I remember 20 years ago being a teenager, and whenever there was a “dick measuring” contest about who was stronger we would always settle it with the bench press. How much can you bench, bro?!? I’m here to tell we didn’t know shit about real strength and overall fitness. Today, I would argue that a good test to measure upper body strength is in the strict pull up(and you don’t even need a bench or weights). The pull up(palms facing away) can increase shoulder girdle stability, upper body muscular pulling strength, and performance of activities requiring high levels of relative strength.

Coach Ian is demonstrating a correct pull up using a tight hollow body position and eyes straight forward(head in neutral position)



Improper position of the pull up. There’s a loss of the hollow position and he’s reaching his chin above the bar just to get a “rep”


I’ve laid out some simple progressions and drills in order to increase the muscles required to achieve your 1st strict pull up.

1 Use Partials for Starting Strength(Scapular pulls)

Partial reps don’t only apply to the end of a working set when muscles are fatigued and can’t go through the full range of motion. You can apply partial pull-ups with perfect form to fire up the back muscles.


Hang from a pull-up bar with a standard grip, avoid using momentum, and squeeze the chest upward to depress and retract the shoulder blades. Bend the elbows so the body moves up three inches, hold the contraction for one second, and relax. Perform sets of 6-10 reps depending on your strength.


Partials increase your initial strength from a dead hang. The lats and teres muscles must be especially strong from a fully-stretched position to drive the body upward at the start. This helps them fire up. It’s a great exercise to begin a pulling workout and ensure the scapular muscles are engaged. Pull-up partials set the tone for the remainder of the workout by forcing blood into the muscles.

2 Focus on Negative Reps 

Negative reps are great for people who can’t do a single pull-up. They can also help you bust through a plateau because eccentric strength is greater than concentric strength. To clarify my point, there will come a time when you can’t bench press the weight off your chest and you’ll need a spotter to help the bar up. At the top position, you can lower the bar slowly because your stores of negative strength aren’t terribly affected by the exercise. Hitting different fast-twitch muscle fibers with negatives is a vital resource to tap.

The best negative pull-ups, in my opinion, are those where you grab hold of a pull-up bar and assist yourself up to the top position. Jump up or use a box to bring your chin over the bar, avoid a freefall, attempt to maintain good form, and control your descent as much as possible. Start with 10-second negatives for 8 sets.

When you can extend one negative rep to 30 seconds, you should possess the strength to complete one full pull-up. Retest your longest possible negative pull-up weekly.


3 Use Ladders to Extend Sets 

Ladder sets are a simple method to get more reps out of a sub-max effort. They’re a perfect tool to employ if you’re a lifter who can do a few pull-ups but hit a progression wall. Ladder sets tap into strength and muscular endurance and allow for repeated and prolonged lifting effort thanks to mini breaks.


Pull-Up Ladder Set Example: Perform 2 reps and rest for 15 seconds Perform 3 reps and rest for 15 seconds Perform 5 reps and rest for 15 seconds Perform 10 reps


For people who can’t do more than 10-12 bodyweight pull-ups, ladder sets kick your rear into gear and break up a set of 20 reps. Use ladders before you perform weighted pull-ups. The back muscles are primarily composed of type 1 muscle fibers and are geared toward endurance. They keep your posture in check all day, after all. Training them for pure strength with low-rep, heavy loads isn’t the best way to stimulate their growth. When you master ladders, add light weight to the belt, and do ladders again.



Maintain hollow body

Initiate movement with scapular muscles

Maintain neutral gaze(eyes forward)

Extend arms all the way down(lock out)


Kick your way up or use hips for momentum

Lose hollow position

Look up to reach your chin over the bar(look like a pez dispenser)