How to Get a Strict Pull Up

As you may or may not know, I recently starting a strength program exclusively for some of the women at KoP. And as you SHOULD know, I am a fan of the strict pull up before kipping or butterfly. (read: CrossFit and the Need for Strict Pull Ups if you did not know)

Anyway, one of the recurring goals amongst the “Bar Belles” was more upper body strength, specifically for pull ups and muscle ups. Some of them have one or two strict pull ups, but many still rely on the band after months or even years of training. This is no bueno!

To focus their attention on upper body strength, I created a loose protocol for gaining upper body strength for the pull up. I thought about prescribing a particular amount of sets and reps, but in the end, the ladies were coming from all backgrounds and levels of experience, so I left most of the final rep schemes up to them. I just provided a ball park figure for them to shoot for.

In case you were interested, this is what I posted for them, verbatim.

Strict pull ups are a great goal to have, even if you have a few. They will absolutely help your kipping pull up (or elusive muscle up!), and the following will help you progress towards the strict pull up. Please remember that it takes TIME to build the strength, and you might not see results within only a few weeks or even a few months. But you also won’t get stronger if you do nothing about it. The reps and sets are ball park; you might things very difficult or very easy, so scale accordingly. I would try to do these exercises 1-3 times per week, and feel free to work it into your daily workouts or strength sessions. They shouldn’t tax you too much. As always, let me know if you have questions.

Throughout all of these pull up progressions, make sure you have your upper back (thoracic) tight and pinch your shoulder blades together at the top of the pull. Don’t let yourself dangle at the bottom, keep a relatively tight upper body and work on that control.

Ring Rows

Especially useful for someone who has no strict pull up and is on a very thick band for kipping pull ups. Keep your upper back tight and do 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps. It’s important that you move your feet closer to the rings (make it harder) every week.

Banded strict pull ups

The use of a band is convenient, but the real purpose is for strict pull ups, not kipping. You can do 5 sets of 5, 5 sets of 10, whatever works for you. Don’t go to failure, leave some in the tank. I would do at least 5 sets in order to build volume, even if it means sets of 2 or 3 reps. The key here is to reduce the band tension (i.e. thinner band) week after week.


Ring rows are nice to build lat strength, but it’s in a different plane than the pull up (arms are in front of you vs. above you) For a negative pull up, get a box and jump up to get your chin over the bar. Sllllowwwwllly lower yourself down as slow as you can to full extension. Do 10-20 TOTAL reps of these depending on ability. (We don’t like high high volume here because the eccentric loading aka the lengthening of the bicep under tension is ridiculously effective)  You may find yourself dropping quickly at first with no control whatsoever. If this is the case, get a box high enough that you can stand with your chin above the bar. Then use your legs on the box to slowly lower yourself down, putting emphasis on your arms doing the work, but allowing your legs to provide some assistance.

Ring pull ups

If you already have a few strict pull ups and are looking for a muscle up, you obviously need to work the dip (using bands or doing negatives – I prefer negatives) but you also need to do ring pull ups. These work the bicep much better than bar pull ups and again, you can either do straight ring pull ups or do negatives.

Most of you will be doing the first three. Feel free to do all three in the same session and even rotate among them. The point is not so much the order you do them, but rather the volume (total reps) over time. Literally, by doing them, you will get better at pull ups.

I highly suggest NOT doing kipping pull ups in other workouts. If you have the choice, do strict banded pull ups or ring rows and lower the reps if you need to.

For those that have worked to get strict pull ups, I’d love to hear how you did it. Hit the comments below.


2 thoughts on “How to Get a Strict Pull Up

  1. Pingback: 12/3/2014 - Crossfit Thermal

  2. Pingback: 9 Tips for CrossFit Beginners | Constantly Varied

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