Strict Pull-up Strength Challenge!

Gettin' It
Gettin’ It

We’re kicking off the new year with something everyone wants: more pull-ups! Or maybe just one pull-up! Or even one *gasp* muscle-up! Either way, when it comes to pulling up, strength is king. This challenge is built around your ability to commit to the process of improving your strength in the Strict Pull-up (or Strict Muscle-up). I’ll give a brief overview and then break down the details for those who want to dig in:


What: Strict Pull-up Strength Challenge!

When: Monday January 7th – Monday February 4th, 2013.

Where: Anywhere! But of course the gym is your go-to playground and performance lab.

How: We will test your Strict Pull-up 3 Rep-Max (3RM, those in bands will be doing a 1-3RM) at the beginning and end of the challenge (within the week of the start and end dates). No kipping. We will provide guidelines for how you can best go about improving your strength each day. We will also award points for participation that you can earn each day that will contribute to your total score at the end. There will be a $20 buy-in for those who want to make it interesting (c’monnn), and prizes at the end for those who improve the most overall (total pounds + participation points).

Why: Because we gotta! Strict pull-ups are a movement almost everyone can rapidly improve at, and training them is fairly straightforward. Plus it’s pretty cool and satisfying to get your first unassisted one, and most of you are on that path already.


Pull-up Strength Training Method/How To Get Stronger:

There are several good methods to go about improving your Strict Pull-up Strength, but first a word from Mr. Safety: Physiologically, you can only perform a given movement at your maximum ability 2-3 times per week. Please do not try to go for a true max more than 3 days per week (or about every 72 hours more precisely). Your joints and connective tissues will thank you. You can certainly work on your pull-ups daily, even push the intensity level a bit. But if it feels sketchy it probably is, and you’re better off taking a day off in between these intense efforts.

  • You are to perform 5-6 sets, 3 reps per set is the goal. If you are using bands your heaviest set can be 1, 2, or 3 reps to push your limits. If you can do more than 3 reps try the next hardest band level. If you are doing weighted Pull-ups then a 3RM will be the requirement/standard. This gives us a “level playing field” and makes the math easier.
  • The 1st set should be “easy.” Basically a warm-up. If you are using a band, use the band one level easier than your current level. If you have 1-3 strict pull-ups, use a light or medium band. If your 3RM is more than 10#, just do un-weighted strict pull-ups.
  • The 2nd set should be “medium.” If you are in a band and do not have multiple levels below your current 3RM (those in the blue or green levels), just repeat the first set. Same for those in the 1-3 strict pull-up range.
  • The last 3-4 sets should be “hard” or “maximal.” This is also generally where you can start scoring points for the participation portion of the challenge (know your current 3RM level!). For the 3rd set, work at your current 3RM level or slightly below it. Then, if you feel able try for a new max on the 4th set, or simply repeat the 3rd set 2-3 more times. You won’t PR everyday, but you should generally try to work at or above 90% for these sets. If you are unable to make the 3rd rep on the last two sets, you’re still getting stronger. If you cannot complete one full range of motion (ROM) rep at this point because you are tired, drop the weight or band level down to finish your sets. Tomorrow is another day.
  • If you are using the red or purple bands you may substitute negative pull-ups for the last 1-2 sets, or add them on at the end (no more than 6 reps).
  • These are guidelines. Try not to make them more complicated than they need to be. The goal is about 10 hard reps each day you train. If your 3RM is more than 50# you should approach it basically like weightlifting sets (fairly even, incremental jumps in weight).
  • If you want to try and train your pull-up strength at home, at a park, or elsewhere, I’m all for it. Be creative.  Wrap a towel or rope over a tree branch and pull away. Load a backpack full of cans, textbooks, and bricks and make it rain weighted pull-ups. But stick to the standards as closely as you can. Strength work means that if you can do more than 3 reps on the last set, you didn’t go heavy enough.

The challenge will be broken down into two scored parts, but ultimately will be added together at the end for one total score. Your total score will be Performance Improvement Pounds (#) + Participation Points.

  • Performance Challenge: 3RM for Absolute Improvement in External Load (#)
    • We are doing a 3-Rep Max (3RM) to measure your pull-up strength at the beginning and end of the challenge. We are doing this for several reasons, mainly because it is somewhat easier to judge three reps than one (fewer micro-second judging disputes), it makes scoring easier, it will allow you to get your strength work done in less time (fewer weight changes for those using weighted belts), and provide a consistently potent stimulus for adaptation (getting strong!).
    • Here comes the science: To create a continuum of ability levels within the challenge, we are assigning approximate weights to each of the 5 color-coded pull-up bands we have at the gym so that we can cross-compare your results. Further, when we test at the beginning and end we will allow you to set your score with a 2RM or 1RM effort so that we can measure smaller changes in your strength, which are represented via Equivalent 3 Rep-Maxes (EQ3RMs) in the chart below. This is the sort of novel aspect of this challenge. Most pull-up challenges are either binary — you go from not having an unassisted pull-up to being able to do one — or are geared toward those who can already do at least a few unassisted pull-ups, and their success is measured in reps, weight, days, etc. — or are simply based on participation (scout’s honor). We are going to try to make this challenge as inclusive yet measurable as possible by allowing the use of bands. Now, the reality is that bands provide variable assistance dependent on a person’s anatomy, so this measure is very approximate, but at most they provide the amount of assistance listed below. Of course the goal is to get everyone who cannot already perform a strict unassisted pull-up to do so, whether it takes a few weeks, months, or even years.  It can be done. It has been done. Commitment and consistent is the key. If you are starting out with the bands you should not be content with your results until you don’t need one anymore :). Your Strict Pull-up 3RM will be measured via the following band and weighted levels:
      • 3 reps w/ Black Band: “-150# 3RM” (that’s “negative 150 pound 3 Rep-Max”)
      • 1 rep w/ Green Band: “-140#  EQUIVALENT 3RM (EQ3RM)”
      • 2 reps w/ Green Band: “-130#  EQ3RM”
      • 3 reps w/ Green Band: “-120# 3RM”
      • 1 rep w/ Blue Band: “-105# EQ3RM”
      • 2 reps w/ Blue Band: “-95# EQ3RM”
      • 3 reps w/ Blue Band: “-80# 3RM”
      • 1 rep w/ Red Band: “-70# EQ3RM”
      • 2 reps w/ Red Band: “-60# EQ3RM”
      • 3 reps w/ Red Band: “-50# 3RM”
      • 1 reps w/ Purple Band: “-45# EQ3RM”
      • 2 reps w/ Purple Band: “-40# EQ3RM”
      • 3 reps w/ Purple Band: “-35# 3RM”
      • 1 rep Strict Pull-up: “-20# EQ3RM” *** automatic-prize if you started with 3 or fewer pull-ups with the Purple Band or lower ***
      • 2 reps Strict Pull-up: “-10# EQ3RM”
      • 3 reps Strict Pull-up: 0# 3RM
      • 3 reps Weighted Strict Pull-up @ 5# = “5# 3RM”
      • 3 reps Weighted Strict Pull-up @ 10# = “10# 3RM”
      • …etc.
      • 1 rep Strict False Grip (FG) Ring Muscle-up (MU) = “100# EQ3RM” *** auto-prize if you started without one ***
      • 3 reps Strict FG Ring MU = “120# 3RM”
      • 3 reps Weighted Strict FG Ring MU @ 5# = “125# 3RM”
      • 3 reps Weighted Strict FG Ring MU @ 10# = “130# 3RM”
      • …etc.
  • Do Work/Participation Challenge: Bonus Points will be awarded for each rep (up to 10 per day, up to 3 days per week, 1/5th point per rep) performed within 10# of your current 3RM level outside of regular class time that will be added to your total at the end of the challenge. Reminder: you should not be pulling your max more than 3 days per week. These reps can be 3 in a row, 2 at a time, or 1 at a time. In order to keep track of your participation, we will setup an extra whiteboard that you must write down your reps for each day on. I will take care of the point totals as long as you clearly write down your name and reps. This board will reset (be erased) each week. You may perform this extra work at the gym before or after class, at home, or elsewhere. Again, you must perform these reps within 10# of your current 3RM level for them to count, Scout’s Honor. I know for some of you this means regularly keeping track of a moving number (your 3RM) that you may normally forget as soon you leave the gym. Part of the process of CrossFit is learning to keep track of your maxes! If you struggle with this, write it down on your hand, on a mirror, on the fridge, etc. in addition to your log book. Whatever it takes. If you are currently using a band you may simply perform the reps at your current 3RM band level. If you are using the red or purple band, you may substitute up to 5 Strict Negative Pull-ups (slowly lowering yourself from the top to the bottom of the pull-up unassisted/without a band) at 1/5th pt per rep. 5 negative pull-ups = 1 point for the day. We recommend this where possible, as it is a fundamentally closer movement to the actual unassisted pull-up we are striving towards. If you intend to do this at home or elsewhere, you must set yourself up with the appropriate equipment (pull-up bar, bands, weights, etc.).
hollow pull-up
Standards: Hollow Body Position
  • Standards
    • Strict Pull-ups (and Muscle-ups) are STRICT. Participants must maintain a hollow body position (shown above) throughout the movement. This basically means your hips and legs must stay still throughout the entire set. A small amount of static hip flexion is ideal to maintain a rigid midline (slight lifting of the legs, also seen above). If any form of kipping or otherwise unnecessary dynamic movement of the body is observed the rep will not count. Sometimes people bend their knees or hips at various points on accident (or as the result of a heavily loaded chain/belt getting in the way), but if this happens and appears to give any assistance, the rep will not count. Of course this requires some judgement/discretion. I will do my best to observe all 3RM attempts. If the first rep is slightly off on accident we may let it slide. If the second or third rep are off they will not count.
    • All reps must start from a completely dead hang. Elbows fully locked out, upper arms between the ears. There must be a one second pause (take a breath) at the start/bottom of each. No jumping onto the bar and pulling immediately. Bouncing out of the bottom will disqualify the set. We do this because bouncing your reps often leads to some form of a kip.
    • You may use any grip, wide or narrow, overhand (pronated) or underhand (supinated), although we recommend an underhand grip just outside of shoulder width for optimal results.
    • All reps must finish with the chin clearly observable over the bar. Just clearing the plane of the bar (chin out in front) is not good enough. When in doubt the rep don’t count.

That’s all for now. I’m sure there will be questions, and this post will be updated with any major changes or announcements. Looking forward to a month of Pull-up PRs!



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