CrossFit Pull Up Progression Template

The CrossFit Pull Up progression is part of a series of posts and programs that is intended to be accessory strength programs for CrossFitters. There is a chasm in the the breadth of CrossFit programs out there where a coherent methodology for progressing individuals to the point of being highly capable with kipping and butterfly pull-ups in CrossFit workouts has not been addressed. Included in this rift is also handstand push ups, ring dips, and muscle ups – which you can see below:

This article will address this deficiency by outlining a structured framework that can be done in addition to an athletes current CrossFit programming to bring them to a point where pull-ups are not a limiting factor in performing a workout as prescribed and/or improve capacity for high volume pull-up CrossFit workouts. This article is set up so that coaches can email this article to their clients/members so they can work on their pull up development on their own. The future muscle up and handstand push up articles will be structured similarly to this one.

Given that there is a significant range in pull-up ability I will be making a few assumptions so that this information is targeted at the right people.

  • Assumption 1: There are no orthopedic issues that are inhibit range of motion for the movements outlined below.
  • Assumption 2: That this is done in conjunction with a CrossFit program.
  • Assumption 3: Exercise selection will be limited by equipment found at most CrossFit gyms. If most CF gyms had a Graviton Machine there would be heavy use of that during Phase 1 and 2.

A couple notes:

  • The shoulder joint is more susceptible to injury when its structures aren’t adequately developed. For this reason, I highly recommend NOT attempting any sort of kipping prior to being able to do one strict pull-up. Also, be sure to mobilize/stretch as needed for your shoulders.
  • Getting better at pull-ups, push-ups, muscle-ups, dips, and handstand pushups is about volume. In any phase feel free to add in more pull-ups to progress faster.
  • Buy a pumice stone and scrub your hands in the shower 2-3 times a week. This will help prevent skin tears on your hand.
  • The following progressions are more of a rough template for developing the pull-up. The most important part of this setup is  the idea of following a progression instead developing pull-up capacity by sporadicly working on it. There
  • Warm up’s are simply before your scheduled training or class and cool downs are after scheduled training or class.
  • A high BMI will increase the time it takes to advance through the phases.
  • Do not rush trying to get to the next phase. Only move on once you can complete that phases goal with confidence and consistency.
  • EMOM = Every Minute On the Minute
  • If you end up following this i’d love to hear about how it worked out for you in the comments.

Phase 1 for CrossFit Pull Up Progression

Current ability: 0 strict pull-ups

Goal: 1 strict pull-up with. No kip. Move to phase 2 once you can do 1 strict pull-up relatively easy.

Objective: Strengthening for structures involved in the pull-up. This will primarily be the  latissimus dorsi, biceps, rhomboids, and the varios muscles in the shoulder.

How to: Do 3-4 workouts a week rotating in order. Move to phase 2 once you can do 3 strict pull-ups in a minute.

Phase 1 weekly template
When Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Volume Assistance Intensity
Warm Up 3 sets 8-12 banded pull-ups. If you go over 12 move to a band with less resistance. If banded pull-ups are too difficult you can do self-assisted pull-ups until you are capable to progressing to the band  5×5 Self-assisted pull-ups. Scroll down for information about the progressions.  5×3-5 banded pull-up. If you can go over 5 reps scale up to a more difficult progression.
Warm Up - - 3 sets of a max hang from a pull bar with 1 minute rest.
Cool Down Accumulate 25 ring rows. Move up 3-5 reps a week until you move to phase 2. If you can string together more than 10 in row make the movement more difficult by being more parallel with the floor.  3×8-12 curls with barbell  5×5 Self-assisted pull-ups.
Cool Down Accumulate 25 banded face-pulls. Move up 3-5 reps a week until you move to phase 2. -

The self-assisted pull-ups be done in a squat rack. Check out this link for a visual. During phase 1 this will be used to supplement band pull-ups. We need to supplement band pull-ups because strength curve does not mimic an actual pull-up very well because the assistance goes from most to least during the upward range of motion. Here are a few modifications you can use to adjust difficulty.

  1. Stay on toes only.
  2. Put feet on a box or bench in front of you.
  3. Use only one leg.

Whichever modification you are using the most important thing to focus on pulling with your back and using your legs as little as possible. Also, be sure to start with your elbows extended all the way at the bottom and get your chin over the bar with out reaching with your neck.

 

Phase 2 for CrossFit Pull Up Progression

Current ability: 1 strict pull-up any day of the week.

Goal: 5 strict pull-ups in a row with. No kip.

Objectives: Every week do more pull-ups than the last. Develop good technique for kipping. Become stronger in hollow rock position.

How to: Do 3-4 workouts a week. Rest day from pull-ups before day 2 and 4.

Phase 2 weekly template
When Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Volume Volume Assistance Intensity
Warm Up  EMOM 1-3 strict pull-ups for 5 Min. Every week either try to get more consecutive pull ups or add a minute. Do not go over 10 minutes  Tabata kipping pull ups. Try to get more reps each week  Work on kipping pull up technique  As many strict pull ups as possible in 4 mnutes. Add 1 minute a week.
Cool Down  Kipping pull-up practice  Accumulate 40 banded face pulls  Barbell curls 3×10-12. You can do your hollow rocks between sets. 3×1 pull ups with 3-4 second negative on the way down. Go up 1 rep a week. Focus intently on lowering very slowly.
Cool Down  Accumulate 20 hollow rocks. Add 5/week until you go to phase 3. Do a max set of strict pull ups before and after hollow rocks  Accumulate 20 hollow rocks. Add 5/week until you go to phase 3

 

Phase 3 for CrossFit Pull Up Progression

Current ability: Set of 5 strict pull-ups any day of the week

Goal: Men 10 strict and 20 kipping. Women 7 strict and 15 kipping. Both men/women able to string together a few butterfly pull-ups. Move to Phase 4 once you hit this goal.

Objectives: Develop the stamina for higher rep sets.

How to: Do 2-4 workouts a week. Rest day from pull-ups before day 2 and 4.

Phase 3 weekly template
When Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
Volume Volume Assistance Intensity
Warm Up  EMOM 1-3 strict pull-ups for 5 Min. Every week either try to get more consecutive pull-ups or add a minute. Do not go over 10 minutes  3 sets of max rep kipping or butterfly pull-ups with 3 minutes rest 4 sets max strict pull ups. Rest 3 minutes between sets.  As many kipping/butterfly pull-ups as possible in 5 minutes.
Cool Down  20 kipping/butterfly pull-ups as fast as possible and in the least amount of sets. Go up 5/week but do not exceed 50. If you hit 50 while still in phase 3 try to beat time each week.  Butterfly pull-up practice  Butterfly pull-up practice  Butterfly pull-up practice

Phase 4 for CrossFit Pull Up Progression

Current ability: Men 10 strict and 20 kipping. Women 7 strict and 15 kipping. Both men/women able to string together a few butterfly pull-ups.

Goal: Men 40 butterfly pull-ups. Women 30 butterfly pull-ups. Move to Phase 5 once you hit this goal.

Objectives: Build pull-up capacity

How to: Do 2-3 workouts a week.

Phase 4
When Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Volume Assistance Capacity
Warm Up  EMOM for 4 minutes. 20 seconds of unbroken kipping/butterfly pull-ups. If you are proficient at butterfly by this time you are shooting for 18-22 reps for the first set. If you drop off the bar in the 20 second period do not jump up till the next minute. Go up 1 minute a week until you get to 6 minutes.  3×5 weighted strict pull-up. Rest 3 minutes between sets. Go up 2.5 or 5lb a week. If you cannot add weight go up on weight ever 2-3 weeks.  60 pull-ups as fast as possible. Go up 10 a week until you get to 100.
Cool Down  Butterfly pull-up practice if you still need to work on it

Phase 5  for CrossFit Pull Up Progression

Current ability: Men 40 butterfly pull-ups. Women 30 butterfly pull-ups.

Goal: Men 100 pull-ups in under 4:00 and women under 5:00

Objectives: Capacity

How to: Do 2-3 workouts a week. Once you complete cycle 1 go to cycle 2 and then back again.

Phase 5 - Cycle 1
When Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Warm Up or Cool Down  Tabata kipping/butterfly chest to bar pull-ups 5×5 weighted strict pull-up. Rest 3 minutes between sets. Go up 2.5 or 5lb a week. If you cannot add weight go up on weight ever 2-3 weeks.  5 sets of pull ups. Do not go over 20 pull ups a set. The goal is to hit 20 reps in a row for 5 sets. 60 seconds rest between sets.
Phase 5 - Cycle 2
When Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Warm Up or Cool Down  Tabata kipping/butterfly pull-ups 5×5 weighted strict pull-up. Rest 3 minutes between sets. Go up 2.5 or 5lb a week. If you cannot add weight go up on weight ever 2-3 weeks. 100 kipping/butterfly pull-ups for time.