Level Up for The CrossFit Open: Pull Up your way to Rx

Sunday, February 5, 2017 - 00:05

Pull ups are one of the most common gymnastics movements used in CrossFit and you cannot hide from them. Whether your goal is to go Rx in the Open or to training for health and wellness, the Pull Up is a foundational movement that you should master! Not only are there multiple variations of the Pull Up found in many CrossFit benchmark workouts, the strength to perform quality strict reps and therefore be better at the dynamic versions will keep your shoulders and back healthy for the future.

Before I tell you how we can gain efficiency in the Kipping and Butterfly Pull Up let’s make sure we understand each other: there is no magic trick to getting better at Pull Ups that doesn’t involve spending time building Strict Pull Up capacity. To get the speed you must first earn it with strength and technique!


Strict Pull Ups are a STRENGTH movement. They do not exhibit an unusually high need for technical proficiency or utilization of power production and momentum.

Kipping (or Butterfly) Pull Ups fall on the opposite end of the strength-power spectrum and are a MUSCULAR ENDURANCE movement, and are favored by CrossFit athletes who need to perform a large amount of repetitions within a short space of time.

Build the foundation: strength first.

The Strict Pull Up develops the baseline strength and stability in the shoulder girdle required for the Kipping Pull Up. Increasing your overall strict strength will transfer over to more efficient and safer Kipping Pull Ups.  Having healthy scapula movement and strong musculature supporting the technique is critical to being able to handle fast and high volume Pull Ups in the future. Both big and small muscle groups will be built stronger if you take the time to work on it. Here are some ideas for how you can increase your Strict capacity:

Negatives / Slow Eccentrics - Start at the top of your pull-up and slowly lower yourself to full lockout.

This movement will help you build eccentric strength throughout the whole range of the movement. If unable to complete with own body weight, the use of a light resistance band can be implemented. Start off with sets of 5, trying to decrease the eccentric (lowering) phase each week!

Use of bands for assistance – When used properly bands can be effective in developing the strength for pull-ups. Try to use a lighter resistance overtime to see progressions being made.

Don’t forget that it all starts in the middle.

Put work in towards your hollow and arch holds! Both of these positions are extremely important for not only your kipping pull ups but will carry over onto almost all gymnastics movements as well as most if not all your weightlifting positions! The stronger your core, the more control you provide towards your extremities. Start small with some 20 second tabata intervals 20sec on/ 10 sec off of both the hollow and arch position, as time goes forward trying to increase the amount of time held under tension.


Scapular Pull-ups – Usually seen within many warm ups but also can be a great way to build stability and grip strength, whilst teaching us to activate the shoulder first before performing the pull up.

Ring rows – Not only a scaling option for pull ups themselves, these movements can be a great way to challenge the upper back muscles and when done correctly can really burn!

In order to make the movement more difficult you can change the position of your feet, either raising them to a more parallel position increasing the resistance. The main focus of the movement is making sure full range of motion is made and a nice strong midline is kept the entire way through

Single Arm dumbbell/KB rows –Great exercise to improve unilateral pulling strength and stability at the shoulder joint.

Using either a dumbbell or a kettlebell try to complete sets of 10-12 reps each side focusing on setting the shoulder first, whilst showing control on the pull and squeezing between the shoulder blades. 

Increase your grip strength

Get your hang on! Try to hang from a bar for as long as your hands will let you. If your grip is already pretty strong, you can try things like thick bar hangs (use thick grips, or wrap a towel or other similar material around the bar to make the bar as thick as you like), two-finger hangs, one-finger hangs, one-arm hangs, and so on.

It is simple yet can be one of the most challenging factors especially when the forearm burn begins. Grip strength is a defining factor when it comes to efficient pull ups and one which is underrated throughout popular training programs. Start small with sets of 15-20 seconds in the beginning and slowly build up duration over time!


So remember, build the foundations first, work your weaknesses and master basics in order to take your pull ups to the next level. Practice is key and implementing these tips and various times a week will assist you in reaching your goals. Feel like you still need some extra assistance? Our coaches are here to help! If pull ups are something you are determined to master over the next few months but feel like you are a little lost in the process, make sure you take the time to talk to our amazing coaches on how they may assist you in reaching your goal!


Coach Jen

GW Performance

CrossFit | Strength and Conditioning | Personal Training | South Yarra