How to Develop Pull-ups

doing a pullup

While years ago almost everyone could do pull-ups because they were required in gym class, these days they seem to be out of reach for many people and becomes one of their goals for CrossFit.

Pull-ups aren’t hard to do, they require just a small amount of strength but what usually holds newer athletes back is their strength to weight ratio. By that I mean the strength they have relative to how much they weigh is not adequate. These people often have enough strength to do a pull-up if they had a lower body fat percentage.


The most effective way to make pull-ups, push-ups, burpees, and any other bodyweight movement easier is to move less weight. That means you have to weigh less. This is easier said than done, but it is an integral part in mastering any body weight movement like the pull-up. If you’re following our nutrition advice and hitting each workout with as much intensity as possible then lowering your body fat percentage won’t be as hard as it sounds.


Just to be on the safe side while your bodyweight is coming down you can definitely work on the strength side of things. I like tempo work for developing strength and body control.


For the rank beginner we recommend additional ring row work 3 days a week. Follow this tempo: 51X3

  • (5) From the top of a ring row (rings pull close to your chest) descend slowly for 5 seconds.
  • (1)Pause for 1 second keeping your shoulders active.
  • (X) Explode back to the top of the ring row.
  • (2) Pause 3 Seconds before beginning your next 5 second decent.

Be sure your counting 1-one thousand, 2-one thousand for your seconds. Cheating doesn’t help you get pull-ups any faster.

Once you can do 7-10 reps of these with your body straight and parallel to the floor you can move on to the next level.


Now you can move away from the rings and move to the pull-up bar. We’ll use the same tempo but since you can’t yet do a pull-up we’ll be jumping to get our chin over the bar to begin.

  • (5) Descend for 5 seconds until your arms are straight.
  • (1) Rest for 1 second with active shoulders
  • (X) Jump and pull to get your chin over the bar again
  • (3) Hold your chin over the bar for 3 seconds before beginning the next rep

Almost There

When you’ve demonstrated an ability to perform a static hold and slowly lower yourself on the pull-up bar we’ll move more toward a full pull-up.

We call these toenail pull-ups. Instead of jumping to get your chin over the bar you’ll be using a little bit of assistance from your legs during the ascent. The toenail pull-up is done with your feet on a box beneath you with the tops of your feet on the box not the bottoms of your feet. You’ll be giving your self assistance with the “toenail” side of your feet.

For this our tempo changes to: 5153

  • (5) Descend for 5 seconds
  • (1) Pause with active shoulders at the bottom for 1 second
  • (5) Using your legs for some assistance (toenail side down) pull your chin over the bar. This ascent should take 5 seconds.
  • (3) with your chin over the bar pull your feet up and hold for 3 seconds before beginning the next rep.

For all three stages of the progression shoot for completing 7-10 perfect reps before moving on to the next level. If you follow this progression while following our nutrition advice you’ll have your pull-ups before you know it.

Now go move better.