Shawna 1

How to Master the Pull-Up

Would you believe that a 40 something woman can rock out more pull ups than me and probably you too? Not likely.

 Take a look at these pull ups:

I’m seriously impressed with her, so I asked her for a few tips for you to improve the quality and quantity of your pull ups.

Take it away Shawna:

Love a challenge? Love pull ups? You should.

There’s nothing more beautiful. Not only does it sculpt your back, it shapes your arms, chisels your core and more importantly, it’s a kick a$$ impressive move that anyone who calls them self ‘hard core’, should be able to do.

Simply put, the pull up is bad ass.

You’ll hit the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, biceps, serratus anterior, transverse abdominus and the obliques. Talk about a compound move.

The thing about the pull up is that you can either do them or you can’t.

The pull up is unlike any other move where you can train with ‘progressive resistance’. For example, you wouldn’t put a beginner on the bench press with their body weight on a bar and tell them to lift it. You’d start with the bar, add 20 lbs, add 40 lbs, etc, and work up to their body weight on the bar over time. Yet, with the pull up, the starting weight is body weight. Yikes.

How the heck are you supposed to rock the pull up bar without building up to your body weight? You’d be surprised how many seasoned lifters won’t go to the pull up bar because they’d look ‘weak’ with their lacking pull up skills.

Hang tough (literally), I have a few sneaky pull up tricks for you.

For loaded movements, I’m a firm believer in strict form, but with the pull up, I believe in ‘controlled cheating’.

A little cheating won’t cause injury, as long as it’s just a little.

Cheating on the pull up bar is like ‘forced reps’ on the bench press. The spotter on the bench press helps with the positive phase of the move (helps the bar up) and the lifter slowly lowers the bar to the chest again. It’s this lowering or negative phase that actually builds the strength anyway, so what’s wrong with doing the same thing on the pull up bar?

So what ‘cheat’ am I talking about on the pull up bar? I’m talking about adding a ‘controlled kip’ into your pull up.

Take a look:

You can use power from the lower body to aid in the completion of a pull up.

By using a bit of momentum and power with the lower body, you can add to your pull up best. You do this by flexing at the hip and driving the knees upward, there by transferring momentum through the hips and on up to the upper body.

Take note: rather than trying to get the chin OVER the bar, strive to get the chest UNDER the bar. This will put the body in a more advantageous position to use the strong muscles of the back for pulling. Bringing the chin over the bar often causes inward rotation of the shoulder which is not a good power position.

Changing the body position and adding the controlled kip will increase your pull up power instantly. You’ll be able to go from zero pull ups to a partial and if you’re already knocking out a few pull ups, you’ll add a few more.

I’m not ALL about pull ups…I like to incorporate pull ups into a variety of Challenge workouts. I generally train different body parts every day, but sometimes, I like to do a full body workout.

I get many requests for bodyweight workouts, so I thought I’d throw out one of my favorites full body, body weight workouts for you here.

It’s pretty hard to train your back with any kind of intensity without a pull up bar of sorts. In this workout, I’ve added pull ups. If you can’t do pull ups, you can do inverted rows or assisted pull ups.

If you have no pull up bar, you’ll just have to go drag your car by it’s bumper or something…. Basically, you need to be pulling to be working your back. You push to work your chest. The pull of gravity with your body weight is your resistance. Anytime you can find something to hang off, you’re all set for a back workout. I’ve been known to hang from the rafters in an airport, off a lifeguard tower on a beach, off a low bridge over a creek, a door jam. Geesh, just look up and you’re sure to find something…but safety first, make sure whatever you grab onto can hold your bodyweight 😉

I like to do timed sets because once the workout is set up, it’s on auto-pilot and it goes by fast.

Here’s the workout:

Set your timer for five sets of 1 min with a 10 second transition time. A gymboss timer (or any iPhone app) works well for this.


Pull ups


Push ups

Box jumps (or bench step ups)

Count your reps for each set and try to match from the previous set.

Rest up to 2 minutes between sets.

Repeat up to 3 times (trying to match your reps from the first set).

This is a quick 15 minute workout, but trust me, it’s a tough one.

I’ve got an Injury Free Pull Up report for you if you’d like some more ways to increase your pull ups while avoiding injury. You can go HERE to find that.


About Shawna

Shawna Kaminski is a retired schoolteacher of 20 years who’s found her passion in the fitness industry. She’s been a competitive athlete all her life and has competed nationally in three sports. She’s parlayed her ability to teach and her love of training into programs that you can directly benefit from. Shawna is in her late forties, is a mother of two teenagers and understands how busy life can be. Her workouts are short and intense and often can be done anywhere. She’s always up for a challenge and shares her fitness challenges with you. Currently she runs her own fitness boot camps and coaches clients in person and online with her amazing result getting programs.

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  • Steve Snowman

    Isn’t that improper form on her pullups? Isn’t she using a lot of her legs/lower abs in the upward motion?

    • Chad Howse

      Ah guys come on. She did 20 reps. I see what you’re saying about the little knee lift at the bottom, but that’s a minor detail. Her workouts are very fast-paced, awesome for fat loss. And, as you can tell, Shawna is in unbelievable shape.

  • Michael

    Not only that, she didn’t go to full extension at the bottom. ‘How to master cheating’ might have been a better title. Shame as your articles are normally high quality.

    • Chad Howse

      Check out the comment below in response to Steve. I know you guys have good intentions, I like that you’re policing things here – I’m serious, keeps the quality of the site and its content at its best. But she did 20 reps man! I don’t know a girl who can do more than 3, knee lift or not. Shawna has some great advice here for us – myself included.

      • Michael

        She did 20 reps of a movement, she didn’t do 20 pull ups. I’d let it go were it not for claims of mastery. Moreover, age and sex are virtually irrelevant, you’re either strong enough to do a pull up or you’re not – most people, male or female, young or old cant do one. However, with consistent effort you can achieve credible numbers. Mastery is a little harder.

  • Sterling Moore

    I give thanks to you, Chad, for sharing this information and thanks to Shawna for her tips and techniques on the pull-up. No doubt, this is a challenging exercise no matter how it’s done. Again, thanks to both of you!!!

  • David

    Respect. Thanks for sharing this article with us, Chad.

  • Karl

    Even SEAL’s cheat man, they are encouraged to do it. And 20 is alot, especially for females.

  • moises

    Shawna is in great shape! we have to respect! she did 20 reps … this is really hard, imagine for a woman. Thanks Chad and shawna for the tips … tomorrow I’ll do some pull ups on my guava tree!

  • add some weight

    all kipping

  • Mike

    Loved this article. I understand that people want perfection but 20 reps is amazing and about 3 weeks ago I set a goal of 25. i am a long ways off and knowing that cheating a touch to get there initially is ok and then locking out and doing straight pullups is the way. If anyone wants to watch some guys do pullups without a kip or any cheating youtube bar stars or bar brothers.

  • Rob

    Kipping is a similar technique to doing negatives. Doing dead weight pull ups is hard and there aren’t many ways to train for it. Kipping utilizes forces that would otherwise remain dormant to allow a person who can’t do many dead weight pull ups to get their reps in and activate those specific muscles that come in to play when doing a pull up. Good job Shawna, you’ve impressed at least one of the guys on this site.

  • Trevor Wilson

    I’m curious if those who are criticizing her form are able to do as many controlled pull-ups as she did . . . kipping or otherwise. While I’m not a fan of kipping pull-ups myself, Shawna performed one helluva feat and I give her full respect. Results speak for themselves — just check out her back!

  • Eric

    This is a great article, but I think you should have incorporated the different kinds of pull-ups into it. There’s chin ups, behind the back, and muscle ups as well. (The latter of which is quite challenging.)