Instantly Improve Your Pull Ups (or just about anything else)!


I get asked about how I came to be doing the things I am doing now in the strength & conditioning and CrossFit world and it usually ends up with me rambling on about how I was preparing to head off to OCS and found out about this thing called a kettlebell and decided I needed one so I bought it and the rest is history…

But, as I’m sure you can imagine, there is a lot more to the story than just that. My foray into KB swings back in the day (2001), when most people in this country had never heard of a kettlebell, ultimately started me down a path of lifelong learning that doesn’t show any sign of letting up.

But the kettlebell isn’t the hero of the story here…

In fact, it was the man behind the 16kg ball of metal that really got me thinking about training, fitness, and upgrading my self physically.

As most of you know the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test (PFT) consists of a test of strict, dead-hang, pull-ups. Well, it turns out that most people in the world cannot do very many of these things!

I know this because I was one of those people way back in 2001.

As I was prepping to head off to OCS (15 years ago!) I knew that I needed to get my PFT score up as high as possible and since an 18 minute 3-mile run was NOWHERE in my near future (I did get there eventually), and I already could do the 100 required crunches, I only had one place to focus my attention — The Pull Up.

So, since I had this weird kettlebell thing and not much of a clue on how to use it I began searching for training programs and ideas which, ultimately, led me to my first fitness related book purchase — Power to the People by Pavel Tsatsouline.

In this book, Pavel talks about the “Grease the Groove (GTG)” method for building strength and volume in a number of movements.

For example, you can use this method to crush body weight movements like the push-up, pull up, or squat and you can use it to build strength and volume in barbell and Olympic lifts as well such as the deadlift, power clean, and snatch.

The GTG method is amazingly simple and really just makes a ton of sense, and common sense & simplicity are things we are big fans of over here at Strategic Athlete.

So what’s the GTG secret?

Train yourself with perfect practice and do it one rep at a time

That’s it. Simple huh?

But what exactly does that mean?

Well, in my case I was trying to increase the number of strict pull ups I could do so I bought myself a shitty $25 dollar door mounted pull up bar and went to work.

Every time I walked under that bar I stopped and performed as many perfect pull-ups as I could without my form breaking. I started at 3-4 and ended up hitting 10-12 in a row before things would start to break down.

The next time I had to perform the PFT I hit 18 strict pull-ups, which was an increase of 6 pull-ups over my previous best PFT about 6-weeks earlier, not bad!

With that quick win under my belt I kept the momentum and continued to crank out pull-ups anytime I was near that pull-up bar and by the time I hit OCS that following summer I hit 20 strict pull-ups with no problem!

Talk about a simple program that gets the results! No scientifically backed, peer-reviewed, periodized, mesocycles here… Just results.

Now like I said, this is a SUPER simple method to increase your strength and the number of reps you can crank out in a variety of lifts. Another great benefit of training like this for the military community is that it helps prepare you to be ready to go at all times!

You noticed how I didn’t say: “Every time you walk by that pull up bar perform a 20 minute warm up and joint mobility session to get ready for your sub-max setup pull-ups!”

I did, however, say: “Stop what you’re doing and crank out a set with perfect form.”

Sometimes we need to train for life as well and ensure we are ready to go at a moments notice and sometimes we just don’t have time to go to the gym.

For example, while deployed I used this exact same method to maintain my strict pull-up capacity (up to 26 by this time) by greasing the groove on the bustle rack of my tank any time we were stopped.

This method really just removes the excuses and helps you get right down to the business of getting better. I’ve used it to increase the number of push-ups I could do in a 2-min period when I was prepping for a GORUCK Heavy, it works for improving your deadlift rather quickly as well without the physical and mental stress of following a complicated strength program.

Struggling to Get Even 1 Pull-Up?

Some of you might be in this boat and saying something like: “Yeah, that all sounds great but I can’t even do a single pull-up…”

Well, there are a number of ways you can scale this movement so check out this quick video

Now, go find something to pull up on and get after it and report back to me with your results!

And if you would like a bit more guidance then the Strategic Athlete Pull-Up Domination program may be exactly what you need to increase the number of pull-ups you can do (and improve your overall upper body strength)!

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