If You Build Your Pull-up…It Will Come

by Beth Andrews on February 23, 2016

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Pull-Up Build Lead Pic

Have you ever heard a voice inside you that says, “I’d like to do a pull up, but I don’t know where to start?”

In the movie Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) was a farmer who heard a voice whisper from his corn field, “If you build it, he will come.” The message was that there would be a reward if he listened and followed through by turning his farm land into a baseball field.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Ray took a chance and followed the voice. As a result, he got to fulfill his dream of playing baseball alongside some of the all-time greats as well as reuniting with his father.

If you have been hesitant and unsure of where to start building toward the pull up, then here’s your sign, and here is my whisper:

“If you build your pull-up, it will come.”

Just as Ray was hesitant and unsure, yet through different signs and signals, he took a risk and built his playing field, you can achieve a pull-up if you really want it badly enough.

But first, like Ray, you must do the work. You must plow your corn. Let’s start by working the top and bottom of the pull up.

First, get comfortable hanging on the bar. This can actually be a bit scary for first timers, especially if the bar is high. I have worked with clients that fear they are going to fall because they don’t trust their grip strength. If this is you, then have a friend assist you or make sure that you have a platform to step down on for security.

Focus on actively hanging using both hands for as long as you can stay engaged. That may only be 10 seconds to start or it could be much longer. Either way, do this a couple of days per week, progressively working to longer times, and don’t forget to rest enough between sets so you can give a strong effort on the bar each time. Aim to progressively work your way towards one full minute. You can never hang too long on the bar!

When you have reached a minute on your standard bar hang, you are ready to try a flexed-arm hang. Get someone to assist you up or stand on a platform to get your chin over the bar. Use an underhand grip when starting out. Twice a week should be enough at first, as this type of hang can fry your nervous system when you are new to it and take longer to recover. At first you may only manage a few seconds. This is fine. Aim to gradually build toward a 30 second hold.

I also recommend the Aussie pull-up (aka bodyweight row) as an assisting exercise to help build pulling strength toward a full pull-up. Though the movement pattern is a little different than in an overhead pull-up, the Aussie pull-up can be helpful in bridging the top and bottom of the pull up together. Feel free to use either an overhand or underhand grip. Start with sets of 5 reps at a time, eventually progressing to 3 sets of 10reps. Aim to practice your Aussies 2-3 times a week, while continuing to work your flexed-arm hang concurrently.

Beth Andrews Aussie Pull Ups

Now that the corn is plowed, let’s build your pull-up!

When you can hang on the bar for a full minute, exceed thirty seconds on a flexed-arm hang and do three sets of ten reps of Aussie pull-ups, you have built a good foundation to attempt a chin-up (a pull-up with an underhand grip). Chin-ups are a little easier to begin with for most people. Grab your bar with your hands shoulder width apart and give it a shot! If you are still unable to pull your chin above the bar, here are a few more suggestions:

1- Get a spotter to help you through the full range of motion. The spotter should only assist through the hardest points of the movement. Don’t allow your spotter to do too much of the work for you!

Beth Andrews Pull-Up Spotting

2- Practice negative pull-ups. Simply get into a flex-arm hang, lock in for a few seconds, then slowly lower yourself down with control.

3 – Keep doing the three steps mentioned above, along with with these two additional steps. Once you’ve conquered the chin up, aim to build up to five consecutive reps. Now you’re ready to change over to the overhand grip. Once you can get an overhand pull up, aim to build up to five sets of one rep. Then progress up to five sets of five reps.

If you get stuck or struggle, go back and plow some more corn. Because… “If you build it, he will come.”

****

Beth Andrews is a PCC Team Leader, Senior RKC, Primal Move Instructor, and CK-FMS. She is the owner of Maximum Body Training and has over 20 years of training experience. She also runs a successful online training business. For online training or to host a certification, email Beth at: sba1@bellsouth.net    

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  • Danny Kavadlo

    Beth!
    Thanks so much for this post. This is great stuff that any one can use to get started in the pull-up game! Sound, actionable advice. Looking forward to more contributions to the blog 🙂
    -DK

    • Beth Andrews Rkc

      Absolutely,and yes Sir… More to come! 🙂

  • Karen Lee

    This is gold, thanks for the article, Beth!

    • Beth Andrews Rkc

      Awesome Karen, glad u liked it!

  • Steven Horwitz

    Perfect article for the U15 girls volleyball team I am now training. Going to get these girls strong and protect them from injuries! Thanks Beth!

    • Beth Andrews Rkc

      Girls volleyball team?! That is awesome Steve! Training the pull up will definitely help strengthen the shoulders and prevent injuries. Plus, it’s just bad a$$ to see girls rockin pull ups!!. 🙂

  • Mohammed

    I picked up the DVD for Field of Dreams but have not gotten around to watching it. Last time I did (if I did), I was a kid. Cannot remember any of it. Reading your article made me want to watch it.

    Great article with good advice, by the way!

    • Beth Andrews Rkc

      Thanks Mohammed! It is such great movie. Definitely one of my favs.

  • Monika

    I’ve been running through my neighborhood looking for a bar to hang from, without any luck. I bought some rings to put up in my backyard. I started hanging from them last summer. couldn’t even hang for 10 seconds. I’ve got it so far as that I could hang for 30 seconds.
    After Winter is done (I’m in Canada), I’ll put up the rings again.
    I was wondering if there’s a difference between bar hangs and ring hangs?

    • Pull-ups on rings are a little different, as the rings rotate and are unstable. Regardless, the progressions in this article can be applied to ring training. 🙂

    • Beth Andrews Rkc

      Monika, great job with your hang-time on the rings.

  • Paramesvara Dasa

    Thanks very much for posting this. I am among the MANY who have been struggling with step #2 in the CC pull up progression; I have been battling with Aussie’s for well over a year at this point, and am starting to look for ways to build in more progression. Then, your article comes along. Not the first time this has happened with the PCC blog, but this is definitely among the best of those times. Many, many thanks for sharing all of this wonderful information for free. Time to pay it back with some effort and happy suffering. Cheers!!!

    • Agree totally! I got stuck also with the aussies from CC for a year…. My solution was very similar to Beths suggeted here!

    • Beth Andrews Rkc

      Paramesvara, so glad to hear the article was helpful for you. Sounds like it was perfect timing too! If you spend a bit of time focusing on steps one and two, everything will get stronger.
      Flexed arm and straight arm hangs build incredible strength!
      Cheers!

  • Matt Schifferle

    LOVE this post Beth. The idea of building the pull up is so good as opposed to trying to escape or beat down something you don’t want (Like a weak back) It makes so much more sense to build up into what you do want. Your strength is certainly proof of that!

    • Beth Andrews Rkc

      Thanks Matt! Yes, building the foundation is incredibly important to prevent injuries and build the strength to get you to your goal. 🙂

  • Bridget Bridie Goltz

    This is great advice, thank you! I’m at the beginning of this pull-up journey. Last year I injured myself by advancing too quickly. I’ve recovered and have since purchased Convict Conditioning; what a great investment! Still working on the hang for a minute step, but my goals are to succeed without injury this time and I know the need for a solid foundation of strength. Thanks again for a great article.

    • Beth Andrews Rkc

      Bridgette, glad you found the article helpful.
      Yes, a solid strength foundation, rest a lot between your sets, and “gradually” building your time. Keep at it, it will come!:)
      Great choice with Convict Conditioning. It is a great investment!!

  • This is SUCH a great article — and I’m sure many first pull-ups out there will result from it! 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing, Beth! You’re a great example of true, EARNED strength and leadership!!!

    • Beth Andrews Rkc

      Thank you Adrienne, right back at you!:)

  • Ben Swarts

    Great article – I’m working with two women right now toward their first pullup, and they’re SO CLOSE! Some of these steps will be useful for them and I’m sure they’ll get it soon. Thank you!

    • Beth Andrews Rkc

      Thanks Ben! Yes, if the ladies are super close some of the steps should be very helpful!:)

  • Benjamin dumbrell

    Hasn’t this information already been covered? I always like reading the PCC blog but I don’t want it to become repetitive like all the other sites. No offence, you know what your talking about but why not something new? I would like more articles on tumbling and acrobatucs., that’s calisthenics as well.

    • Judging from other comments, there are clearly people who enjoyed this post and found it helpful. Not all of our readers have your level of knowledge and experience.

      • Benjamin dumbrell

        Grace has covered this, danny has and even you have in your book raising the bar. I’m not picking fights I just would like new content, and I would also like to see jackknife pull ups covered once in a while.

  • Great article, Beth! Yesterday I had a session with students who feared a difficult exercise I told them to do. As the victory comes from the right mindset and the right knowledge about progressions and regressions, I told them about building intentionally strength and skills. The fear disappears and the confidence dials in as we see a path where we hadn´t seen any before. Thanks for posting and keep kicking butt! Norman from Germany

    • Beth Andrews Rkc

      Thank you Norman!
      All about building that foundation! Great coaching with your students!

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