Pull Up

The pull-up is one of the Fundamental Movements on the FreeFit program, and it might be my favorite. It is phenomenal for building upper-body strength and control, can easily be practiced almost anywhere, and is functional in the extreme (how else would you climb on top of things?).

How to Get Started

Below you will find video demos and points of performance on how to perform different pull up progressions.  Start at the lowest level and build from there.  If you can comfortably perform over 10 repetitions in a single set, try a higher level progression to increase the difficulty.

There is no right way to progress to a full pull up:  do the best with what you have available, and scale appropriately to your ability/strength level.  (Note:  If you have the equipment available, the Optimal Learning Progression is: 45 degree ring body row – full ring body row – eccentric pull up – dead hang pull up.)


Dead Hang Pull Up

Points of Performance:


  • Start from a dead hang, arms fully extended. (We are looking for functional strength, which means taking advantage of the full range of motion of each movement. Half-way pull-ups are not pull-ups.)
  • For a pull-up, your palms will be facing away from you. (A chin-up is the other way around.) Make sure to set the bar in the fingers, not the palms. This will prevent sliding during the rep and the eventual calluses that follow.
  • Take a deep breath, and keep your core tight. It helps to point your toes in front of you and flex your butt.
  • Drive your chest towards the bar, while at the same time pulling your elbows towards the floor. (This position protects your shoulders.)
  • Make sure to look up at the bar, keeping your neck in an anatomically sound position relative to your body (not tucked or strained up.)
  • Pull until your chin clears the bar safely, and then come back down to the full hand under control.
  • Finish in a supported, active shoulder position.



Ring Body Row

Ring body rows are the best way to start working towards your first pull up, as they can easily be scaled to your ability level.

Points of Performance:

  • Start with feet planted under the rings (for 45 degree) or shoulders under the rings (for full variation).
  • Keep butt/belly tight to create a stable, neutral spine.
  • Retract the shoulder blades slightly to get in a supported position.
  • Pinch the shoulder blades together as you pull the rings towards your chest.
  • Lower back to starting position in a controlled motion.

You can also use a bar if rings are not available.

Corner Tuck

While not as effective at developing strength, this scaling is great because it can be done anywhere with no outside help.

Points of Performance:

  • Tight, neutral core. (Flex the butt/belly).
  • Elbows out to either side, planted equidistantly from the corner.
  • Feet out in front out you.
  • Bring yourself forward by squeezing your shoulder blades together and pressing your elbows against the walls.
  • Lower back in a controlled motion.

Eccentric (“Negative”) Pull Up

As with any “negative” movement, the idea is to start from the top, and get to the bottom in as slow and controlled a motion as possible.

Points of Performance:

  • Wrap hands around the bar into a closed grip if possible.
  • Jump chin up above the bar. (Be careful!)
  • Keep toes pointed and in front of you throughout the movement.
  • Lower down to a fully extended position in as controlled a manner as possible.
  • Maintain a supported shoulder position at the bottom by retracting the shoulder blades.

Banded (“Assisted”) Pull Up

This is the final variation I use before having a client switch to full-on pull ups.  It allows them to work through the full ROM on their own.

Points of Performance:

  • Loop the band around the bar, putting it in the center of your body.
  • Stick one foot through the stirrup created by the band.  Be careful!  Get help if you need it.
  • Perform the pull up in the exact same manner as outlined above in the “Dead Hang Pull Up”.
  • Carefully dismount.

Other Options

Knee-Tuck Pull-Up

If you can’t get more than a couple of full pull-ups before your grip goes out, try swinging your legs up a bit to give you some momentum upwards.  This is not a ‘perfect’ pull-up, but might help you develop more power.  Later on, you can go back to strict pull-ups.

Partner assisted pull-ups

If you don’t have rings or other equipment, how about grabbing a friend to help you out?  Simply bend your legs at the knees and wrap your feet around each other.  Have your partner support you from the knees, and give you just enough assistance to get you up and over the bar for a couple of reps.

Two-Foot Assist

This might be the best of the Level 1 progressions, in that it most closely mimics the real movement.

One-Foot Assist

A much more difficult version of the Level 1 Two-Foot Assist.  Bend at the knee or keep your leg out in front of you,  just make sure you feel comfortable and in control.

Jump and Hold (or Bent-Arm Hold)

Use the initial jump to carry you up and over the bar, and then try to hold yourself above the bar as long as possible (building up to 5-10 seconds is fine.)


Advanced Ring Body Row

2 thoughts on “Pull Up

  1. Pingback: First MOVEMENT Page Up! (Pull-ups) | freefit guy

  2. Mark

    Nice. I’ve been making the slow progression from unable to do a single pullup to now about 6 and constantly improving by adding negatives. It’s been a slow but consistent progress that I’m really proud of. Nice thing about negatives is if you have the bar to do pullups you don’t need any other assistance, be it people or equipment.


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