The Top 10 Accessory Exercises For Pull Ups

1. Scapular pull ups

Scapular pull ups are what we consider the foundation of strength work for Pull ups. If you cannot hang from a bar and pull your shoulder blades together or get your chin any closer to the bar then you NEED to do these. Not only does this movement get you stronger but it is effectively the first part of your pull up. These can be done EVERY SINGLE DAY as part of your warm up or cool down. 3 sets of 10 reps is plenty if you’re doing them regularly. If you can’t yet hold your body weight or your hands hurt when hanging from the bar use a set of rings instead or support some of your weight by standing on a box or a low bar and perform the same movement. 


2. Lat Pull downs

Lat pull downs are a movement which have been around for a long time. We CrossFitters can take a leaf out of the book of the globo gym guys and do these. They are an excellent way to improve your pulling strength with a load which is lighter than your body weight. When doing this movement make sure to start at full arm extension and pull to as low down on your body as possible (chin, chest, hips) the lower you pull the stronger you will get. When these become easy after some practice only change one variable at a time. e.g. colour of bands used or height of pull up bar you are hanging the bands from.


3. Rope climbs

These can be tough but are AWESOME for building pulling strength. Start by laying on the floor and pulling yourself to a standing position. To make this a little tougher try to keep your body as straight as possible and do not use a kip of flail your way up there. Once you can master this have a chat to your coach and get them to show you the correct way to ascend the rope using your feet. If I get enough comments on this post asking me to I will make a video and share it with you all!


4. KB bent over rows

A pretty simple accessory movement. The big problem most people have with this is they go too heavy and start using their body like they’re ripping on the cord to start the mower. Lighten the weight and concentrate on the muscles being used. If need be use a tempo to count 2 seconds on the way up and 2 on the way down and feel the burn!


5. Ring rows

These should be the staple scaling option for every pull up workout you do. It can be made as easy or as hard as you want it to be. If you want to make the movement more difficult take a big step forwards before you lay back into position. This sets you up to lift more of your bodyweight or alternatively make it easier by taking a big step backwards so you do not have much weight to pull up at all. No matter how easy or hard you make it you must meet the standard of pulling from arms fully extended and hands or rings hitting your chest at the top. Instead of just sticking to the same ring rows all the time you can add variety by pausing when your chest is at the rings or by counting to 2 on the way up and the way down, put on a weight vest use your imagination.  


6. Bicep curls

These should definitely be in your program. The biceps play a big part in your ability to do a pull up. Plus they make the guns look good! Again like other movements don’t go swinging around like you’re having a fit with a bar in your hands. Take some weight off and perform the movement with some control even adding a tempo and focus on the muscles being used. Performing these a couple of times per week will improve your pulling strength and also grip strength which help out when it comes time to hold a bar or barbell. 


7. Banded face pulls

Similar to the lat pull down but just pulling in a different plane. I have found that when using this movement it is far better to accelerate when pulling the band towards you and hold for 1 second at your chest then slowly let your arms go to straight again. This does 2 things it firstly builds strength which you need to do pull ups and secondly it is making you move quickly. One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is to not move with INTENT. If you want to shift a large object ie. (your whole body) from below something to get your chin above something the more speed and power you can apply the easier that movement will become.


8. Hollow holds

This is an excellent core strengthening drill. Primarily used by gymnasts it does require lots of strength to hold a good position. The goal here is to brace every single muscle in your whole body so that you adopt a rigid dish shape. The only thing touching the floor should be your lower to middle back. From here if someone was to push your hands down you would maintain that shape and rock back and forth on your pivot point (lower back). Start off by holding for 5-10-15 seconds at a time and before long you will be able to hold for 30-60 seconds at a time. Practice-practice-practice!  


9. Chin over bar holds

This is perhaps the best thing you can do to get stronger for pull ups. with this drill you’re actually supporting your full bodyweight with chin over the bar. Holding this for even a short period of time can be tough at first but don’t let the fact that you can only do it for a few seconds at a time get you down. It is normal. Try alternating your grip and do some with overhand grip and some with underhand grip. Stick with it! This drill is not meant to be easy but I can promise it will make you strong!


10. Pull up lowers

A harder version of the chin over bar hold. This time you will start with your chin over the bar and either an underhand or overhand grip and lower yourself in a controlled fashion for 3-5 seconds to full arms extension. I cannot stress enough DO NOT relax and drop to the bottom and rely on your shoulders to stop you. ALWAYS KEEP TENSION while lowering your self. Even if it is more of a fall than a lower it is far safer to drop off the bar than to lower and allow your shoulder joint to catch you. This is the biggest cause of shoulder injuries that we see. If you are not comfortable holding your chin over the bar for at least 5 seconds then stick with the holding drill for a little longer and then move back to the lowers.