How Women New to CrossFit can Build up to a Pull-Up

Jeff Baldelli
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Let’s jump right in

By answering a question that gets asked quite a lot: Why is pulling myself up on an horizontal bar with my arms considered a CrossFit accessory movement?

For starters, it’s a compound lift. Not only is pulling up on a bar a functional movement, it works multiple muscle groups at once.

Another reason is its inclusion in many CrossFit workouts. It’s a part of such workouts exactly because of the multiple muscles that go into the movement.

Pull-ups are a great way to build upper body strength and endurance, especially in the lats and arms. They are also a great way to build up your back and biceps.

Before you are able to do a pull-up (or chin- up) though, you’ll need to build up the proper muscle strength.

If you’re a woman new to CrossFit with never done a pull-up before, then here’s a great progression to follow so that you can (hopefully) bust out with at least one before the year is over!

Step One: Gymnastics Ring Skills

The first thing you should do is practice on how to do things right. Your initial goal should be to do just the skill of grabbing onto the gymnastics ring.

Eventually, you should be able to do three different techniques as part of the gymnastics ring skills progression. Click here for a video on how to do each, courtesy of Crossfit Invictus.

Use your off days to practice these gymnastics ring skills.

Step Two: Muscle-Up Technique

Next, build up doing the muscle-up technique. This move adds a little more difficulty as you’ll have to raise your entire body up and over the bar. Again, you should practice the skills here before venturing onto the actual pull-up.

Step Three: Pull-Up or Chin-up Technique

The final step is to start doing pull-ups and chin-ups. Some people can jump straight to this step. However, if you’re just starting out, take the time to build your lower body, core, and upper body strength before attempting this.

Step one: Body Fat assessment.

Body fat analysis is an important part of improving the shape of your body and should be your foundation to improving your shape.

While there are many different ways to measure body fat; a BMI body fat calculation may not be the most accurate. According to this link, BMI is effective for a majority of women. However, athletes and bodybuilders can create too much muscle mass to accurately measure with the BMI.

I would suggest taking a look at this link about the different types of body fat analysis, and then trying to choose the method that is most effective for you.

Step two: Basic movements that will help you learn the proper way to do pull-ups.*** The first step to learning to do pull-ups is to get yourself familiar with the movements required in the motion of pull-ups. This step will help in the preparation of your body for learning the skill.

The second step is to help you with the technique you need to work on making the pull-up easier to master. Because the pull-up is a complete movement; it is comprised of many joints, muscles, and chains of motion.

Dismounting (the process of getting your feet/goals off the floor/bar) is best learned through jumping muscles and muscle memory.

Many CrossFit gyms will have a trampoline mat especially designed for this purpose. If you are in a gym that does not have a trampoline, you may want to consider stretching your jumping muscles. You will also want to experiment with the height of the trampoline, as you may want to adjust and increase the height based on your own fitness level.

The following stretches are very effective at improving your jumping, particularly once you develop some strength in your own favorites.

Box Jumps

This should be practiced in sets, as this will help you develop muscle memory. You should begin to feel more confident in your dismounting with each set.

This step is not only for helping you learn to use the proper muscle groups, it is also for helping build endurance and strength in your muscles that you will be using in the pull-up.

The easiest part of a pull-up is raising your knees off of the floor or bar. The most difficult part is bringing your feet back down.

Step two: Strengthen your Elbow flexors

You don’t need pull-ups to be a great CrossFit athlete or look like an athlete. But pull-ups are an impressive skill to have as an athlete, regardless of gender.

By showing off your pull-ups, you can count on a fair amount of applause from your gym mates.

And while most women can’t do a single pull-up, we’re going to teach you how to get up and over on a pull-up bar.

Up until this point, we’ve talked about structural habits, and also about performance habits that you can adopt to create an index of your habits. While some of those habits directly improve your performance, others are simply functional.

Functional habits are habits that increase your overall performance in any given area, without directly impacting your performance. For example, a functional habit could mean you drink more water, which will help all areas of your life, sports included.

Getting stronger, or increasing your strength, is a great example of a functional habit that is becoming more and more accepted and praised in mainstream fitness.

The first step to building strength is understanding how muscles work.

A muscle cell is made of many individual cells. Each individual cell is called a muscle fiber. Like a bundle of wires, these fibers are bundled together and run through your arm, and when you stretch them out they become more prominent.

When these fibers run all the way through to your side, they are called muscle tendons.

Muscle cells are what we call a type II muscle cell, which means that they have a high oxygen consumption. Or, in other words, they like oxygen to do their job.

All of these muscles cells are filled with a fluid called sarcoplasm. This fluid contains absolutely everything that your muscles need in order to get better at lifting.

Your muscles need all kinds of nutrients in order to get stronger, and these nutrients are found in the sarcoplasm. Here’s the thing: the more you train, the more your body needs. So the more you train, the more your sarcoplasm needs to be filled.

If the sarcoplasm becomes less dense, then your muscles can’t do their job as well, as your hydration becomes less effective.

Step Three: Hang Out

Say you’ve just started doing pullups. You can do really well on those reps where you’re able to do the whole rep in one go but struggle on the ones where you get stuck around the middle.

Let’s say you can already do some pullups but not for very many reps. Let’s also assume that we’re now looking at one of those pullups where you get stuck around the middle.

How do you get better at it? As it turns out, doing a couple of things. First, as one tip suggests, try not to let go at the bottom. Instead, control your downward momentum and keep hanging.

The total duration at the bottom should be about 2-3 seconds.

This works because the key to moving your body upward is to create enough momentum to overpower gravity. At the top, you can do all the work you will need to do, since you’re able to rely on gravity to bring yourself down.

When you get stuck around the middle, however, you have to start fighting gravity only when you reach mid-way. The more resistance you get from gravity, the more momentum you might need to generate to get yourself to the top.

By hanging out a bit longer at the bottom, you are increasing the amount of resistance you get from gravity. This makes your muscles have to work harder to generate the force necessary to move upward. As you do this, you will create stronger tendons and more muscle mass in your back and arms. Not only will this make you stronger for doing your pullups, but will also make it easier to do pushups in the future.

Step Four: Do Your Pullups More Slowly

If you’re not struggling at the bottom of the rep, try slowing your pullups down a bit. Instead of doing them as quickly as possible, do each rep deliberately.

Slow down your rhythm, using small movements to focus on the contraction.

In this way, you’re removing any superfluous movement from your pullups. While this makes the reps harder, working your muscles and tendons harder improves the quality of each rep and thus helps you in the long run.

Step Four: The Negatives

If we accept that CrossFit, despite its intensity, is not dangerous (but see Force, 2015), then we might conclude (as CrossFit Inc. has) that its routine is therefore suitable for all. However, seriously injurious—and even fatal—reactions to training are not unheard of. As evidence that CrossFit-related injury is not necessarily uncommon,

(Brown & St. Pierre, 2012) and (Biswal, 2010) have collected anecdotal evidence that do not involve long-term follow-ups after injury. And even though they may not have been formally assessed by a medical professional (Clemente, 2015), the stories they gathered bear striking similarities to each other in terms of severity and description.

Some of the many ways that athletes have been injured while participating in CrossFit routines are by pulling or straining their shoulder (Clemente, 2015; Gammage, 2011; Rothenberg, 2010; Sink, 2013), tearing tendons, cartilage, and ligaments (Clemente, 2015; Gammage, 2011), having to get surgery on their knee (Sink, 2013), and sustaining broken bones or rupture a tendon in their hand (Clemente, 2015). (Fleck & Kraemer, 2014).

In fact, according to a study by Gammage (2011),.

CrossFit injury rates were greater than have been reported in previous studies of injury risk of participants in sport in general.

The injuries weren’t spectacular in the sense that no one’s nose was bitten off or anything; they were the typical kinds of injuries you get when you take the risks inherent in high-intensity exercise and multiply them by the stress of combining different forms of exercise.

The injuries reported broke down according to the mode of exercise that they happened during:

  • while running and aerobics, 31 injuries
  • while weightlifting, 86 injuries
  • while gymnastics, 31 injuries
  • while using cardio equipment, 21 injuries
  • undergoing CrossFit Total, 6 injuries
  • CrossFit injury rates have been increasing in recent years, and despite

(CrossFit Inc.) having provided an increasing amount of guidance, education, and supervision for CrossFit trainers, the injury rate continues to rise, strongly suggesting that the underlying issues are not being adequately addressed.

Step Five: Finishing Touches

As with anything, you have to end on a high note. Sticking with regular and consistent training will make the effects last much longer than early drop-outs due to burnout.

But don’t forget to reward yourself along the way. You’re going to reach some goals faster than others, and this is something you should take pride in. It may seem that some goals are too difficult to attain, but the help of interval training and other techniques can get you there faster than you thought possible.

When you finally accomplish a goal of yours, celebrate, treat yourself, and move on. Be proud of your achievements but not complacent. Now that you’ve reached your goal, focus your energy on your next one.

Don’t underestimate the effectiveness of interval training. It’s fun, quick, and the many health benefits are too good to pass up. Use what you’ve learned to finally blast through that plateau that’s been keeping you back, or even get started if you’re a beginner.

As with everything, one of the best parts about interval training is that you don’t have to do it alone. If you’re lacking the motivation you think you need, find a community of people doing the same workout routine as you, and together you’ll find the encouragement and energy you need.

Most of all, get started today and take advantage of one of the easiest, most effective, and exciting approaches to fitness that exists.

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So what is the Magic Formula?

When comparing training for muscles that are small in size but need just as much freedom of movement as larger muscles, such as the biceps, it’s important that you get the best possible exercises to get the best results. The problem is no one single exercise can isolate the biceps in every possible way. For this reason, you have to make an effort to include exercises in your workout that properly target every possible aspect of bicep growth.

This is the main reason why it’s important to regularly vary the muscles you focus on in order to achieve proportionate muscle growth. The biceps are similar to the calves in that they are used a lot in everyday movement, especially when you’re standing and doing a lot of arm work.

For this reason, the standing bicep curl is a popular, go-to exercise. But just like every exercise, results are only obtained if you balance out the muscles you’re working out with those you’re not. This means you should definitely work in a few hanging bicep exercises in your routine to avoid over-working the entirety of your bicep muscle.

Here are a few exercises that you should definitely include in your CrossFit routine:

Standing Cable Curls

This is the most common type of bicep workout and for obvious reasons. Plus, it also happens to be one of the most effective exercises you can do. Working out with standing cable curls is also a rather fast exercise to do because you can do a lot with a lighter weight than if you were working out with heavy dumbbells or barbells.

This is mainly because of the length of the bar. For example, with dumbbells, you don’t get a lot of movement for a lighter weight. This means that if you’re working to do curls with a lighter weight, you can primarily burn fat because your body isn’t forced to work hard.

This is great if you’re skinnier and want to retain a good proportion between muscle and fat. By using a lighter weight and reducing the range of motion, you can achieve a similar effect to that of high-intensity interval running.