Coaches Corner: The pull-up

The pull-up is one of those movements that comes so naturally for some and is a constant struggle for others. But, no matter where you lie on the pull-up spectrum, there is always room for improvement. 

Why should you do pull-ups?

Pull-ups are a great test of body weight strength. They work your grip, biceps, shoulders, and back. They also help improve general body awareness and help you learn to control your body through space. Pull-ups are the ultimate real-world upper body exercise.  

Why do some people struggle?

Sorry ladies, the cards are sort of stacked against us! Women have a higher body fat percentage than men, which means that their strength to body weight ratio is low. Women also don’t build muscle as fast which makes it more difficult but not impossible!

Also, taller and larger people have a harder time with strict pull-ups. Smaller people have a relatively higher body weight strength than a larger person-once again, that strength to body weight ratio. It often comes down to weight, levers, and physics. 

The good news: You can still get a pull-up!

If you are committed to working towards it, there are many things you can do to work towards that elusive strict pull-up. 

  1. Work on the basic muscle groups to build bicep and lat strength through free weight movements and lifting. 
  2. Scale the pull up to something that directly translates to the full movement. I recommend toe assisted box pullups (video) and only SOME band assisted pull-ups. 
  3. Make a goal and commit and be diligent to whatever program you choose! (check out my pull-up program on the website or find one that works for you!)
  4. If it is healthy and feasible for you, shedding even a few pounds will make pull-ups, and every body-weight movement much easier.  


To kip or not to kip. 

Why do we do the kipping pull-up? In any high-intensity training, we want to find ways that you can do more reps in a short amount of time to keep the intensity up. 

However, if you cannot perform a strict pull-up, there is no reason to do kipping pull-ups in a workout. It’s just not safe! However, you can continue to work on the skill outside of workouts while you are developing your strict pull-up strength.

Improving on your strict pull-ups.

If you already have a good strict pull-up foundation, here are a few things to add to your routine that can help improve them even more. 

  1. Add some weight: Go slow and work up in weight and reps.
  2. Improve your mobility: If you know you have tight lats or thoracic spine, spend some time every day working on those areas for a better full range of motion. 
  3. Negatives: Work on negatives until failure (no longer able to control descent)
  4. Chest to bar: Work on pulling even higher! Aim for your chest or sternum. This will help engage even more lats, chest, and triceps. 

wait for it…..



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Comments (1)

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    Cliff Thomas


    Good article, Matt.

    That remainds me of my first pull-up.

    I was able to do one after 2 weeks every day doing pull-ups with my instructor 20 years ago.

    He grabbed my legs and lifted me.

    And I did it.

    For two weeks, every day, he was helping me with my pull-ups.

    After two weeks I did my first pull-up.

    6 months after that I was able to do 30 regular pull-ups in a set.

    Also, you can improve your back muscles by doing wide grip pull down, T-bar rowing, one-arm dumbbell row.

    You can read my personal confession here:


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