One Movement That Will Help Your Pull-up

Pullup Bodyweight

Everyone (particularly women in my experience) is always looking for that one thing that is going to help them to achieve their first unassisted pull-up, make their pull-up stronger, and/or make pull-ups easier.

Pull-ups are hard. Period. They don’t ever really get easier (even I have my tough pull-up days in training!), but you can get stronger and more skilled at them, and in turn become better at them.

There are many factors that contribute to one’s ability to do a pull-up, and the ease with which one can do a pull-up:

  • Your strength when you start;
  • How long you have been training pull-ups, if at all;
  • How consistently you train pull-ups. If you are really serious about improving pull-up strength and skill, you need to train them 4-5 days per week in order to build strength and improve skill;
  • Your bodyweight. Are you at an optimal bodyweight for your frame and body type? If you are carrying around extra weight for your body frame and body type that is NOT going to help your pull-up. Sorry but it’s the harsh truth;

As written in Intervention by Dan John, “Josh Hillis notes that a woman who can do three pull-ups and three dips almost always has her bodyfat issues locked down. Strength in this movement seems to have an odd correlation with a woman being “rockstar fit”, as Josh says.”

  • Have you had children and/or do you have or have you had diastasis recti? It takes time to rebuild abdominal tissue, function, and strength after pregnancy. This doesn’t mean that if you had a baby that you will not be able to do a pull-up, this just means it might take a bit longer for you to get your pull-up back or achieve your first unassisted pull-up.
  • Are you built to press or are you built to pull? Yes, I believe that some of us are built to pull and that others are built to press. In my opinion, whether pull-ups come easy to you or not is not dependent on your gender, but rather physiologically on how you were built. I go into more detail about this topic at my strength workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift.

Pull-ups require consistency, dedication, and a strong “Attack The Bar” type mindset. In addition, there are many movements that can help you to build a stronger, more skilled pull-up. I write about some of these things in my posts “Pull-up Tips for Women (INCLUDING tips to help you train to achieve your FIRST pull-up)”, “How Women Can Train To Do Pull-ups WELL”and “Attack The Bar” and I teach these movements in detail at my strength workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift. However, there is one movement in particular that can help you to build both core and upper body pulling strength that will in turn help you to build a stronger, more skilled pull-up.

What is this magical movement??

The Hanging Leg Raise.

STRICT. No kipping.


Pull-ups are an upper body pull and they require tremendous core strength.

Think about it, have you ever taken a trapeze or ariel class, or played around on the monkey bars or rings and then had sore abdominals for days afterwards?

That’s because hanging requires abdominal strength, and the pull-up is a hang. A dynamic hang, but a hang.

If you want to build a stronger and better pull-up then you need to increase abdominal strength combined with upper body strength.

The Hanging Leg Raise is both a core movement and an upper body pull. Therefore, it builds core strength, hanging strength, upper body pull skill and strength, and confidence hanging from the bar. In addition, the hanging leg raise is a way to build dynamic (as opposed to a dead or still hang) hanging strength without requiring the ability to do a pull-up. In other words, you CAN do hanging leg raises and train them even if you are unable to do a pull-up, YET.

If done correctly, a strict hanging leg raise can be such a powerful movement that I have even witnessed it helping to turn on the superior aspect of a client’s rectus abdominis (i.e. the top of the 6 pack abs right below the chest).

This client came to train with me 8 months after she had her second child. She is a former competitive swimmer, and now as a working mom with two children she competes in running races and triathlons for pleasure.

In the past, with her athletic training for swimming, she has been able to do a pull-up. Right now we are working on rebuilding her strength so that she can regain her ability to do pull-ups.

At Iron Body Studios we have a 6 (2 hands, 2 knees, 2 feet on the floor) and 4-point (2 hands and 2 knees on the floor, feet off the floor) bird dog series (arm reaches, leg reaches, arm and leg reaches) that we have clients (and ourselves!) do at the beginning of their training session.

This client was working on her 4-point bird dog series and was having trouble stabilizing on the arm and leg reaches. One day I incorporated hanging leg raises into her training program. She can only do them to about 90 degrees rather than toes to the bar but this is enough to build core and upper body strength towards a pull-up.

One week later she came back for her next training session. I had her start out with the 4-point bird dog series and when she got to the arm and leg reaches she was nailing them like a hunting dog – BAM! No wavering. BAM!

I complimented her on this improvement and how stable she was and asked her what was different.

She replied with excitement, “The hanging leg raises! I did them at home too and now when I do these I can feel the top part of my abs turn on to help me stabilize!”

She was so excited, as she should have been. It was a big deal. A big change in a small amount of time because of one game changing movement.

The hanging leg raise initiates with an abdominal brace but there is a point through the leg lift that your lats must engage and your upper body takes over thereby pulling your feet towards the pull-up bar.

Below is a brief video tutorial about how to do the hanging leg raise.

As you watch the video and go on to train the hanging leg raise, keep in mind the following things:

  • As I state in the video, if you cannot get your feet to the bar right now, it’s OK. Start wherever you are at whether it’s 90 degrees (the L-Sit), slightly below 90 degrees, or somewhere between 90 degrees and toes to the bar. Any height of the leg raise will help you to build stronger core and upper body pulling strength and of course the height of your leg raise will improve over time. However, like the pull-up, a toes to bar hanging leg raise can take time to achieve. I’ve seen it take up to one year for some people to achieve this goal.
  • As you go through the hanging leg raise keep your arms straight and do your best to keep your eyes straight ahead. Initiate the raise with your core, and then as you go through the leg lift, actively pull down on the bar, while keeping your arms straight, to engage your lats and use them to help pull your legs higher.
  • If you are training the hanging leg raise for the first time you may become very sore in the shoulders or lats.
  • Program hanging leg raises into your training week 1-2 times per week. You can replace assisted pull-ups or flexed arm hangs with hanging leg raises or train them in addition to those movements during a given training session. If training them along with assisted pull-ups or flexed arm hangs keep in mind my previous point that they will affect your assisted pull-up or flexed arm hang strength if you are brand new to training them and are sore.
  • Start with 3 sets of 2 reps, then build up to 3 sets of 3 reps, then 3 sets of 5 reps. You can build all the way up to 3 sets of 10 reps but I would not do more than 3 sets of 10 reps in a training session. Most people find that 3 sets of 5 reps is plenty.

If you seek more detailed program guidance I offer a three level pull-up program through You can read more detail and purchase this pull-up program HERE.

As your hanging leg raise strength improves, your pull-up strength will improve and vice versa.

Have fun and remember, ATTACK THE BAR!

Dead-Hang Pull-up IM_No Text


If you want to learn more about how to train pull-ups and strength training and programming in general then I hope that you will join me for either my workshop Superhuman Strength Training at the Perform Better Functional Training Institute in Providence, Rhode Island on May 30, 2015 or my workshop I Am Not Afraid To Lift.

You can learn more and register HERE.


Next Lift workshops coming to:

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico on April 18, 2015 at Amplify Strength & Conditioning (3 spots left at the Early Bird rate. Use code ‘Lift50’ to receive this rate!)
  • New York City, New York on September 12, 2015 at Drive495

Read more and register HERE.

Drive495 Lift RD Group

Also join me for,

  • Keep It Simple Nutrition & Conditioning, New York City, New York on September 13, 2015 at Drive495

Read more and register HERE.

Nutr & Cond

7 Comments on “One Movement That Will Help Your Pull-up

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  4. Hi! I’m currently doing unassisted pull-ups, but I’ve been adding in leg raises since you posted this article. My quads lock up around 90 degrees, which also happens when I attempt pistol squats. Is there anything that you would suggest to improve this? Thanks!

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  6. I would recommend a floor leg raise. I will post a video of what this is sometime next week. I will let you know once it’s up. I would recommend training floor leg raises until you’re engaging your core and lats for the raise rather than relying on your quads and hip flexors. Your hip flexors and quads are involved a bit, but they shouldn’t be working so hard that your quads lock up.

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