Get Strict!

There are a lot of people that struggle with getting their first pull-up. There are also a lot of people that have managed to get a kipping pull-up but still cannot manage a good strict pull-up. Kipping pull-ups are great but it is of utmost importance that strength be acquired in the connective tissues of the shoulder before we go swinging on the bars like monkeys. Although I have given a lot of general tips on how to get pull-ups, I figured I should come up with a more concrete plan. This is a little upper body strength program designed to get you from zero pull-ups to one pull-up in a short amount of time.
Perform this routine 3 days per week alternating between Volume days (“A”) and Max Effort days (“B”). One week will be ABA and the following will be BAB. After a brief warm up, before each workout session you should try to get a strict pull-up or chin-up.
This program should be done in conjunction with your lifting program or your CrossFit program. Prioritize your Max Effort days as statics and negatives rarely come up in other workouts. If you are on a basic lifting program you can mix the extra pull-up work into your regular upper body routine. For example, doing sets of pull-ups between sets of bench presses. If you are on a CrossFit program, you may skip part of the Volume day if you are doing those exercises in your workout of the day. For example, if you are doing “Cindy” you can count that as part of your volume day workout and finish with some of the other accessory exercises. If a pull-up-intensive metcon happens to fall on your Max Effort day, then just do as many of your statics and negatives as you can handle until the form breaks down.
A. Volume Day
1. 3-5 sets of 10-15 reps of one of the following:
Body Rows (constantly progressing towards being horizontal)
Strict Chin-ups (Band assisted)
Strict Pull-ups (Band assisted)
Rope Climbs
2. Three Supersets of 10-12 reps alternating between one from A and one from B. The last set of each exercise should be done to failure.
A. Pulling
Rows (Barbell or Dumbbell)
Curls (any variety)
Rope Climbs
Dumbbell Pullovers
Ab Wheel Rollouts
B. Pushing
Bench Dips
Bar Dips (Band assisted)
Bench Press (Barbell or Dumbbell)
Floor Press
B. Max Effort Day
Perform 10 sets of 6 to 10 second static holds (weighted)
Perform 10 sets of 6 to 10 second negatives (weighted)
You should work up to being able to complete 10 sets of 6 second static holds at each the top (chin over the bar), middle (arms at 90 degrees) and bottom (elbows straight but shoulders pulled down and scapulas pulled together) positions. Additionally, you should also be able do 10 sets of 6 second controlled negatives with just your bodyweight. At that point, start to increase the weight (by holding a dumbbell between your ankles, wearing a vest or dipping belt). You should do these on the minute so that the whole workout will not take you longer than 20 minutes. However because this is a max effort day, you should rest longer between sets if you feel you are not fully recovered and able to maintain form. When you can no longer hold the position or move slowly through the negative, you are done for the day.

The Max Effort workout might look like this:
0:00-0:10 Hold at the top
0:10-0:59 rest
1:00-1:06 Hold at 90 bend
1:07-1:59 rest
2:00-2:10 Hold at bottom
2:11-2:59 rest
3:00-3:06 Negative
3:07-3:59 rest
repeat for 20 minutes
0:00-0:10 Hold at the top
0:10-0:59 rest
1:00-1:10 Hold at the top
1:11-1:59 rest
2:00-2:10 Hold at the top
10:00-10:10 Negative
10:11-10:59 rest
11:00-11:10 Negative
etc. up to 20:00
The point of this program is to get your upper body strong so do not cheat the movements. Scale as much as you need to in order get your reps done with good form. The format is consistent but since you will be rotating through different exercises, it is unlikely that you will ever repeat the exact same workout. Do not get discouraged. Stick with it for a few weeks and test your pull-ups regularly. Let’s see how long it takes you to get your first strict pull-up.

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  1. Cesar B. January 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm - Reply

    Great stuff Keith, as always.

  2. Hilary February 15, 2011 at 2:01 pm - Reply

    Hey Gang, Want to test your functional strength? I have a 600, maybe it is 800 pound printing press to move, it’s on wheels, from Clark, NJ to Brooklyn. I can bribe you with paleo cookies,non-paleo pizza, or when all else fails, cash.
    Interested? email me [email protected].

  3. Josh March 8, 2011 at 1:20 am - Reply

    I need to do a crossfit program to get me in shape for Rebel Race in June. I have 44 obstacles to overcome on the 15k mile. I got 3 months to train. I ve already started running but now I need to do more with weights

  4. Glenn March 23, 2011 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    Great program. Amazing how little equipment you need to perform at such a high level of intensity.

  5. Ryan March 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    I really like this program. Finally someone putting in some negatives and static holds for pullup progressions. Too many people just want to do band assisted pullups all day.

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