The Power of the Pull Up


Posted by Coach Mandi Kowal

A few years ago I was coaching at a Cross Fit gym. There we demonstrated every exercise for the clients before the workout began, providing variations. I worked at least 3-4 days a week and coached several classes. We basically did 1-2 reps of each exercise.  Between pull ups and toes to the bar, I started to notice how quickly I was getting stronger.  Doing those few reps frequently provided enough benefits in my strength that I noticed a huge jump in my speed in the pool.  My ability to anchor the lead arm and engage the lats was better than ever. Even some of my triathlon training buddies noticed a difference. I sure was having fun.

Recently while searching for a video to share with a client on how to complete assisted pull-ups with a band I found some great video’s and information about frequency and repeated practice to improve your pull-ups quickly. One, in particular, caught my attention because it seemed to replicate my experience I just shared with you.  It’s a 30-day program where you do pull-ups every other day, 3-4 times a day. That sounds like a lot but it actually isn’t because you only do half of what you can do to exhaustion. Let me clarify, if you can only do 2 unassisted pull-ups, then you only do 1 pull up 3-4 times a day, every other day. If you can do 10 assisted pull-ups (w/ band) then only do 5 assisted pull-ups. The key is not to go to exhaustion, the focus is on frequency. If you can only do 5 negative pull ups then do 2-3 negative pull-ups.

Anyone want to give it a try?

To get started you will need a pull-up bar if you don’t have access to one. I purchased one very similar to the Golds Gym 5-in-1 Door Gym Trainer. It’s cheap (just under $18), easy to install and can be taken down and put up with ease. The bonus with this particular brand is you get a band for assisted pull-ups.

Before you get started with the program you need to know some basic things about the pull-up. First of all, there are several variations of pull-ups.  There are pulls that can be done with a wide grip, underhand grip, overhand grip, close grip, ½ range of motion, negative, and with a kipping motion. You can use any of those but my following comments are not in relation to the kipping pull-up. Some basic concepts you can apply are the following:  Grip just outside your shoulder (works more lats), keep knees locked and abs tight, bring your chin above the bar, and go to arms fully extended without allowing your arms to be pulled out of the socket. You want to keep the lats engaged For those who struggle with pull-ups, it seems that they don’t know how to activate/engage the lats. Think of it this way, squeeze down on your armpits and you can feel your lats engage. Sometimes I have clients do this motion to help learn how to activate them.  (See video)


Remember this is individualized so begin at your starting point. For example, I probably could do about two pull-ups right now. So when I start my program today. I am working to complete 1 pull up several times a day and add a little fun variation (see video here) because I know it’s still engaging the same muscles. 

Don’t forget to record your progress along with some notes in your training log so you can clearly remember your starting point and have a record of the changes as they happen. When you complete your 30-day program I would love to hear how it went. Good luck, have some fun (See video) and get stronger, the spring season is just around the corner so let’s be ready to rock race season.

Coach Mandi Kowal is a USAT Level I and Youth/Junior Coach, an ASCA Level II certified Coach and recently completed the Hunter Allen Power Based Certification. She has 31 years of coaching experience and has coached athletes to success at the regional, national and world level. After coaching for nearly 28 years in collegiate rowing, she started up her coaching business instructing 100’s of youth and masters swimmers, runners, and triathletes. In addition, she opened up the only CompuTrainer studio in the area. As an athlete, she has numerous top finishes in many sports including triathlon, collegiate rowing, and running. She is motivated by working together with her athletes to help them achieve their goals. "My mission is to have you TRI-Umph today so you can excel tomorrow." She can be reached at


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