Persistent Strength with the Pull Up


A Part of Fierce Play’s Hanging Gymnastics Series

The pull up is a hanging gymnastics movement that is great at increasing upper body strength. To perform the pull up, the athlete begins by hanging from a bar with arms extended and then proceeds to pull himself / herself upward until the chin is above the bar. Once the chin is above the bar, the athlete lowers himself / herself back down until arms are fully extended. This upper-body strengthening exercise has three variations: strict, kipping, and butterfly. All three effectively work not only the biceps and shoulders, but also back muscles as the athlete raises and lowers him/herself on the bar.

Watch the video clip below for a full explanation of technique, tips and tricks for performing the movement with efficiency, as well as precautions for staying safe.


  1. Hands Just Outside Shoulders: As you jump up on the bar, it may seem logical to place hands directly above your head; however, this position relies a bit too heavily on the bicep muscles to pull you up, versus the back muscles, and can also prevent you from correctly keeping your shoulders engaged throughout the movement. Instead, place your hands slightly outside your shoulder line. This will better engage your back, which is one the strongest muscle groups in your body, and help you keep your shoulders active.
  2. Keep Shoulders Engaged: As you hang from the bar, focus on keeping your shoulders actively engaged by focusing on pulling downward with your lat muscles, located in your back. Another way to visualize keeping an active shoulder is to try to close your arm pits. You will notice your shoulders drop correctly and your head and neck raise up appropriately.

Strict Pull Up: The strict pull up focuses on optimizing strength as the athlete performs the movement. These usually aren’t used during WODs, because they are not meant for quick succession of the movement.

  1. Straight Body Line: If you are performing a strict pull up, you must maintain a stable body throughout the movement. To achieve this, focus on keeping your torso and body in a straight line with feet together. The goal is to keep your body as stable as possible while you raise and lower yourself on the bar.
  2. Elbows In: Try to keep your elbows close to your body as you perform the strict pull up, as this will help your torso and body stay stable, a key requirement for achieving a strict pull up properly.
  3. Use a Band to Scale: If you’re struggling to complete a strict pull up, you can use an exercise band to provide additional support for your body, and decrease the amount of weight you’re actually lifting as you achieve the pull up.

Kipping Pull Up: A kipping pull up is a variation of the pull up that enables the athlete to gain momentum and speed while completing a succession of pull ups. These are often utilized during WODs when time is of the essence and efficiency is critical for maximizing results.

  1. Drive Momentum from Shoulders: The momentum gained with kipping doesn’t stem from swinging your legs, but actually is generated through the shoulders. Shoulders should be actively engaged but not so stiff that you cannot swing them back and forth to create momentum.
  2. Super Man and Hollow Hold: An easy way to focus on achieving the correct kip is to swing forward into a super man position from the bar, with your head shooting forward and legs behind you. Once you swing into the super man, immediately push your shoulders back to allow your head to move backward again while your legs jut forward. You will feel yourself go into a hollow hold position as this happens. The rhythm of swinging from a super man position to a hollow hold position and back again will effectively create a kipping rhythm that is functional and allows you to still achieve a pull up efficiently.
  3. Pull from the Back: When you’re in the hollow hold position, pull yourself up to the top of the pull up movement. To achieve the super man portion of the kip, think about pushing away from the bar as you lower back down, and you will find your body swing into that super man position correctly.

Butterfly Pull Up: The fastest of the three pull up variations, the butterfly pull up is complex but highly efficient in helping the athlete achieve maximum reps in the shortest amount of time. Keep in mind that the butterfly pull up can cause strain on the shoulder joints, so it’s not recommended for athletes who have shoulder issues.

  1. Create a Circle with Your Head: To achieve a butterfly pull up, focus on creating a circular movement with your head as you raise and lower yourself from the bar. You will find that your head is much further back from the bar versus a strict pull up, so that you have ample room to achieve this circular movement.
  2. Create a Figure 8 with Your Legs: At the same time you’re creating a circle with your head, you also want to create a figure 8 with your legs. This requires a lot of practice to achieve the correct rhythm, but once you have it nailed down, you will find it is feasible to correctly perform the butterfly pull up.


QUESTIONS: Ready to get started, or curious to learn more about how Fierce Play can help you meet your health and wellness goals? Contact us for more information. Also feel free to check out more of our videos series to learn how to perform the basics with solid form and efficiency.


Fierce Play’s Hanging Gymnastics Series focuses on proper technique, as well as tips & tricks, to master some of the foundational movements that will be integrated into many of the workouts you will perform. Start your next workout with the confidence and skills to do the movement safely and effectively.


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Mark Mancuso started his fitness journey while enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Like most individuals, at first, he only focused on bodybuilding type workouts. Mark learned quickly that focusing just on the aesthetics of the body would get you only so far. In 2013, Mark found out about Crossfit and fell in love with everything that it stood for.

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