Project Pullup: 7 Steps to Mastering the Strict Pullup

Why the Strict Pullup?

The ability to perform a strict pullup is essential for your health, your strength, and arguably your safety and longevity.  Performing a body weight, unassisted, strict pullup requires good strength and mobility of your spine, shoulders, elbows, and wrist.

Why are so many people unable to perform a strict pullup? The easy answer is that over time your body adapts to the movement, or lack thereof, that you are providing it.  As time spent hanging, climbing, and pulling yourself up on objects decreases – your body is going to become less resilient in these positions.

However, that’s not the whole story.  We see a lot of people that have been on the road to health and have been working at getting their first pullup for quite a while – as long as months and sometimes years even.  Yet despite trying and trying, they are still unable to do their first strict and unassisted pullup.

We also see those that are in phenomenal shape that can do crazy amounts of kipping pullups, yet don’t feel as strong as they would like when it comes to gymnastics movements or strict pullup work.  And do you know what we often see these fitness athletes for? Shoulder pain.

The problem isn’t a lack of people attempting to improve their pullups.  Look around the gym and you will find no shortage of people attempting to muscle through the movement.  The problem is progressing too fast through the movement before getting really good at the basics.

By mastering the basics of the movement and progressing appropriately, you will not only crush your pullups, but you will build healthy, strong, and mobile joints in the process.  Sound like a win-win? Let’s get started:

Passive Hanging

The passive hang is a great starting point for anyone looking to build strength and mobility of the back, shoulders, and grip to prepare for the pullup.  This creates the foundation for building strength in the overhead position to get you ready to master the pullup. All levels from beginner through advanced can benefit from this simple hanging drill.

You should feel a nice stretch through your shoulders, back, and lats as you hold this position.  60 seconds is the goal – don’t be surprised if you find out how weak your grip actually is with these.

**Those with history of shoulder instability or dislocation should proceed to the active hang**

Active Hanging

The active hang is the next progression in our series.  This is building off of the improvements in the previous passive hang movement by incorporating scapular strength and coordination into the movement.

By adding in this small movement, you are teaching your body how to create strength and control in the overhead position.  This may feel awkward your first time doing it, but it is essential for anyone looking to improve their pullup. This sets the stage for the movement, similar to the passive hang a full 60 second hold is ideal for those looking to build healthy shoulders and serious strength in their pullup.

Banded Pulldown

This movement is a great way to build pulling strength through the lats in a similar pattern that the pullup requires.  The resistance of the band matches the requirement of the pullup – it becomes increasingly more difficult the further you are in the movement.

This not only builds up a great base of strength, but teaches you the proper pulling mechanics and activation required to knock out the strict pullup.

Partner Assisted Dowel Pulldown

Pullups are fun – but pullups with a friend are even better.  This is a favorite variation for teaching the pullup, as this emphasizes core stability which is essential when performing a strict pullup.

By training your ability to properly brace your core, you allow your strong pulling muscles to be more effective.  This creates for a stronger and more efficient pull.

While this can be done on your own by attaching a band to the dowel, this is best done with some help to challenge you through your sticking points.  Where it’s most difficult for you in this position is most likely where you’re getting stuck when you try to perform a pullup hanging from the bar.

Single Arm Active Hang

Remember how important our second progression was?  If you rushed through that variation, you are going to have a difficult time performing this movement.  By challenging single arm requirements you are going to accomplish two things:

  1. Incredible grip and shoulder girdle strength
  2. A new awareness of asymmetries that are keeping you from crushing your pullups

Make sure you are beginning by setting the shoulder blade position and engaging the shoulder.  This is meant to be active throughout the entire movement.

For those that say this is harder than a pullup, it is also arguably more important than the pullup.  Remember all those monkey bars you used to do as kids? Let’s get back to that.

Eccentric Negative Pullup

Now it’s time to start fighting gravity through the full range of motion.  But before getting to an actual strict pullup, focusing on the eccentric part of the movement, or the lowering, is a great way to build up the last bit of strength you need to crush a strict pullup.

Focus on all the same things that were worked on in previous videos in the progression, and aim to move as slowly and as controlled as possible through the entire movement.  More reps is not better, owning the movement throughout the full range of motion is better.

Putting it All Together

If you’ve made it this far and properly moved through each one of the movements, there’s no doubt that you are ready to crush a strict pullup.  Now it’s just time to put it all together.

If you follow this series properly, we’re confident you’ll be able to get your first strict pullup.  This takes time to make it through correctly, but we’ve seen this work time and time again.

If you’re having pain that’s limiting you from doing this movement or other movements in your workout, don’t wait to get help.  Whether you are trying to get out of pain and back to the activities you love, or you need a set of expert eyes and coaching to bust through your plateaus, we’re here to help.

Click here to contact us and schedule a free 15 minute phone consult with one of our Performance Docs today.