Recently I heard a long-time member voice their frustrations with still using a band for pull ups and not making the progress that they wanted to see on their non-assisted pull ups. I asked that member what they have been doing outside of workouts with pull ups in them to make their pulling strength better, and they responded with "nothing".
This made me think two things. First, in the land of CrossFit, there are so many things that one has to be good at which is why it is such a great test of fitness. "You have to be good at everything" is something you often hear when it comes to the CrossFit Games Athletes, but those of us that are not at that level have certain movements that we struggle with. If it is a goal to accomplish certain movements, outside work needs to be done to make those goals a reality. I remember when I wanted to do a ring muscle up and was instantly upset at the fact of not being able to do it with out practicing any progressions and just sort of expected it to happen. I quickly got slapped in the face with reality, and needed to head back to the drawing board. I looked up as many progression videos as I could and finally found some that worked for me to be better at the skills I needed to complete a muscle up. By no means am I an expert at them, but I found a way to make myself better with extra time and effort put into the progressions.
The second thing I thought of was what could I do as a coach to help people with the same goal... to get rid of that band!? With anything, if there is a goal, you have ask yourself if you are willing to put in the time and effort to reach that goal. If you are not, then how bad do you really want that goal? It's easy to see these exercises, try them out one or two times a week and then forget about them until you come back to those banded pull ups. Make time 2-3 times a week during open gyms, before the workout, after the workout or whenever you have time to do these to reach your goal.
There are around 17 muscles that attach to the scapula, all of which are important to develop so that you can work on your pulling strength. Part of making your pulling strength better is simple, work on it more! One of the things you can do to help your back and shoulder strength is to use the Crossover Symmetry system that we have at the gym. There are two sides to the hanging sign of exercises, the side that says "Iron Scap" is the one that I will start off suggesting you try out and do 2-3 times a week. There are 7 exercises that take about 5 minutes, with different band color levels and a photo description of each exercises. This helps with the group of scapular muscles.
The next progression to engaging the scapular muscles are what I will call "scap pull ups". This is a drill to help engage and initiate pull ups with the lats and stabilize shoulders. In this movement you do not want a bend in the arms, and you also want to maintain the hollow body position as much as you can. Watch the video of Emmet doing these.
The Negative pull ups are also a great way to work on back strength. Notice my note about when you are not able to slowly lower yourself, that you should try to use a partner to help you maintain the slow decent. This exercise focuses on the eccentric portion, starting in the flex hang and moving to the dead hang position.
The partner pull up is a great progression from the negative pull up. Instead of using a band that gives you a little bit of a bounce into the first pulling stage (scap pull up portion), this exercise makes you engage your scapular muscles on your own to initiate your pull up and your partner is there to give assistance as needed.
A great auxiliary type of exercise to increase pulling strength is the bent over row. Yes this seems like a "bro lift" and not very "CrossFit", but sometimes singling out muscle groups is what you need to build strength in areas that you are lacking. Note that this should be done with a weight that you can do the movement strict. Many times I see people adding way to much weight and using their back and a sort of kipping motion to complete the lift.
This should be as strict as possible, if that
means less weight, then do less weight!
The last exercise I will talk about is the ring row. So many times I hear people say "ring rows are too easy" and they are not keeping their core tight, not keeping in the hollow position and snaking/kipping up to the rings, which leads me to believe it's not really as easy as you claim. I recently saw a video of Tia Clair Toomey (yes the two-time 2nd fittest woman in the world and Olympian) doing these in the video below, which further leads me to believe that they are not "too easy". Check out the different variations that Emmet demonstrates in the video below. I could argue that these may be harder than a pull up it self. Again, the key is to keep the hollow position, a flat plank for your body and initiate the pulling with the "scap" pull up motion.
Thanks to Emmet, Danielle and Wyatt for the great modeling!