Pull-ups: Successes & Failures

Pull-ups are often the hardest skill to learn, especially for women. It seems as though for every successful moment you have many failures prior to it. Like many people I always thought a pull-up was that horrible thing they made you try to do in gym class every year as part of your physical fitness test. I mean really? How many people can successfully do a strict pull-up, especially when you’ve done NOTHING to build that strength prior to testing it! Come on people! To be completely honest I finally was able to do kipping pull-ups about a year and 4 months ago and just ONLY got my first ever strict pull up a few weeks ago, and I’ve been doing Crossfit which builds these skills for nearly 6 years! Time to get real.

When I began Crossfit the pull-up seemed like the furthest away thing I could ever imagine being able to do. Thankfully in a sport like this we have many different options to work on the skill and build strength without making you feel like crap when you still can’t do one single pull-up. We have ring rows, jumping pull-ups and using various bands to help. We practice doing them strict, negatives or kipping with the band. Each technique builds different strengths and looking back I see even more so the reasons why each is so important. Pull-ups are so shoulder, arm and back heavy. You really need to build multiple muscles to be successful. So when your coach tells you to go do ring rows or jumping pull-ups instead of using the thickest band possible don’t be angry (even though I totally understand the frustration) just know that he or she probably has a good reason that day. Trust the process.

Last October, I was making some real progress and thought I was fairly close to finally being able to do a kipping pull-up without a band. Don’t you know, I tried it and failed horribly. I was so annoyed because I didn’t understand why I couldn’t do it! Turns out I had some issues with timing and my kip to get my chin over the bar. Lucky for me, the ever famous Crossfit Gymnastics coach OG was there and came over to help me. One simple change of cuing my timing and I got my first ever pull-up!!!! I was so excited! Then I did a couple more that day before heading home. For the next few weeks I did a few every class. I’d like to say it was so I could practice my skill but really I was just paranoid that if I didn’t I’d lose it! Finally it came the time to do some in a work-out. Was I really going to be able to do 50? Hell NO! Of course not! But I did as many as I could even though I was super slow because I wanted to try and do it. Then I switched to using a band or ring rows. This continued for a very long time. Even though now I can definitely do 50+ in a work out I can’t do 10 at a time (well maybe now but not consistently). There’s always the next step. If it’s not doing one, it’s doing 5 or 10 at a time, then it’s doing 100 in a workout, or learning butterfly pull-ups into muscle-ups. It’s never-ending!

Like I mentioned earlier, I only was JUST able to do a strict pull-up a few weeks ago. I have had them programed in my workouts since December when I switched to Individual Programming because I said it was one of my goals to become better at (as well as learn to butterfly and eventually do bar muscle-ups). I was always using the thinnest band we have to do sets of single strict pull-ups. One day, I had them programmed and it said “try to do it without a band.” I literally was thinking, “yea, ok, sure that’s gonna happen” so I jumped up on the bar and pulled up. HOLY CRAP! I just did a strict pull-up! It came out of no where and I screamed. Then I apologized because I was working out during a class and just yelled out! Oops! So then I had to continue and do a few more! Were they all perfect, no, of course not. But now when I have them programmed I have no excuse but to jump up there an pull up as best I can. I know it will take time but I’m obviously making progress! It’s about time! I’ve never been more excited than I was that morning!

One of the other huge issues I’ve found when working on pull-ups is the tearing situation. I swear I’m that person that if I was going to tear my hand I would. Was it too much chalk, not enough? I couldn’t find the balance. In retrospect I think some of my issue was still strength because I don’t tear nearly as often as I used to now but I also think proper hand care is key! We are tough on our hands with all the bar work and kettle bells and barbells and even dumb bells sometimes. You’ve got to make sure that your calluses aren’t too think because tearing your hand sucks! It hurts, it takes a while to repair and in the mean time you know there will be something programmed that causes you to use your hands…

Pull-Up Hand Care

Don’t be me…. this hurts.

I’ve also tried a few different grips to help. Each has their benefits and disadvantages in my opinion. I did also try a new one last night which is my favorite so far. My recommendations… build strength, do what your coaches tell you, work one-on-one with a coach if you’re really close and struggling, that’s why they are there, take care of your hands and find grips that work for you if that’s what you want to do!

Hand Care

Tweezerman Callus Shaver This is what I use to take care of my calluses. Make sure you get replacement blades also. It’s well worth the $12 and makes a huge difference. I use it when I shower which is the best time.


The Natural Grip These were featured on Shark Tank on ABC and I used them because they were very similar to making your own via athletic tape without all the work. They are definitely thin enough to not mess with your grip but for me they would bunch up and that bothered me. Worth a shot though if you’re a fan of the athletic tape grips.

Jaw Hand Grips These are the ones I just got a Christmas and used the other day. A few people at my gym have them and seemed to like them so I figured I’d give it a shot. I definitely like these the best so far if I’m going to use something and not just my bare hands. They don’t bunch up because it’s elastic and they aren’t too thick to create grip issues for me. My only issue was that I was doing wall balls and pull-ups and I had to take them off each time I went back to the ball because I kept dropping the ball! Will have to work on a solution to that.

There are also full finger-less gloves I’ve used but I found that it was too thick for my smaller hands when on the bar or I my hand slid within the gloves. Not my favorite.


Best of luck to you in your pull-up progress! It took me 5 years of Crossfit and 2 kids to get there, so don’t give up!

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