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Pull-up Pre-Requisites: From Passive to Active Hang

Many fitness enthusiasts at some point in their lifting game grow a quiet ambition for pull-ups. In response, trainers and coaches have come up with creative and intelligent methods to help people achieve their first pull-up.

Traditional methods to building the pull-up largely focus on regressing the demands of the movement pattern, and gradually increasing it as the performer becomes stronger.

For example, a pull-up program may look something like below:

Step 1: Build up to 60s hang on the bar(forearms smoked)

Step 2: Jump up or have your trainer push you up, and then hold the top position for 10s progressing to 30s(holding on for dear life)

Step 3: Hook up a green band and start building reps(progress to purple and then red)

Step 4: Use negatives to build strength(this one’s a killer)

Step 5: First pull-up…ACHIEVED!

What is missing from many introductory pull-up programs like above is that the program does not consider the person doing the program. It assumes that any individual embarking on their pull-up journey has a well-functioning set of shoulders to safely and effectively carry out the program. Such programs alone omit the assessment and training of pre-requisite joint motions/functions necessary to perform the pull-up and thus may pose a risk for injury for some individuals.

Traditionally, a good coach teaches the “active hang”.This is the money movement in the initiation of a pull-up where the scapula is downwardly rotated. But remember, you are asking your body to produce force against the resistance of your body weight + gravity.

So two things are in consideration:

1. Are you able to depress the scapula?

2. Are you strong enough in scapular depression to pull against your bodyweight + a little bit more?

Question 1 may seem a little peculiar, but it is surprising how many people lack the ability to freely control their scapulae. So number 1, we consider mobility and control. In any given movement (e.g. active hang), there are underlying joint motions that create the movement. While traditional programs build the pull-up by achieving progressively more challenging movement patterns, there must be a prior step in training that prepares one to be physically competent in safely and effectively performing the movement patterns. The training of the moveable bits (i.e. joints) that create the movement must be prioritized before the training of the movement patterns (i.e. pull-ups).

Too often, we haste into hooking a green band on the bar or jumping up to the top and holding on for dear life without the necessary preparation of the pre-requisites. As a result, we may end up stressing things we don’t want to be stressing (e.g. shoulder hike). We may feel our shoulders fatigue and burn out before even getting a chance to feel the back muscles go to work.

We must have internal control of our own bodies before controlling the external environment. If you have difficulty freely and independently moving your scapulae without any resistance, good luck trying to do it while hanging. See Examples:

After addressing your ability to move, we consider the strength of that movement. The muscles that depress the scapulae are many in number and large in size. In other words, you’ve got great potential. In many cases, the strength naturally follows as one gains awareness and control of their scapular movement.

This would be a great place to integrate the use of bands to practice and develop the strength of scapular movements.

Overhead Scapula CARs

In case, you were shocked at the disconnect between your mind and body while trying to move your scapulae, here’s a drill to help you gain awareness and control of them.

Level 2 Scapula CARs


•Do you have the pre-requisites to do what you are asking yourself to do?

•We must have internal control BEFORE external control.

•Training of the moveable bits (i.e. joints) that create the movement is much more important than training the “exercise.”

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