How to get a pull up

The pull up: A big milestone for many (female) athletes

The pull up: A big milestone for many (female) athletes


The pull up is one of the movements with the highest presence in CrossFit WOD's. Benchmarks such as Fran, Murph or Cindy require lots of them - a top athlete i.e. can complete more than 30 rounds of Cindy which equals to 150+ pull ups within 20 minutes.  Of course, workouts with high rep pull ups allow the kipping or butterfly technique which
reduces the muscle fatigue by a lot. You can assume that a male CrossFit Games can perform around 25 strict pull ups in a row, but 40 - 50 in the kipping version and 75 - 100 butterfly pull ups - this shows by how much the strength component can be taken out of the movement.
BUT: Before learning the kipping versions, the ability for at least 5 unbroken strict pull ups should be given. Otherwise the risk of injuries is irresponsible. Especially women tend to struggle with pulling their own body weight even once. But why is that the case?


Women and pull ups - 2 reasons why it is a hassle

I was researching about it for a while and the reasons behind it can only be guessed. I think there are two things that mainly cause the problems ladies are faced with:
Body composition: While the medium athletic man should show a body fat of around 12 - 15% and a muscle mass percentage from 50% and above, the female body has around 20- 22% fat and 30 - 40% lean mass only. Means: More "death weight" that needs to be pulled but "can't help" with the pull up.
Center of gravity: Having a wide pelvis and narrow shoulders, the bodies center of gravity is not optimal for a pull up, compared with the V-shape the masculine body has.
However, not standing on the brightest side of evolution shouldn't keep you from going for the pull up! With a bit of engagement you will get in no time - I promise! Here are some steps to take:

  • Rows

Pull ups require strength in the arms, but mainly in the lats. So all kind of rowing helps with building the muscles where you need it. Try this: Ring rows (the more horizontal you can keep your body, the more you challenge your back - be progressive!), bent over rows with the barbel, dumbbell rows, kettlebell rows ... don't hesitate to go as heavy as form allows. 

  • Banded pull ups

In workouts, the banded pull up is the most common scaling option for pull ups. Tie a pull up band around the bar, step you food in and do the pull up movement. We offer bands in different resistance level so you can progress by reducing the bands strength. 
Truth has to be told: The band is not my favorite progression for the pull up. The resistance is logical highest at the bottom hang and decreases with elevating the body - a pattern that is very different from the actual mechanic of a free pull up.


  • Jumping pull ups

As simple as that: Grab the bar, jump up and let yourself slowly (!) down. We don't offer this scaling version in WODs even though it would be a better substitution than the banded pull up. When the clock is running and a good score to achieve, athletes tend to rush the negative part of the movement and it turns into a jumping exercise only. To do it the correct way, make sure you really stress the letting down part, or even add a static hold at the top.

  • Chin up

That's an advanced progression: The chin up - a pull up but with a reverse grip - involves the biceps more than a regular pull up would do. Since the biceps has more tasks in everyday life than the lats, it is, for most beginner, better developed and also easier to control. That's why a chin up should succeed more likely. It can help to prepare for the pull up, not only strength wise, but also keeps the mind motivated by managing to finally have that chin above the bar.