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Pull Up Progression

Updated: Apr 6

Learning how to do perfect pull ups are something many strive for, but it is not easy to achieve. Power Bands are a great way to progress your ability to perform pull ups with good form and technique. Elite Athlete Fitness Equipment is here to help show you how.


To be honest, perfect pull ups should not be your focus. As a coach, I don’t believe anything is perfect, but everything can always be improved upon. The goal should be to improve by a realistic and challenging amount; then set a new goal once your original goal is achieved. More importantly, this goal should be connected to a sport performance goal, like becoming a more powerful hitter in volleyball or increasing power to achieve a qualifying time swimming the 100 Free.

There are many benefits to doing pull ups since they are a total body exercise that work multiple muscle groups at the same time and encourage cross body muscle activation. Pull ups develop shoulder stability, core strength and grip strength in addition to strengthening the lats and biceps. These strength gains are proven to improve your athletic performance and make you stronger in day to day activities. Over time they will also help improve posture and reduce the risk of back and shoulder injuries.


In order to reduce the risk of injury and develop good technique, it’s important to follow the given progression. Notice that all stages have shoulder stability exercises. These are required regardless of level or strength. Even the most powerful athletes are susceptible to injury, but stable shoulders will reduce that risk. If at any time you experience pain or discomfort, discontinue and take a few days off to recover. It is important not to try to push through it. If it persists, see a doctor. It also recommended to perform one set of an exercises when you start a new exercise and only add an additional set if you are only slightly sore the next couple days after the workout. Gradually progressing to three sets of pull down or pull up exercise per workout is ideal for most. Once three sets start to become easy, add a fourth set or perform two pull up focuses workouts per week.

Each stage is broken down by ability. Progress to the next stage when you meet the requirements for that stage.

Level 1: Can perform 2 or fewer pull ups

1. Shoulder stability exercises

2. Complete 15 - 45 seconds hollow hold/hallow hangs

3. Regular and partial rep single arm lat pull downs

4. Regular and partial rep double arm lat pull downs

Level 2: Can perform 3 - 5 pull ups

1. Shoulder stability exercises

2. 1 - 2 reps of 6 second negatives with pause at 10% lifted

3. Regular and partial rep lat pull downs

4. Assisted pull ups

Level 3: Can perform 6 - 10 pull ups

1. Shoulder stability exercises

2. 2 - 4 reps of 6 second negatives with pause at 10% lifted

3. Regular and partial rep lat pull downs

4. Assisted pull ups

Level 4: Can do 11 - 20 pull ups

1. Shoulder stability exercises

2. 2 - 4 reps of 10 second negatives with pauses at 90% and 10% lifted

3. Pull ups less challenging Complex pull ups

Level 5: Can do 20 or more pull ups

1. Shoulder stability exercises

2. 3 – 5 reps of 10 second negatives with pauses at 90% and 10% lifted

3. Timed tempo pull ups

4. Resistive pull ups

Complex pull ups


Core & Grip Strength

A strong core helps improve all athletic and real work movements. One core exercise that will help improve your pull ups is the hallow hold. To perform the hallow hold, start by laying down on your back with your arms extended up to the ceiling. Lower your arms behind your head to about 1 foot off the ground while lifting your legs about 1 foot off the ground and hold this position for 30 seconds working up to 1 minute. Perform 3 sets twice per week for best results.

Hallow Hangs are great for developing grip and core strength. Perform hallow hangs in place of the hallow holds once your grip strength can last for 3 sets of 30 seconds. To perform, hang from a bar with your shoulders pulled down while at the same time engaging your core and hips to bring your legs slightly in front of your body.


Shoulder Stability Exercises

These exercises can be found in the Elite Athlete Workout Guides. Start developing good shoulder stability using arm pull downs, external rotations and arm angels for muscle activation sets as part of your warm ups two or three times a week. During workouts, perform scapula pull downs, A-T-Y-Is, W pulls and standing rows once a week, you can sperate these exercises into parts of two different workouts.


Single and Double Arm Lat Pull Downs are great for learning how to pull down with good technique. Choose a resistance that you can perform more than 10 reps of per set. Focus on keeping forearms upright and lowering your elbows till your hands are lower than your ears. If performing these with power bands use the technique in the Elite Athlete Foundations Workout Guide with your back against a wall or door to teach good posture. Later, progress to performing the lat pull down technique in the Elite Athlete Swimmer’s Workout Guide. Using a seated lat pull down machine is a good alternative if you have access to one.


Partial Rep Lat Pull Downs are used to strengthen the part of your range of motion that is weakest.When using power bands to perform lat pull downs and assisted pull ups, you will become stronger at the second half of the motion than the first half. To compensate, perform partial rep lat pull downs focusing on the beginning up the pull down.Start the same as a regular lat pull down but with more resistance and you will only pull about halfway down for each rep.Perform one set of partial rep lat pull downs after each set of normal lat pull downs to increase strength through your full range of motion


Pull Up Tempo

As you are progressing your lat pull downs and pull ups, perform sets and reps that match your goals. Challenging exercises like pull ups often require building muscular strength before increasing the tempo to develop muscular speed. This is best done in the preseason so that you have the strength needed during the season to achieve the tempo required for optimal athletic performance. Many athletes require a faster tempo and higher reps to better translate into improved athletic performance. It is recommended that a trainer or coach teach you your ideal sets and tempo, as well as teach you the versions of pull ups that will best train you for your goals.


Assisted Pull Ups

Power Bands first became popular largely because they are great for assisted pull ups. Many start using high resistance power bands to perform assisted pull ups before they have developed enough strength and stability. Do not make this mistake. If you are unable to perform a few normal pull ups without swinging, you should not be performing assisted pull ups. Keep performing lat pulls downs instead. It is better to wait as you develop the strength to perform assisted pull ups using about 1/3 of your body weight for assistance. When using Elite Athlete Power Bands around your knee, the Extra Heavy Band will give you approximately 70 lbs of assistance at the beginning of the pull up. If needed, a second power band looped under the same knee can be added with the help of a trainer.

Negative Pull Ups

Negative pull ups, or negatives, are great once you can perform a few pull ups with little to no assistance. They will help you progress into performing more reps with good stability. To perform properly, pull up to the top position of the pull up at normal speed, then very slowly lower your body down till your arms are fully extended. Do not unpack your shoulders. Hang for 2-3 seconds before releasing to develop your grip strength.

Negatives, or eccentric contractions, should take 6 - 12 seconds total. Only perform one set of 1 - 5 reps of Negatives since they are very challenging if cone correctly. Many prefer to do these near the end of their workout. Adding pauses at specific points in your range of motion will help strengthen potential weak spots. When using power bands to assist your pull ups you will need extra time developing the beginning part of the pull up motion. A 10% lifted pause is ideal for this and is when your arms are slightly bent. Many also struggle at the top of the pull up, a negative that pauses at 90% lifted will help develop strength at the top of your range of motion. The picture to the left shows a 10% lifted position.


Timed Pull Ups at Tempo

Using timed intervals when training for athletic and real-world performance is a great way to improve performance. Start at 40 seconds and build up to 50 seconds per set performing as many complete pull ups as you can. 5 pull ups per 10 seconds is a good goal. Since speed is part of developing power, work on adding a few more pull ups per 40 second interval. Once you can perform more than 20 pull ups in 40 seconds, increase the time and try to maintain that same tempo. Make your next goal 24 pull ups in 45 seconds, then 28 pull ups in 50 seconds. Increasing tempo will challenge you and make your athletic movement more powerful. Be careful not to let your increased tempo cause uncontrolled movements such as swinging or shortened reps.

Complex Pull Ups

Varying grip position during pull ups can help you improve within your sport if the grip simulates the position that your hand and arm are in during your athletic movements. There are also a variety of complex pull ups like pull ups with leg lifting, twisting your core, shifting your weight from side to side, or even lifting your body above the bar. Consult with your trainer or coach when choosing which types of complex pull ups to perform.


Resistive Pull Ups

Not only can Power Bands add assistance to pull ups but they can also add resistance. Power Bands can be anchored to heavy equipment like a rack or two anchors underneath you, so you can put the band across the tops of your feet. Anchoring the band like this will make your pull ups harder and engage your core to hold your body in position. Resistive pull ups are one of the most challenging exercises and are only recommended for those who can perform more than 20 proper body weight pull ups. It is important to start with a feather weight power band and focus on proper technique for a few workouts before considering a higher resistance.

Take your time and be consistent in progressing your pull ups. It will take time to see big improvements, but by training smart and working hard, you

can Be Elite!!!

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Resistance bands can be used in more ways than free weights.  Elite Athlete Power Bands are the best resistance bands because they are more versatile, using ideal resistance levels and accessories.  Elite Athlete also provides quality workout guides designed by coaches, trainers and athletes to make the most out of affordable products.  Learn exercises to strengthen your entire body; shoulders, back, legs, arms, chest, abs and your entire core.

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