Technique and Progressions for Strict Pull-ups – TechniqueWOD



On this episode of TechniqueWOD, we’re talking about some simple and effective progressions that will help you master the strict pull-up.

If you can’t perform a dead-hang strict pull-up yet, this episode will help you get there quickly. And if you can do that, awesome! We’ll also tell you how to load the pull-up effectively so that you can keep making progress and avoid injuries.

If you can master the strict pull-up, then you’ll have absolutely no problem later on with muscle-ups and other tough gymnastics movements.


1. Start from the hang.

Keep your wrists slightly flexed and over the bar, with the thumbs wrapped all the way around. That will improve your grip and pulling strength.

Hang with your feet slightly out in front of your body, careful to maintain activated abs and a solid hollow body position. This might be hard enough on its own at the start, which is fine. Just practice. Once you can hold position for 30-seconds you’re ready to move on.

Initiate the pull-up from the very bottom, at full shoulder flexion, by drawing your shoulder blades down and back. From there you can finish the movement by pulling your chin to the bar.

Don’t curl your legs or hyperextend at any point during the pull. This compromise in mechanics will make continual progress pretty much impossible.


Don’t miss episode 181 of Barbell Shrugged: How to Pimp Your Pull-Ups


2. What if I can’t finish?

Here’s a simple drill you can practice.

Put a barbell in the squat rack, right at the level of your collarbone. Walk up to that bar and get into final position. Keep the very same pull-up grip. The bar should be right up next to your clavicle, with your chin just over top. Your neck should remain neutral.

All you have to do is lift your feet and keep all the same positions. Just like with the hang, practice by holding this position in 30 second bursts. In no time at all your pull-up will start to improve.

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3. How should I scale?

You can work your way up to strict pull-ups a bunch of different ways. Banded pull-ups and ring rows are common examples. These are fine exercises, but the truth is that there’s very little carryover to the strict pull-up.

For better performance, you should actually make a few modifications:

  • Work the rings, but place your feet up on a box and let your hips sink as low as possible. This more vertical line of pull will have more correspondence to the pull-up.
  • As you get stronger, try standing on a box that’s just slightly behind the pull-up bar. Start your pull, keeping the top of your feet on the box and pushing with the legs for assistance when needed.


4. Try going slow.

This is one of the best ways to increase your pull-up strength.

Start from the top from your box. Keep your chin above the bar for 2-3 seconds, then lower your body under control, all the way down to full flexion, over about 5-10 seconds. Hold the bottom for 2-3 more seconds and you’re done.

Something like 2-3 sets of this is more than enough. But feel to increase the volume as long as you do not lose position on the descent.


Our “Your First Pull-Up” Program is designed for someone who does not yet have their first strict dead hang pull up. If you have no idea where to get started and just want a simple, easy to follow program to get pull-ups, sign up for this program.


5. The best ways to add weight.

With time and proper progression you will master the pull-up. And yes, sooner or later you will need to add some weight to make things harder.

The easiest thing you can do is hold a medicine ball between your legs, keeping all your key grip and body positions in mind. You can also hold a dumbbell kettlebell between your feet, both techniques work well. As you get really strong during this movement, the best thing you can do is get yourself a weighted pull-up belt.

They’re cheap and very useful.

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Move well,


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.

Make sure to check out Episode 181 of Barbell Shrugged and Episode 208. We geek out on pull-ups :)

17 Responses to “Technique and Progressions for Strict Pull-ups – TechniqueWOD”

  1. Seth

    So when do you know that you have “mastered” the pull up? In other words, when can you start adding weight?

    • Chris

      If you can add load and keep form, yeah, that’s relatively advanced.

  2. Will

    When you guys says ring rows, are we talking vertical, horizontal or a variation? Seems like when I do them, they are more horizontal.

    • Chris

      Use all angles, but work up more towards vertical as you progress. Couple that with some barbell rows, heavy, to maintain balance.

  3. JohnD1985

    How much carry over do bent over rows have on the pull up? I have a home gym with no option to do pull up at the moment so I have been doing a lot of rows, I’m currently rowing 90kg for multiple sets of 5-8 reps with good form (no excessive lower back jerking) and this is about my body weight. I am wondering if this will translate over to pull ups when I get a bar installed in my gym soon.

    • Chris

      They are essential, but no, don’t always carry-over directly to the pull-up. If you lack PU mechanics, you’ll have to work that. That said, keep rowing! Great way to raw strength. Work on PU form, couple with more strength all over…you’ll be good to go.

  4. Maija

    Hi guys,

    Found this video after searching your site (love it btw!) and I wanted to ask a question about programming for pull ups.

    I’ve struggled to get my first strict pull up for a looong time now and have decided that now it’s time to get this thing going. I’ve been doing a lot of negative/reversed pull ups and assistant exercises like rows etc on my upper body days, but still I don’t seem to be making any significant progress.

    If I would want to take this as my main focus, how many times a week should I do these exercises and what kind of programming would you recommend?

    Thanks for your help and hope this comment finds you!

    Cheers from Copenhagen Denmark. :)

  5. RobC

    What are your recommendations for someone who can do 5-7 strict pull-ups, but only for 1 or 2 sets. When a WOD calls for 5 rounds of 10, should I substitute or just push through taking as much rest as needed?

  6. Jess

    I started at my gym about 6 months ago but I’ve been stuck at a max of 3 strict pull ups. I can’t wait to implement these and hopefully speed up my progress! Love the shows!!!


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