I have a confession to make. I've been going to CrossFit for 18 months and I can't do pull-ups. It was one of the very first goals I had. It was the reason I wanted to sign up for CrossFit in the first place, yet I still can't do one.
During a recent WOD (workout of the day), we had to do 14 pull-ups. I grabbed two bands, and some people around me said, "Sugar, you don't need those!" I felt like they were right. I shouldn't need those bands!
Why can't I do pull-ups? It's simple. Because I NEVER work on them. When pull-ups are in a workout, I usually opt in for the easier modification, like ring rows. For some reason, I assumed if I was doing CrossFit and getting stronger from burpees, thrusters, and snatches that pull-ups would just be easier. I was wrong, and it only took me 18 months to figure that out (better late than never!). I realized that if I wanted to get good at doing pull-ups, I'd have to — shocker! — work on pull-ups!
I went to Amazon and ordered a pull-up bar that mounts on a door frame. I also bought a purple band to go along with it, like the ones they have at my CrossFit gym. I was psyched to get started on crushing this goal!
My coach Laura recommended that if I want to get stronger, I should focus on doing fewer reps "at the heaviest load possible." I committed to doing 10 pull-ups twice a day (morning and evening) for two weeks, just to see what would happen.
The first five reps were easy with the band, then the last five were slow and hard. That first week, I had to "cheat" a little and push off the floor to get a little momentum in order to reach the top. But the last few days of the last week, I could do all 10 without touching the floor (yes, I was still using the band).
The last day was the true test. Could I do a strict pull-up on my own? I removed the band from the bar, grasped the bar with both hands, and pulled. I could hear my coach Dani in my head saying, "Pull, Sugar, PULL!" And I did it! The feeling of being able to do something I couldn't do two weeks before was amazing!
Tips For Mastering Pull-Ups
Doing pull-ups every single day isn't actually good for you and is not at all recommended by my coaches. I just wanted to jump-start this goal, and I felt like committing to two weeks would get me into the habit of working on them and increase my strength so I'd get more fired up about pull-ups and keep at it.
Laura suggests beginners work on pull-ups just three times a week. Do five to eight sets of five or fewer reps, with two to three minutes of rest between sets. For example, you could do five pull-ups for five sets with a two-minute rest between sets for a total of 25 pull-ups.
You can also do modified variations of pull-ups to get stronger. Practice jumping into them and then holding your chin over the bar for as long as you can. Also do negative pull-ups, where you jump into the top of a pull-up but then very slowly straighten your arms and lower your torso down. I also ordered a thinner band that offers less support, so you can do fewer reps with a smaller band to get even stronger.
On the other days, you can still work on the muscles you need to do pull-ups by doing accessory work. Hold a resistance band in both hands and pull your hands apart (band pull-aparts) and do bent-over rows or plank rows.
To keep up with this goal, I wrote down the time of day I worked on pull-ups in my calendar — it kept me accountable. You could also write down your goals in a fitness journal or post videos to Instagram with your progress. Do whatever it takes to motivate yourself to work on these goals. It doesn't matter how slow your progress is because all progress is good, and every day, it brings you closer to crushing your goals!