Shrugged Collective

How to pimp your pull-ups – Episode 181

Audio Only: iTunesStitcher

This week on Barbell Shrugged, we’re talking about one of the most fundamental movements in all of fitness – The pull-up!

Yes, we had a little fun with this week’s title. But the truth is that you can step into any Crossfit gym in the world, at just about any time, and you will see people struggling to get their chin’s up and over the bar.


This is far more common in new athletes who haven’t yet developed enough strength in the hands, upper back and abdominals. Even with band and box-jump assistance, this basic lack of strength naturally leads to poor position and mechanics. Legs curl, backs hyper-extend, and faces strain as gravity continues to do its thing.

More advanced athletes also have their fair share of problems. While they might look good piling up the kipping reps during WODs, the eventual emergence of shoulder pain and injury is a sure sign of fundamental weaknesses that were never addressed.

Here’s the basic problem. Barbells are the most effective, versatile and standardized tool ever devised for developing human strength. Whether you’re bright green and brand new, or world class, you can progressively load a bar and build strength in all joint positions. But that’s also an inherent weakness – You can hide behind a light barbell for too long, never having to face your true weaknesses.

But that’s just not so in the pull-up, is it?

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 8.07.38 AM

Pull-ups are like squats for your back. Photo: Josh Homes


We all have to work on our gymnastics skills precisely because gravity rides everything, especially you! Without a barbell to unload and scale down, or bands or boxes to lean against, we are forced into sorting out and refining our ability to move our own flesh correctly.

You need to build your pull-up from the bottom-up, which means taking the time to mobilize and strengthen the wrists, scapulae, hip flexors and abs with key assistance drills BEFORE you try to be a workout hero. Master the progression we discuss on this week’s show and TechniqueWOD, incorporate some of our programming tips and you will establish a strength foundation that will allow you to make continual progress on the pull-up bar and muscle-up rings.

I know that might sound impossible now, especially when gravity is feeling so heavy. But that’s a temporary thing. Master the fundamentals first and you won’t feel like a zero for very long.

If you have any training questions for us, just leave them in the comments below. We’d love to help out.

Enjoy the show!


For more:

If you have no idea where to get started and just want a simple, easy to follow program to get pull-ups, check out our Get Your First Pull-Up Program in OverTime.


Chris Moore is a writer, recovering meathead, fledgling raconteur and rabid imbiber. He's also cohost and resident potty mouth on Barbell Shrugged, a weekly podcast devoted to Crossfit, strength, fitness and all things brash. His experience is drawn from over twenty-years spent training for and competing in American Football, Powerlifting, a bit of strongman and a dash of mixed martial arts. Also, it's possible that he's had one too many cups of coffee. A caffeine fever is a hell of a thing, you know?


  • I’ve been crossfitting for 5 months and my pull-ups have improved. I weight essentially the same (240# @ 6’2″), I can kip my pull-ups in sets of 3-5 without bands, and when I started I couldn’t kip a single pull-up. It’s clear through all my stats that my body composition is changing and I’m clearly getting stronger. Clothes are fitting better, etc…

    Obviously if I weigh less my pull-ups would improve, but I don’t want to crash diet or change much regarding my diet considering the energy I have for WODs (which is always high, and always leaving spent). My question, I guess, is would focusing on dropping weight be worth it even with the simple risk of losing gains in strength and overall energy? Or should I get huge in the shoulders and lats and pull-up my 240# ass.

    Now that I’m writing this I sound impatient, so if that’s the case let me know. Otherwise, where should I spend my efforts?

    • Sounds like you ARE doing just fine. I wouldn’t change much, other than making sure your mechanics are sound when you do strict reps. Also, make sure you work in doing work without the Kip.

  • I have really bad shoulder pain mostly as a result of doing kipping pull-ups before I had a solid foundation of strength. Now I can’t do pull-ups at all because it hurts like hell. Would there be any benefit in doing things like lat pull-downs to build strength and stability? I have tried them and they don’t seem to hurt too much.

    • They are better than nothing, for certain. Also, ever-present in the world of powerlifting, strongman, bodybuilding. Do them, while you work the progressions from this week’s episode of TechniqueWOD, and you’ll improve quickly.

  • Excellent show gentlemen! I struggle with pull-ups after a rotator cuff strain years ago and have been looking for scaling into strict form. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for! Thanks!

  • Doug mentioned the supinated dead hang to help with mobility. What area of mobility does this help improve? Is it for internal shoulder rotation or a different area?

    • It’s easier to grab the bar overhead with palms facing you. If there is a mobility issue in the shoulder, this is a way around.

  • Hey guys.

    Greetings from Malaysia.

    Great podcast. The bulk of this podcast elaborates on how to progress up to a pull up. But there is little emphasis on how to progress past that.

    The first question is where to go from there? High volume kipping pull ups? Legless rope climbs? One armed pull ups?

    Second question is the progressions to get there.

    Again, thanks for the awesome content.

    • Baz, you’re talking about another show here, aren’t you? We wouldn’t try to cover all that at once in just an hour. You wouldn’t walk away with enough info.

  • I loved the podcast. It gave me a different perspective. I hurt my shoulder by attempting kipping pull-ups and I was a loyal customer of the bands. I stopped using them and now during a WOD I try to do ring rows, but now after watching this I have more options. THANK YOU!!! Anyway, my question is: Are there any strengthening exercises you would recommend (a side from the ones you showed) I could do to achieve my first strict pull up? Something I can do after my WOD or before or on my active rest days. My goal for the year (among other things) is to attain my first strict pull up and I am just not even close… AT ALL!!! HELP! You guys are amazing! 🙂

    • Hi Nana! the way i got mine was 2 part. I had mounted a pull up bar outside the garage and every time i went past it i would jump up and do a pull up (using the jump as assistance as needed). As time passed i could get the pull up using less of a jump.
      2nd was using the technique demonstrated in the technique wod on this page, at about the 7:30 point. Laying my toes across the box (or bar stool in my case) let me extend my legs as needed for assistance to reach the top of the pull. I concentrated on using my upper body to do the work, but let my legs give me to boost needed to finish the rep. This technique also let me do workouts with pull ups in a timely manner.
      I came up with the bar stool technique 10 years ago when training in the garage alone. So i was SUPER STOKED when i saw these well educated guys suggesting the same thing!
      Take their warnings about kipping seriously. Build the foundational strength 1st. I thought once i could kip there was no reason to go back to strict. Then i trashed my shoulder and couldn’t do any for a few months. Now i’m using strict for training when there’s not a timer and for building strength, and I will kipp during WODs that have a timer running. -corey

  • After years of lifting the only method I’ve know to teach my wife to do a pull up was using a band or lat pull down. Thanks for this episode, it was my favorite for sure and I think I turned my wife onto your podcast! I’m not a crossfitter and I’ve never seen these exercises taught before. I tried them today and what a workout! Thanks again fellas.

  • I round my back when doing squats and deadlifts. What exercises can I do to strengthen my back to do these lifts correctly?

    • Much more time spent doing back raises with holds at the top, good mornings, stiff-legged deadlifts, barbell rows, sit-ups, farmers carries…you name it, you must build a stronger trunk.

  • THANK YOU so much for this episode!! I have yet to get a strict pull-up, but can manage to do single kipping pull-ups. So having these exercises and progressions to work on is great! I’m excited to do these and to see improvement. Your desire for good technique and safe progression is much appreciated! Thanks again.

  • I know I’m behind, but I just watched this episode this week. I’m just to the point where I can do 4-5 strict pull-ups unbroken. This is big progress. The next step i want to get to is C-T-B. Is this the same progression? Does the ability to do more strict pull-ups eventually lead to one CTB pull-up? Should you do negatives from the chest? Is that another technique WOD waiting to happen?

    Thanks, and I love the show.

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