5 Tips On How To Improve Your Chest-To-Bar Pull-ups

If you do not have on Chest-to-bar (CTB) pullups, there is just enough time to get started before the 2014 CrossFit Open...but you are going to need to have some strength in place.

If you already have CTB pullups, work on your technique!

Here are some tips for you...

1. Have different options available to you.

In the past, CTB pullups have been with thrusters. Who knows what it might be paired with this time. I don't bother guessing. I just try to be ready for anything. Having a few different techniques handy will help.

Palm facing away pullups (regular pullups) and palm facing towards pullups (chin ups) options are both legit for competition. Practice both kinds. When you get tired, you can switch them up - having more options always helps for when you get tired.

Butterfly, kipping and strict are all options you can use. Learning how you perform set after set will help you determine when to drop off the bar so you don't waste energy failing reps.

2. Develop your butterfly/kipping technique

If you can, butterfly CTB are quicker and more efficient than kipping CTB, which are obviously easier to do than strict CTB pullups

Keep tight through your torso and legs. The most efficient way to do butterfly pullups are not "big circles" or "cycling backwards" but remaining tight throughout your torso. Practice your technique in the next few weeks

3. Consider doing something radical

Last year for 13.5, I had to do CTB pullups. I have never done them before and I have basically neglected them since. But before then, I was REALLY close, like an inch from getting my chest to the bar. Anyway, I felt like I needed more tension in my shoulders. So to the confusion of my judge and the people watching, I went and picked up the bar and punched out 2 shoulder presses. That was enough for me to get some tension in my shoulders to get 1 or 2 CTB pullups out. Then I had to tighten them back up again with some presses again. It sure beat the hell out of looking at the pullup bar wistfully!

You have to figure out what YOU need to do to get over that final hurdle.

4. Get strong enough

If you can't get close to CTB pullups, then start with the eccentric pullups. Practice eccentric pullups while standing on a box and then lower yourself slowly all the way down to the bottom. Try to take about 4secs to get down. Then try to pull up back to the starting position and use your legs only as you need. Stick to 5 sets of 5 and take a strength-based approach to doing them. There is still enough time to get strong enough before they pop up in a workout...based on the last few years, CTB pullups tends to be in the back end of the Open.

5. Toes up or pointed?

Purists talk about keeping the toes pointed but from a physio point of view, different people need different strategies.

For example, my back strength is better than my abdominal strength. So toes up tends to get me a better result during pullups because it tensions my anterior muscles. Toes pointed will activate your posterior muscles which will help those who are stronger in their abs compared to their back muscles.

You need to find out what works for you and do that. So practice both feet positions. Ideally, no matter the foot position, you should aim to keep your feet together.

If you don't have CTB Pullups, don't despair!

The whole idea of the Open is to have people participate. At some stage, the Muscle Ups and CTB pullups are used to sort the higher level athletes out. The muscle ups are usually at the end of a longer workout, the CTB pullups are in the final workout. You might still be developing your skills...and that is fine...use that feeling of frustration to focus on developing your technique and strength for the next time CTB pullups appear in your daily workouts.

Tips Common to All Movements 

- basically similar to my blog on preparing for the Open...

1. Practice your technique NOW

  • Feel comfortable in practice with competition technique and Range of Motion (ROM) and it will feel comfortable in competition.
  • Good technique is the most efficient way to complete the reps. For most movements, keep your back straight for crying out aloud!!
  • Motor patterns are strengthened with perfect practice - the more reps you do perfectly, the more likely you will do them

2. Continue your strengthening program (or start NOW!)

  • There are still 7 weeks before the Open starts and 11 weeks until it ends - there is time to make gains!
  • If you just get one more rep out because you are just a little bit stronger or you get a PB because you improved enough to achieve it, there is no better feeling in the Open. Last year, I got a 135lbs snatch 4 times - I got my first the day before I did 13.1. I also got my first CTB pullup during the Open. Strength helps!
  • If you are a Regionals athlete, the Open should just be a speed bump in your training program.
  • I have never heard anyone say "If I was only a bit weaker for that workout, I would have done better"!

3. Get your Coach to help identify and rectify your weaknesses

  • Most coaches are happy to tell you what to work on and will give you accessory (additional) exercises to do after your workouts.
  • Most coaches will have some form of one-on-one coaching sessions they can do with you - these are worth it for beginners and experienced athletes alike
  • If you do ask your coach for help and you DO NOT do what they say, then please DO NOT ask them for more help until you have done what they told you to do already!! Nothing is more frustrating to a coach than someone who asks for help but then doesn't do it.
  • If you have done everything you are told to do and your coach doesn't want to help you, ask yourself if you are in the right box or asking the right person...this should be extremely rare...in general and basically every box I have been to (over 20) and coaches I know (well over 50) have had coaches that are willing to help the athletes and care about their safety.

4. Sort your niggles out

  • One of the most common comments I hear is "If I had known how much better I would feel, I would have come sooner"
  • 'Nuff said!

5. Don't push to failure

  • Rich Froning rarely fails a rep. Don't waste your energy on failed reps. Rest and just concentrate on making good reps. Pushing to failure is a waste of time and energy and significantly increases your risk of injury...

I am always keen to hear tips from other athletes, coaches and health professionals. leave your comments below!

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