3 Ways to Level Up the Pull-Up by Coach Tanner Batten

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This post by Coach Tanner Batten first appeared on the blog of Paradigm Sport Athlete Training CENTER. Photo courtesy of Mike Santaella.

With another round of testing complete, I was reminded of the great equalizer on our leaderboard… pull-ups!

This is consistently the hardest category for our athletes.  Even when someone can deadlift an appreciable amount of weight they often struggle to hit the appropriate bench mark for pull-ups.  The pull-up is the king of all upper body exercises.  It is a true test of relative strength.   Whether your aim is to achieve your first body weight pull-up or you are trying to go from 5 to 10 reps, these 3 tips will improve your pull-up strength.

Increase Training Frequency

Strength work should be approached like any other skill.  Skills take hours and hours of practice to master.  Training pull-ups once per week isn’t going to cut it if you want to get better.  You need repetition and practice.  Try coming early to your next workout and getting in a few sets of parallel TRX Rows, Pull-up Iso Holds, or Banded Pull-Ups. These exercises will help you strengthen the movement pattern and the muscles used in a pull-up.  The key here is to gradually increase volume.  Start with sets of 3-5 and work your way towards 8-10 reps per set.  Approach the pull-up like any other skill and get some quality practice in.

Lose Body Fat

This is the part of a pull-up that no one wants to talk about.  Excess body fat could be holding you back from your potential.  It’s amazing how much easier pull-ups become when you are 10-15 pounds lighter.  If this is where you are struggling, prioritize your nutrition and fat loss.  Even if strength is your main goal, it is worth a dedicated month or two of targeted fat loss through clean eating and more intense training.    


Improve Core and Grip Strength

Although the pull-up is mainly an upper body exercise, a weak core and grip could be preventing your progress. A strong core is a very broad term, so ask yourself these questions… Can you hold a plank for 2 minutes?  Can you perform a hollow-body hold for 60s?  Can you do a 10-rep set of ab wheel rollouts?  If not, then get to work on these exercises also.

Just like a weak core can hold you back, poor grip strength can limit your strength.  Can you hang from the bar for 60s?  Can you do a 50-yard farmer’s carry with a load equal to your bodyweight?  If not, your grip strength can stand to improve as well.

If pull-ups have held you back for a while now try implementing these three tips. Work on increasing training frequency, shedding some excess body fat, and training your core and grip strength.  If you spend the next few months working diligently at this, I promise your pull-ups will dramatically improve.  

If you want to 10x fat loss and strength results:


pull ups Tanner Batten

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