Young woman doing pullups in the park

It is quite common that even relatively fit people are unable to do a single pull-up. This is even more prevalent in the female OCR segment, mainly because of a lack of focus in the fitness industry on movement that’s truly functional as well as on vertical-pull strength development.

Being unable to perform at least a single pull-up (sounds easy, but we all know it takes time to get there) results in a bad performance on very common obstacles, such as the rope climb, monkey bars and Hercules’ hoist. All of these require an incredible amount of upper body strength.

So, if you don’t want to do burpee penalties on these obstacles, or drop into the murky, race course water because your back and arms gave up, then we have a solution just for you.

There’s a few easy steps you can introduce into your workout routine to overcome this physical challenge and do your first pull-up syccessfully. At a firs glance, these steps might not seem to be obviously related to pull-ups but doing more of pulling moves, aming other things, can really strengthen your upper body.


1. Do Negative or Assisted Pull-ups

assissted pullups

Grit Camp editor Helena practicing pull-ups using the assisted pull-up machine

A pull up negative is the perfect gateway to performing the ‘real’ pull-up. From a biomechanics perspective you will be performing the same movement as in a regular pull-up, except you’ll be doing it in a negative fashion. Simply jump up or use a bench to get level to the bar, so that your upper chest lines up with the it. Then lift your feet off the bench and try to go down as slowly as possible while holding into the bar.

The last bit is very challenging for inexperienced people so you might want to use a resistance band to help yourself hold the negative for longer and lower yourself down more slowly. You could also use the more conventional assisted pull-up machine (pictured) to give you even more support.


2. Add More Pulling Exercises to Your Workout

This one’s a no-brainer; if you want to improve your pulling strength, you need to do exercises, which will enhance your performance in that movement. A good set of pulling exercises includes: deadlifts, bent over rows, rowing, and a light makeshift hercules hoist.

Be cautious whilst performing any of these exercises, as most if them will require professional supervision if you are new to this. Do consult fitness coaches and other, more experienced, people first.


3. Start Bouldering/Climbing

Bouldering is a fun and challenging way to spend your afternoon. It’s also a whole body exercise involving coordination, body stabilisation and mobility. This makes it perfect for, not onky practiving traversing as a rather common obstacle, but also for improving your upper body strength, which will certainly benefit your pull-up efforts.


4. Get Lighter

This might be a very obvious thing to accomplish, however people usually think that the bigger guys at the gym are able to do hundreds of pull-ups. Fact is, muscle size does not represent strength expenditure. Golden rule is – the lighter you are, the less weight you will have to pull up.


All of these steps combined should strengthen your upper back greatly and give you results you are looking for, not only in terms of pull-up exercise count and endurance but also in lateral strength performance when overcoming obstacles like monkey bars. Just remember that once you can do your first pull-up, the demands to maintain and increase your pulling ability will also grow.

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