4 Moves That Got Me - And Will Get You - A Strict Pull-Up

by Vikki Schembri
4 Moves That Got Me - And Will Get You - A Strict Pull-Up

Since I started CrossFit, action movies began to stress me out more than usual.

Of course there’s the suspense, the car chases, the intrigue, and the plot twists (*GASP!*) that make my blood pressure rise.

But what really gets me sweating is the endlessly repeating scenario in which people find themselves – the epitome-of-the-cinematic-climax – where they are hanging from a cliff, a building, a tree branch, or WHATEVER and he/she needs to pull themselves up and over to safety and avoid falling to their death!

I know they’re just movies but, despite being a rational person, I have been convinced that literal cliff hangers are semi-regularly occurring events in any quasi-interesting person’s life.

Action movies have enforced, time and time again, the importance of being able to do a strict muscle up – or at the very least, a strict pull up – because you never know when you might be caught dangling over a pit of death.  Plus, if I ever want to save the world from evil war lords one day (it’s a goal of mine), the final fight will definitely require this skill.

Expect the Unexpected… Like Literal Cliff Hangers!

Although I could string some Kipping Pull ups together, that’s was not going to get me anywhere if I have a small fingerhold on the edge of a cliff. I needed to be able to engage my lats and pull as hard as I could to get my chin – and hopefully, my chest and the rest of my body – and over the ledge when the time comes.

I thought: where the heck do I start? Pull ups are my nemesis – maybe they are yours too.

Well, I did my research and I have a tried and true Map to Success that I am happy to share with you!

Here are 4 moves that got me my first ever strict pull-up (and strict chin-up!) in less than 4-months after a lifetime of thinking it would never ever be possible!

Follow these steps and you too can be prepared for whatever real-life action scene you may find yourself in in the future!  

The Moves

1) Negatives

Stand underneath a pull-up bar and jump up to it, gripping it just outside shoulder-width. Jump high enough that you can start the movement with your chin over the bar. Or, start by standing on the edge of the box so you are at a height where your chin is already over the bar. Then grip the bar and step off into the starting position (chin over the bar, arms contracted, elbows tight to your sides).

Keep a hollow body position throughout and keep your shoulders pinched back. Lower your body as slowly as possible all the way to the bottom of the hang - don't let up or release the Hollow Position until your arms are fully extended.

Once fully extended, let go of the bar, and hop/step up to go again!


If this is too difficult (i.e. if you "fall" rather than guide yourself through the negative movement), you can place a box under your feet and help counter your weight as much/little as needed.

For example, when I started, I would do one negative and then 2-4 more negatives while keeping my toes on a box directly underneath me to offload some of my body weight. This allowed me to complete my set while still working my muscles and going through the full range of motion, rather than doing 1 and calling it quits. 


Complete 3 sets of 3-5 reps (depending on skill - don't burn yourself out in the first set!). Aim for 3-5 sec. negative.

2) Chin Over Bar Hold

Start in the same position as you did for the negatives. But this time, just hold yourself - chin over bar - as long as you can. Squeeze your shoulders together and elbows back, and maintain a hollow body position. When this position breaks, your hold is done. 


Complete 3 sets of Max Holds.

3) Banded Pull Ups

This move requires our Synergee Power Bands. Hang your Power Band over a pull-up bar and pull one end through the other to create a knot. Ensure it is secure.

Place your foot into the loop. Use a Plyo Box - like with the previous exercises - to make the set up easier if you can't easily reach the bar.

Grab the bar with a pull-up grip. Step off the box, extend your arms fully, and keep your legs straight while maintaining the hollow body position.

Pull yourself straight up to the bar until your chin is above it. Then lower yourself back in a controlled manner to the starting position.


I've seen various credible sources state that banded pull-ups are not a great idea. But I think, in conjunction with all these other movements, it is an extremely helpful exercise that allows you to go through the full range of motion required for a strict pull up, while providing a counterweight if you can't yet lift yourself to the bar. 

I was wary of these criticisms, so I worked hard to maintain proper (i.e. hollow) body position whenever I did this exercise and kept my legs fully extended throughout. When using bands, if you are always putting the band around your knee, you are training yourself to do this movement with your knees bent. The band can also encourage you to kip or push away from the bar as you pull up (i.e. use your arms more than your lats to get your chin over the bar) - so keep that in mind and fight those urges!


To start progressing to a different band, I would set up two bands for each set. For example, when I felt the Green Band (30-50 lbs resistance) was too easy, but doing a whole set with Yellow (5-15 lbs resistance) was too hard, I did the following: 
I would start by doing 2 Pull Ups with a Yellow band, then do my next 3 Pull Ups with a Green band, until I was doing my entire set with the lower resistance band! 


To Start: Complete 5 sets of 3 Reps
As you progress: Complete 3 sets of 5 Reps, then a 4th set of as many reps as you can 

4) Body Saws

This movement requires our Synergee Core Sliders

Start in the plank position with your forearms on the ground the Sliders under your feet. Your elbows will start under your shoulders, and your body will be in a straight line from your heels to your head. 

Maintain this straight body position. Push back with your arms so your feet slide back & your lats and triceps lengthen. Slide back as far as you can while keeping your core engaged and without letting your lower back bow. 

Using your lats, pull your body forward to slide back into the starting position.


To Start: Complete 5 sets of 3 Reps
As you progress: Complete 3 sets of 5 Reps, then a 4th set of as many reps as you can 


Now you have the moves, all you need to do is get 'em into motion.

For real, these movements - if done 3 times a week, one right after another in the suggested set/rep schemes - are key for developing the strength and proper mechanics for finally achieving that strict pull-up you dream of. Be consistent. Be stubborn. Don't give up. And you'll get there.

Then, you'll be fighting bad guys and winning over hearts as you pull yourself up over ledges of doom! AND ISN'T THAT WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT?!

You got this, Athlete! And we're here to help you get there! :)