Strict Pull Ups – Get It Right to Help “Bulletproof” Your Shoulders

Every time I see a Crossfitter with a shoulder problem, I have to go over this exercise and make sure it is right.

Most non-traumatic (no specific incident) shoulder injuries/pain/weakness that I have seen in CrossFitters and other athletes come from an inability to maintain control of the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint. Most people try to strengthen their shoulders...but they forget what the shoulders sit on - the Thorax, Low back and Pelvis! Strict press, Strict push ups and Strict pull ups, etc are excellent exercises to develop the strength and control needed to protect your shoulders through learning the stability, control and dissociation needed throughout your body.

Strict Pull Ups. Which position is better?

Strict Pull UpsIn the pic on the left, the lumbar and thoracic extension basically places you in a really weak position for your shoulder girdle. If you don't believe me, try a push press in that position (don't hurt yourself!). If you teach the push press properly, you will know that the ribs should stay down. So why is it when we do pullups, we allow people to arch like this? I suspect it is because people don't have the strength to maintain the position on the right. It takes AGES to get the strict strength to hold this position and pull up correctly.

The pic on the right shows the ideal position. From there, you pull to the top of your head or chin over bar or chest to bar WITHOUT arching backwards at all. And yes, it can be done. Even I can do 1 strict pullup...

If you can't, then follow the progression suggestions below... 3-5 sets of max perfect reps with 2-3mins between sets please. If you can only do 1 rep, then that is a great start.

1. Use a box to get into the finish position - still in the ideal position, just chin over bar. Then lower yourself slowly WITHOUT arching the back at all. If you can't do that, then leave your feet on the box underneath you and pull your knees to your chest as you are lowering to maintain good spinal posture.

2. You can use a green band and adopt the correct posture (feet should be in front of your body for this one) and pull to the top in the correct posture. Use as many bands as needed to do this correctly. Decrease the amount of bands as you improve

These are a good start...more specific progressions after that can be worked out on an individual basis - talk to your coach or physio or even me if you want to about how you should proceed.

Video yourself and be STRICT. Strict strength will help protect you. Strict strength means you have stability and control and strength.

NO KIPPING until you can do 5-10 strict pullups...that includes butterflys...if you want to help me retire earlier, then ignore that advice... you will be coming to see me more often!

Thanks to Brandon Swan for being such a good demo model and able to adopt both positions for this photo. Thanks also to the coaching team at GCS who absolutely share my beliefs and ideas. It is nice being somewhere where they actually teach the same things that I teach!! 

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