Scaling Pull ups in CrossFit workouts - which option is the best?

Not being able to do a pull up is a common reason to not even start with CrossFit. But as with all movements, also the pull up is adaptable to any level. But which scaling option is the best? Like many other questions, also this one can be answered with: It depends. Here are 4 options and when they can be applied best.


Banded Pull ups

  • How it works: Tie a power band around a pull up bar. Step one foot, alternative put your knee, in it. Now start the pull up with your arms fully extended. Pull yourself up until you chin is above the bar. The more strength you develop, the less resistance the band should provide.

  • The advantage: The banded pull up is very popular in CrossFit. It gives you the feeling of actually doing a pull up, your body is in an identical posture just with a little help from the bands bounce. Another advantage is that you can progress with time by simply changing the bands thickness, or rather resistance.

  • The disadvantage: Gymnasts hate the banded pull up! The problem: The kinetic power you get from the band is strongest in the bottom and gets lesser the more you rise. An unnatural path of resistance that doesn’t mimic the “real life” gravity. Also, the set up takes a while, so it is not very suitable for time sensitive workouts.

  • Best used for: pure strength training, long WODs with medium large rep scheme



Jumping Pull ups

  • How it works: Stand under a bar that is appr. 15 cm above your head (equals to the length of a hand from the wrist to the top of the middle finger). If necessary, stack up plates or use a box to achieve the correct height. Now grab the bar und squat down a little so your arms are fully extended. From here, jump up so you chin reaches above the bar.

  • The advantage: The Jumping Pull ups is beginner friendly since it requires a minimum pulling strength. Also, it doesn’t require you to hang from the bar freely. Even overweighted or very unexperienced people can get high reps in within a short period of time.

  • The disadvantage: The training effect in terms of strength gains in the upper body is minimal. Most of the work is done by the legs.

  • Best used for: WODs with high rep pull ups, training with a high bodyweight and/or little to no pulling strength


Negative Pull ups

  • How it works: Grab the pull up bar. Jump up so your chin is above the horizontal plane of the bar. Lower yourself down as slowly as possible.

  • The advantage: Negative or eccentric movements are a great tool to develop strength. The negative pull up will prepare you for the “positive” one, guaranteed!

  • The disadvantage: The negative Pull up requires some basic strength already and is therefore not suitable for total beginners. Also, do not use it in WODs since it is firstly meant to be done slowly (and you want to have a good score, right?) and secondly, negative movements might cause Rhabdomyolyse when done in large sets, a disease where an excess amount of muscle tissues are transported to the kidneys and causes them to collapse (no worries, that is something very rare but let’s minimize all risks in training).

  • Best used for: pure strength training, for advanced athletes

Ring Rows

  • How it works: Set a pair of rings on belly button height, shoulder with apart. Grab the rings and let yourself fall back until you arms are extended. Pull yourself up until your thumbs are touching your chest. Keep the core tight and the body in one straight line. If too easy, step forward so you are more horizontal and the range of motion increases. If too difficult, step back to stand more upright.

  • The advantage: Ring Rows, just as Jumping Pull ups, do not require you to hang from the bar. They are therefore perfect for beginners and overweighted people. The rings are more comfortable to the hand than the pull up bar. Also, the movement can be adjusted in difficulty by just changing your food position.

  • The disadvantage: The ring row trains the same muscle groups as the pull up, yet the movement pattern is very different so you will not achieve the necessary neuronal adaptions. Also, the danger of crappy form by letting the hip sink and arching the back without noticing is high.

  • Best used for: beginners, strength training, warm ups and muscle activation

Ulrike