What is a Pull-Up Progression?

A pull-up progression is a focused and deliberate strategy to build the strength gradually over time to be able to do a pull-up.  This is what makes strength training accessible.  It can meet people where they are and gradually progress as they build their capacity. People have a lot of feelings about pull-ups and/or often count themselves out from being able to do it – because it feels so tough! Hanging and pulling yourself up is really hard, but it’s not impossible. It’s all about following a sustainable pull-up progression.

In this blog post, we will teach you 3 reasons to start working towards pull-ups, why pull-ups are so hard, and 5 simple ways you can get started. Plus, we are hosting a pull-up progression training course called Pull-Up Club beginning in September, more on that at the end.



Top 3 Reasons You Want to Work Towards a Pull-Up Progression

Aside from specific sports there are many reasons why people like you might want to work towards a pull-up. Grip strength, wrist and elbow resilience, and mobility in the over head range of motion to name a few.

On top of these reasons, imagine the confidence that would come from knowing that you can move yourself around using your arms and hands. Remember swinging from the monkey bars as a kid? Pulling can bring back some of the joyful freedom often found at the playground.

Here are 3 Key Benefits to Adding a Pull-Up Progression Practice to Your Life.

Pulling is the new pushing.

Well, not exactly.  Pulling is pushing’s often overlooked and undervalued (but equally as important) better half.  They are an inseparable duo for complete upper body strength, yet many people tend to train only their pushing in movements like asana or Pilates.  They do all these great movements that build specific strength and then wonder why their upper body is not as strong as they’d expect it to be when they’re facing off in an unexpected tug-of-war match or trying to maneuver their body weight.  Pulling is the missing link!  Adding heavy-loaded pull-up progression training (more than just a resistance band) is an essential way to counterbalance all the other pushing movements you’re likely doing and build a well-rounded upper body capacity.

Hand, Wrist and Elbow Strength

If pulling is the overlooked partner of pushing, hand, wrist and elbow strength it’s easy to imagine why we lack strength in our hands, wrists and elbows.  These smaller joints and tissues are rarely trained with such specificity and we all know what happens when we don’t move a part of the body with ample load, it deconditions.  Instead, we hear a lot of “protect the wrist” or “watch out for the elbow”.  There’s a lot of nervousness about what our wrists or hands can handle (pun intended!).  As you will quickly see, pulling work helps to progressively load and strengthen all the tissues around your grip, wrists and elbow – in a way you cannot build in pushing actions.  In fact, this might help us re-think the idea of protection!  Perhaps the most protective thing we can do is to progressively load our joints.  We have 5 tips on how to start doing that below…so keep reading!

Build Mobility

As you can see, pulling does a lot! In addition to the above, it helps you build mobility for basic and fundamental movements in your day-to-day life.  Reaching overhead to grab something from that top shelf or power high-fiving your bestie, all involve a great deal of range + mobility.  As such, working toward pull-ups is one of the BEST ways to strengthen and expand your overhead range of motion. When we build strength in the end ranges of movement we gain access to these new ranges. Hanging and pulling is not only great for strength, but it’s a very efficient way to build range of motion.  The effects on the tissues and nervous system is far-reaching (again pun intended!).

Why is this so hard?

Pull-ups are VERY hard for most of us, it’s not just you.

Pulling your bodyweight is a big deal.  Especially if you aren’t doing it all the time.  We can be honest with ourselves and ask: when was the last time I lifted my entire bodyweight with my hands and shoulders?  How often and for how long?

This is where the pull-up progression comes in.

Many people come to pulling strength training and assume they can just begin to jump up on the bar, start hanging, and take-off from there.  Maybe they’re strolling through the park and their inner child sees those monkey bars and remembers all the joyful feelings of swinging and playing there. They hop on and WOW their adult body has all these feelings of challenge and difficulty.  A lot of folks hit that threshold and assume “Oh wow, this is so hard, I can’t do it!”.

We see a lot of people begin to overzealously train, feel intense nervous system/muscle feelings and then give up and feel discouraged.  There are a few steps you can take even before you are doing full out hanging or pulling. Each of these steps will bring you closer to the goal of a pull-up.

In the next section we will teach you 5 ways to get your hands and shoulders ready for more pulling. Most importantly, it’s the confidence that comes from being able to lift and maneuver your body through space.  That kind of strength has some neat empowering effects that spill over into other areas of your life, too.

Above all: overcoming and working with hard things is a sure-fire way to increase capacity to try other tough things!

5 Key Tips to Get Started

There are specific steps that everyone needs to go through for a pull-up progression to feel manageable. That’s why we are teaching the Pull-Up Club as an 8-week progression series – to allow for the time and space for this work to get started! Want to learn more about Pull-Up Club? Click here.

Ok let’s talk pulling details, here are 5 essential things to keep in mind…

Hang-time takes time. Don’t assume you can start hanging with your full bodyweight.  This is one of the first places we have to start to progress and let our tissues/nervous system adapt.   Start with supported hanging, you can do this by keeping your feet on the floor or on a chair.

Hang on! Your grip strength is going to be deeply challenged in this movement and that’s NORMAL! Your hands are likely going to be the first to fatigue in this movement. As Kathryn said in her podcast with Lizette Pompa “people are focused so much on their shoulders and their core, not realizing the hand is always the weakest link”.  Thus, this will take time and come in handy the next time you need to open that jar…okay, last pun! 

Every little bit helps. When you’re ready to move on from supported hanging, you can use progressive intervals to build hanging strength. Start with 5 seconds, then move on to 10 seconds, 20 seconds, all the way up to 60 seconds; however, this is going to come easier for some than others.  For some this could take a number of weeks.  Many people feel ready to progress when they intuitively find that sweet spot of challenging but not overwhelming.

Bicep Curls are also important. Just like we want to train hamstrings in squats, we train our biceps for pulling.  Like the hands, you probably haven’t done a ton of elbow flexion strength, now is the time to get started, before you are pulling your body weight. We need to build the strength in all the angles of the elbow under varying degrees of tension over time.  Recommended weight to start is anywhere between 8-20 lbs, aim for 8-10 reps.

REST!! We can’t say it enough. Make sure you take a break between your sets of hanging or pulling actions.  For example, you could hang for 5 seconds and then take a break for a minute before you try again.  Some people aim to hang for a total of 2-5 minutes spread throughout the day. This is a fun way to get movement snacks into your day. If this is new expect to have some fatigue the next day and plan on resting your pulling.

What Do I Need?

There are a few helpful tools you’ll need for a pull-up progression program.  But if we had to pick the most important it would be…gymnastic rings!  They are essential.  They are also relatively inexpensive, and you can hang them in a lot of places.  For example, some people hang them from the rafters of their basement, ceiling beams, a pull-up bar, or even outside off a tree!

Gymnastic rings are also a huge bang for your buck!  When you have rings, you ultimately have every set of weight you’ll ever need for about $40.00.  This is because when you change the height of the rings, you change the load or weight you’re engaging with.  It’s essentially like having a full set for dumbbells all-in-one!

We have included a section of links below where you might find these, and other props suggested.

Additionally, you can use a TRX system if you already have one and don’t have the rings.  We recommend the latter because (as we stated above) it gives you more options than just pulling exercises and variety is valuable!

A pull-up bar is useful but not as essential.  You can also hang from the rings.  The pull-up bar might also be a nice place to hang your rings from (as shown in a few of our videos). Finally, a dumbbell or weight that’s approx. 8-20 lbs is nice to have to build bicep strength.

Ready to build a Pull-Up Progression & join the club?

It’s nice to have a specific program to follow, a teacher available for Q&A, and a supportive group of buddies to train with. This is why we have created a Pull-Up Club. Pull-Up Club begins in mid-September, and we are giving you this lead time so you can order what you need and start working on your hanging.

We are so excited to launch Pull-Up Club as part of our NEW All-Access Membership!  Click here to sign-up for the Access Membership and pre-register for all our courses at 35% off our early-bird pricing.

By joining in on a year full of cool events and courses, you will get access to our upcoming Pull-Up Club.  Pull-Up Club as a single product will be launching soon.

Pull-Up Club is a 16-session pull-up progression training series: one live class and one recorded class offered weekly.

The course will stay on the membership for the year, and you will have access to it whenever you want.  And like all our courses, we will have a fancy manual that will guide you through how to build a program and what exercises are key!

Do you want to know something else that’s cool?

We have an App!

That means you can download the classes to your devices and take them with you ANYWHERE.  You can carry the class with you to the park or the gym, and it’s like having that coach or teacher with you right there while you practice.

That also means you can participate even if you don’t have the right setup in your home!

Links for Equipment

Here you’ll find some examples of where you can buy gymnastic rings and pull-up bars.  Important note: We haven’t tested all these products and we assume no responsibility for quality or installation.  Read through the product descriptions to make sure your wall or environment is congruent with the product requirements. 

You can purchase Gymnastic Rings by clicking here.

Bar Options:

Type of bar that hooks up and over in a doorway

This is the wall-mounted bar that we have, which can be drilled into studs or into 2x’s that are secured to studs.

Doorway bar that screws in

Doorway bar that doesn’t require screws

Note: Hanging from a bar is great, but you can also accomplish hanging from rings. Rings can be hung from a bar (listed below), a tree outside or monkey bars at the park.