Chest to Bar Pull-Ups Modifications/Scaled/Alternatives

Chest to bar pull-ups are an advanced pull-up variation seen in most competitive fitness workouts and competitions. The inclusion of such an advanced exercise (strict, kipping, and butterfly chest to bar pull-up) in a workout can pose a problem for less-skilled individuals. Therefore, in this article we will discuss a wide variety of chest to bar pull-up modifications/alternatives/scaled movements that coaches and athletes can include into WODs, training programs, and more.

Should You Actually Scale/Modify the Chest to Bar Pull-Up?

When scaling a chest to bar pull-up, you need to first ask yourself why you are looking to scale it. Sometimes, such as in fitness classes or workouts an individual cannot perform a chest to bar pull-up which impedes their ability to participate in the workout (or to be able to do that workout to a certain level of intensity).

Scaling the chest to bar pull-up in this instance would be suggested, since they will still be able to gain similar benefits of performing a scaled movement yet still be able to increase all other aspects of fitness within that WOD. In other situations, however, scaling the chest to bar pull-up simply because someone is not good at them may not be the best solution. Rather, taking the time to gain strength, skill, and do the exact movements someone is poor at may in fact be the best approach to successfully learning chest to bar pull-ups.

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Chest to Bar Pull-Ups Modifications/Scaled Movements/Alternatives

With the help of Andre Crews, Head Coach at CrossFit 150 Bay (who you may have heard of from the “Coaches Corner” article), we were able to come up with a very comprehensive listing of chest to bar pull-up modifications/alternative/scaled movements that can be used either in classes or during more skill and strength training sessions.

1. Use the Chest to Bar Pull-Up Progression Guide

In an earlier article we provided you with our 6-step approach to learning the chest to bar pull-up. In certain situations where a lifter cannot perform a particular form of chest to bar pull-up, he/she may simply regress the chest to bar pull-up to one of the earlier exercises. For example, if the workout calls for kipping chest to bar pull-ups, a substitution of the kipping pull-up may be the easiest and more direct scaled movement. While this does not actually address the fact that they cannot perform a chest to bar pull-up, they will be able to perform similar movements and still remain on target with the rest of the group.

2. Jumping Chest to Bar Pull-Ups

In the event an individual cannot perform any form of pull-up, either strict, kipping, butterfly, or chest to bar pull-up, he/she may need to regress further than the exercises in the progression guide above. Doing exercises like the jumping chest to bar pull-up will help them develop the range of motion, strength, and coordination to get themselves to the bar (with assistance from the legs) and build stamina and strength in the upper body and core.

3. Timed Chest to Bar Pull-Up Attempts

In place of an actual scaled or regressed movement, some coaches may simply have an individual attempt as many chest to bar pull-ups they can in an allotted time amount (often, the same amount of time it would take someone to complete the prescribed chest to bar pull-ups in the workout).

For example, if a workout calls for 20 chest to bar kipping or butterfly pull-ups, the coach may have someone attempt as many strict, kipping, or butterfly pull-ups as they can for 45-60 seconds (what it may typically take someone to perform 20 unbroken/broken up chest to bar pull-ups). This will force the individual to become better at a movement they are deficient in, but only is effective if they have been properly instructed and have done fundamental skill work in a non-time oriented fashion (so they can focus on quality of movement).

4. Isometric and Eccentric Pull-Ups

Both of these pull-up variations can help to build basic strength and coordination necessary for kipping, strict, and butterfly versions of the chest to bar pull-up. Too often people fail to address foundational strength and control, wondering why they cannot perform more advanced styles of pull-ups; such as chest to bar pull-ups. In the event they need to modify, coaches can integrate eccentric (slow, controlled lowering of body from top of bar to bottom position) and isometric pull-ups (timed holds at top of pull-up) to build necessary grip, arm, and back strength.

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5. Ring Rows and/or Banded Pull-Ups

In an earlier article I discussed both movements and the pros and cons of using ring rows vs banded pull-ups as scaling options for pull-up based workouts. Both movements can be used to scale the chest to bar pull-up, which will offer beginner and less strong individuals the opportunity to train the back, arms, and grip at higher volumes (promote muscle growth) and still move at a manageable pace (purpose of most wods). As with all of the above scaling options, skill training and coaching must take place outside of fast-paced wod enviemtnes to allow the indiviual to fully grasp motor patterning and movement quality necessary for the chest to bar pull-up.

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