard to move onto the next level of difficulty, whether that be a more difficult exercise, heavier weight, more reps, or even less rest (see Sparta Point) However; we have to begin with some regressions in order to be able to accomplish the goalof a traditional, vertical pull up. The initial pull up progression is a Horizontal Pull up, often referred to as an inverted row. Because the athlete’s feet are on the ground, there is less load and we can build a foundation of volume. Once athletes hit their goals on Horizontal Pull ups, they move up to subsequent levels of chin ups and pull ups.

How to Do Horizontal Pull Ups

Coaching Cues:

  • Dig heels into the ground and brace the legs, hips, and trunk
  • Pull upper abs to the bar - pause touching the bar
  • Avoid momentum or swinging from the hips
Once athletes move on to chin ups we also use modifications for those who can't reach their goals initially. On the chin up, we incorporate eccentric reps (6 second lowering) for athletes who are building up their volume, and on the pull up we incorporate assisted reps (using a band). These methods of assistance and eccentric time under tension are subjective (yes, everyone counts to 6 differently) and as a result do not count toward the objective requirements to pass a level. Together, all these methods allow for constant progression of every athlete’s pull up strength, which ultimately affect your movement signatureTM.

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