Your Old Nemesis: The Pull Up

March 17, 2015

Your Old Nemesis: The Pull Up

Be honest with yourself, you don’t hate pull-ups, do you? At least it’s not the exercise itself you don’t want to do. It’s the fact that they’re really damn hard. Because, unlike a press, you can’t do a couple of cheat reps.

Instead, you either can pull yourself up to the bar or you can’t. And you never want to look like the guy who can’t. Basically, pull up’s are the gym equivalent of getting into a fight with your girlfriends ex-boyfriend.

You’re not quite sure if you can take him, but you don’t want to run the risk of getting your ass kicked either way.

But pull up’s don’t need to be thought of this way. In fact, they’re one of the best upper body exercises you can do. And if you want ‘wings’ – or at least a strong back – they’re an exercise you’re going to have to come to terms with.

In this article, I’m going to show you some simple tips that will get your chest right up to the bar – and the back to show for it – in a matter of weeks.

If you’re ready to make some massive progress, then let’s get started.

Tip #1: Strict, Not Kipping.

 There are two types of pull-ups in the training world right now:
    • Strict Pull Ups: Wide Grip. Your body moves up and down in a controlled way. Your chest comes up to the bar. The traditional pull-up.
  • Kipping Pull Ups: Wide grip. Your body moves like you’re having a seizure. You hurt your rotator cuff. You cry. Better known as the Crossfit pull up.

Okay, maybe that’s a little unfair on Crossfit. But, unless you are one of their athletes or devoted to their training programs, you don’t need to do a kipping pull-up.

Strict is the way to go.

Doing the kipping variations might increase the number of pull-ups you do, but, it won’t increase the quality – or give you the benefits – that Strict pull up’s will. So, if you were about to give them a go, stop right now.

Tip #2: Greasing The Movement

Pull up’s aren’t just hard because you suck at them; they’re hard because it’s not something you do every day. It’s been at least a few thousand years since humans have needed to hang from a branch and pull up. It’s not a part of life anymore, since, well, the invention of stairs.

So a great way to get good at pull up’s is to practice the movement at a level that’s comfortable. Try this tip I was given by Matt Wichlinski of the WWE Performance Centre a few years back:

“Take the amount of pull ups you can do. Half it. Perform them over 10 sets.” 
That could be lots of sets of two, three, or even just one, rep. But the more practice you get at them, the easier they become. Do this at the start of each workout.

Tip #3: The Conjugate Method

 The conju-what?

The conjugate method is an old Eastern Bloc training method that thinks of your muscles as a chain. You train each link in the chain to make the whole chain stronger, instead of just polishing the chain and hoping for the best. It’s also the training model that Westside Barbell and Joe DeFranco use with their super strong athletes.

But how do you use it?

Well, it’s pretty simple. You train all the muscles that work in the pull-up. Make them stronger. Then come back to the pull up afterwards.

Try this combination for your upper body sessions:

    • Lat’s: Wide Grip Lat Pull Down’s:


    • Upper Back: Chest Supported Row:
    • Biceps: E-Z Bar Curls:


    • Forearms/Grip: 50 Meters Farmers Walk:
Sets, reps and weights come down to how strong you are in your pull ups to begin with. But, focusing on each section – even with your own variations of those exercises – will have a direct crossover to your pull up strength.

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