8 Helpful Pull Up Variations and When to Use Them

woman in bottom of banded pull up

Pull ups. The movement so many people want to get, but don’t know how. But did you know there are many different pull up variations that can help you gain strength and use similar muscles?

I can do one strict pull-up. That’s it. Sometimes 2 or 3 if I am training hard and sleeping enough.

However, on a normal work schedule with real-life demands and not enough time to CrossFit consistently, I can get one solid pull-up. It’s taken me a while, but I am finally ok with that.  

“But what happens when you see pull-ups in a workout? Don’t crossfitters do those all the time?”

Yes, pull-up variations are very common in the CrossFit world. But so is scaling.

The beauty of CrossFit, and hopefully any functional fitness program, are the vast amount of variations built in to each workout. This is called scaling – recreating each workout to meet your needs and fitness level.

Look around Holy City CrossFit any day and you will see everyone performing what looks like their own workout – because they are.

Every movement in CrossFit, pull-ups included, has a variation to meet your fitness level and strengthen your body as you work to reach a more difficult variation of whatever movement you’re working on.

Today I want to highlight all the pull-up options we use at Holy City. I want you to see for yourself how vastly different one movement can look and how anything can be tailored to your body and abilities.

Ring rows

Instead of using the bar, the athlete uses two gymnastics rings and keeps feet on the ground.

Keeping their body rigid and straight, the athlete pulls their body up to meet the ring.

Moving your feet closer to the rings will make it less difficult; moving your feet further away from the rings will make it more difficult.

Standing pull up

For a standing pull up variation, we set up a bar on the rig. The athlete stands under the bar, holds the bar tight with both hands, and squats below.

They then use their arms to pull themselves into a standing position at the top of the bar. The legs can be used for as much assistance as needed to pull to standing.

Jumping pull up

For a jumping pull up variation, the athlete places a box under the pull-up bar.

The athlete stands on top of the box, grips the bar tightly with their arms and jumps to reach their chin over the bar.

Again, the legs can be used for as much or as little assistance as needed to reach the top of the pull up.

Banded pull ups

For a banded pull up variation, the athlete wraps a resistance band or bands around the top of the pull-up bar.

The athlete secures one foot inside the band and grips the bar tightly, while crossing the other leg in front to secure the band.

The band provides assistance in helping the athlete reach their chin over the bar.

Strict pullups

Once all of the above pull up variations feel easy, it’s time to try a strict pull up! For this classic, grip the bar tightly and keep hands outside of shoulders.

Start with straight arms then pull up using the arms and back to reach the chin over the bar.

Nerd Fitness has a great guide to getting your first pull up here.

Kipping pull ups

Once you’ve reached a specific milestone with your strict pull up (we have a minimum number you have to complete!) you are able to attempt a kipping pull up variation.

In this movement, the athlete uses a “kip” or hip and shoulder-initiated swing to reach their chin over the bar.

The kip makes cycling pull ups easier and allows a higher volume to be completed due to the assistance from the hips.

Kipping pull ups should never be attempted unless the athlete has demonstrated that they have the base strength to complete them.

Chest to bar pull ups

Generally for the more advanced athlete, these are a kipping pull up that involves bringing the arms back and the bar to the chest, instead of simply the chin over the bar.

Butterfly pull ups

Another movement for advanced athletes, the butterfly pull up allows a higher volume and faster speed by using hips and legs to cycle pull ups.

Now, imagine if there are 8 ways to modify a pull-up how many other movements can be tailored just for you!

Holy City truly believes CrossFit is for EVERYONE. We love tailoring workouts to meet you where you are and help you reach your fitness goals.