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The Pull-Up 3

Skill Needs 5

Accessory Movements 6

The Pull-Up Progression 7

Where Should You Start 8

Month #1 9

Month #2 10

Month #3 11

Month #4 12

Month #5 13

Month #6 14

What Is The Next Step 15

The Pull-Up
It is a movement that causes many athletes to cringe but has such powerful upside. If
you’re like me, pull-ups do not come easy. They are something I have to constantly
work on and fine tune. However, the transfer of the pull-up to performance is worth the
investment. I’m here to help make your pull-up journey a little more clear. This will take
time, focus, energy, and will power. I am also here to tell you that you can complete
your pull-up goals! At RITTER Sports Performance, we have seen countless athletes
start with the bar wiggles and progress to unassisted and even weighted pull-ups.


The first question we need to answer is, why do we even care about the pull-up?
Maybe a better way of putting this is, why do we put up with the misery of trying to
master the pull-up?

To start, this is about as “swim specific” as you can get. An overhead pulling position
where your goal is to hold the straightest line possible is about as close as it gets to
mimicking swimming on land. There’s also positive factors like grip strength, shoulder
stability, pulling power, core strength, and, often forgotten, mental fortitude.
Completing pull-ups properly can also have an excellent impact on posture.

The ingredients needed to complete a pull-up also show up in other exercises. The
ability to complete a pull-up extends well past a singular movement.


As a performance coach, this is where it gets exciting. The pull-up is viewed so

valuably by the British Swimming Association that even distance swimmers are
progressed to weighted variations. I still hear some of the distance swimming choir
singing against weighted exercises.

However, one of the top swimming countries in the world sees pull-up value for
everyone from distance to sprinters.1

Regardless if you’re an age-group swimmer, college swimmer, post-grad swimmer,

masters swimmer, open water swimmer, or triathlete, pull-up progress will act as a
catalyst for the rest of your training.

Let’s dive into your pull-up path!

1British Swimming Standards


This is not an overnight fix. You will have to put in the effort to be

Consistency is key.

The goal of this program is to be simple and effective. That does not
mean it will be easy.

This program is to focus on one key component of training (the pull-

up.) This is not a full training plan.

Skill Needs

The pull-up requires a a handful of complimentary skills. These are definitely not the
only skills you need but are the most common pitfalls that I see with athletes.

Core Stability
• Can you hold a perfect plank for a minute?

Row Strength
• Can you row 1/4+ bodyweight with each arm?

Grip Strength
• Can you actively hang on a pull-up bar for over a minute?

Shoulder Mobility/Stability

• Do you have the proper shoulder mobility and stability to disperse force correctly
across the shoulder girdle?

The last skill is something you should

constantly focus on.

As a swimmer, you are going through

countless receptions of similar movement
through the shoulder girdle. Failing to have
correct range of motion and stability is
asking for pain to creep in. Then pain turns
into injury. Injury turns into time out of the

The Accessory Movements

Yes, you will need to focus on the pull-up movement pattern but you will also need to
acquire certain skills along the way. This segment will be all about the accessory
movements that will accompany your pull-up progression.

You might find all of these movements to be easy. Awesome! Let’s keep them feeling

You might find all of these movements to be really challenging. Even better! Let’s
progress to a point where these movements become easier. As they do, you’ll be on
your way to your first unassisted pull-up, multiple pull-ups, or a weighted pull-up.

Here’s are five movements that I find very valuable to pull-up performance. Keep in
mind, there are plenty of exercises that will achieve a similar result. These are the five
that I have found valuable when working with athletes.

Scap Push Up Matrix

• Video: Scap Push Up Matrix

• Start: 1 rep each hand position without rest

• Progress: 5 reps each hand position without rest

• Video: Hollow/Plank

• Start: 20 seconds of perfect form

• Progress: 1:00+ of perfect form

Farmer Walk
• Video: Farmer Walk

• Start: 1/4 bodyweight in each hand

• Progress: 3/4 bodyweight+ in each hand

• Video: Row+Twist+Press

• Start: light weight

• Progress: 1/4 bodyweight+

Actie Hang
• Video: Active Hang

• Start: 20 seconds of perfect form

• Progress: 1:00+ of perfect form

The Pull-Up Progression

This is a top-down approach to the pull-up. Again, there are multiple ways to achieve
your first pull-up. This is a way that we have found very effective and successful.

From the start, you need to focus heavily on body positioning. Just like in swimming,
proper body positioning needs to be maintained on land. The less focus you place on
body positioning, the longer this process will take.

Be willing to progress slowly and do small amounts more often. I would rather you
complete this routine, or even small portions of this routine, multiple times a week. That
approach will be more effective versus doing just one long session on the weekends.

If you follow this routine, you will walk away with some key principles that you can
apply to other parts of your training and performance.

Key Principles:
• Body Awareness and Control

• Strong, Stable Shoulders

• Pulling Power

• Core Stability

Throughout this program, one thing will be a constant message in the exercise videos.
That message is, minimize shrug! When I present this cue in webinars and seminars,
I often get some head tilts and questions. Won’t a shrug maximize your freestyle pull?
Maybe or maybe not. The bigger question is at what cost?

When you shrug your shoulders to your ears, a few things happen. The first piece is the
addition to upper trap tension. Too much tension in the upper trap could play into a
deeper rounding of your shoulders and also pain in your neck.

You’re also taking the lower trap and other shoulder stabilizers out of the picture.
Turning these muscles will result in atrophy, loss of scapular control, improper
dispersion of force in the shoulder girdle, and delayed lat activation.

Do that enough and your shoulder pain will progress to a shoulder injury.

Where Should You Start?
Beginner/Slow To Adapt:

If you are a person that struggles to build strength or just builds strength slowly, you’re
fall into this category. Also, if you’re just new to strength training or pull-ups in general,
this is where you’ll start.

Your goal is to do this routine two times a week and you will start at month #1.

Intermediate/Fast To Adapt:
If you’re one of those people who walks into a gym, looks at a dumbbell, and puts on
muscle, this your category.

If you can do one unassisted pull-up already and you are trying to progress to multiple
pull-ups, this is also where you will start.

Your goal is to do this routine two times a week and you will start at month #4. Fast to
adapt, you might be able to get away with one day a week, but I would still strive for
two days.

Program Understanding:
Each month will have one training session planned. This is to be used as an “add on”
to your current routine or as a different session. Keep in mind, this is focusing on one
movement pattern and is not a complete training plan.

Your goal is to complete the monthly session twice a week.

If a month feels too easy, you can progress to the next month. If a month feels too
hard, you can regress to a previous month.

To maintain pull-up capabilities at the end of this program, you should re-visit the
principles of this program often during your training.

Month #1

Exercise Videos

-Active Hang

-Scap Push Up Matrix

-Flexed Arm Hang


Month #2

Exercise Videos
-Flexed Arm Hang

-Scap Push Up Matrix

-Assisted SL Pull-Up


Month #3

Exercise Videos

-Assisted SL Pull-Up

-Farmers Walk

-Dropdown Pull-Up


Month #4

Exercise Videos

-Active Passive Hang

-Scap Push Up Matrix

-Pause Pull-Ups


Month #5

Exercise Videos

-Assisted Pull Up


-Pause Pull-Ups

-Scap Push Up Matrix

Month #6

Exercise Videos
-Assisted Dead Stop Pull-Up

-Farmers Walk

-Assisted Push Start Pull-Up


What is the next step?

If you enjoyed this resource, let me know! My goal is to compile information that is
valuable and effective. Feel free to reach out with any questions to bo@rittersp.com.

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