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Pullup Training Tips and Progression for Aerialists

I was once subbing at the local high school for summer school and the class went to the weight room together. A student made a bet with me that he could do more pullups than me. I readily accepted the challenge, and churned out 11 pullups (this has been my baseline since becoming an aerialist).

The student made his best effort, but only made it to 7. Luckily, he was a good sport!

So what can you do to ensure that if a high schooler ever challenges you to a pullup contest that you will win??? This is obviously very important right? You wouldn’t want to miss that opportunity.  Oh and maybe they will be helpful for your aerial training. So I’ll share some of my own ideas and tactics, but first, let’s talk about WHY pullups are so relevant and awesome for aerialists!

Some of the benefits of pullups for aerialists:

  1. Build Upper Body Strength: Pull-ups target your upper body, primarily engaging your back, arms, and shoulders. These muscles play a pivotal role in aerial movement, helping you lift, hold, and control your body in the air.
  2. Enhance Grip Strength: A strong grip is essential in aerial arts, where you rely on your hands to support your entire body weight. Although pullup hand position is different from a lot of the grips in aerial arts, this is still an element at play that will help strengthen your grip.
  3. Improve Core Stability: Pull-ups engage your core muscles as you stabilize your body during the exercise. This core strength translates into better control and balance in the air.

A few types of Pull-Ups:

  1. Standard Pull-Up: Hang from a bar with your palms facing away, and pull your body up until your chin clears the bar. Lengthen arms completely before pulling up again. This one is more arm intenstive than the wide-grip pullup, and applies a bit better to what we do on most apparatuses.
  2. Chin-Ups: Similar to pull-ups but with your palms facing towards you, chin-ups target your biceps and are slightly easier for beginners.
  3. Wide-Grip Pull-Ups: Performed with a wider hand placement, wide-grip pull-ups emphasize the upper back and shoulders. While this is less analogous to our work in the air, strengthening these muscle groups is still super valuable for aerial work!
  4. Assisted Pull-Ups: Use a resistance band or an assisted pull-up machine if you’re just starting or working on building strength.
  5. Pullup Negative: Start from the top of the pullup, standing on a stool, and then lower to straight arms from there. This is one that you can do by climbing up silks or rope and lowering!

This is not an exhaustive list! There are many other variations, but let’s just start with this.


Can’t do a negative? Start with floor pullups. Lie prone (facedown) on a smooth floor with arms overhead. Pull yourself forward, sliding toward your hands, and then push back to where you started. Add a towel underneath if you’re not sliding easily.

Floor Pullups
Shoulder shrugs
Assisted pullups (if you have the equipment you need)
Standard Pullup
Wide Grip pullup

Shoulder Warmups
Skin the Cat Planks  & shoulder stretches
Shoulder stretches with strap
Cozy sock pikes

Warm up your wrists, arms, and shoulders before practicing – that includes opening the shoulders so they can comfortable reach overhead
Do not swing your legs to generate momentum
Lower to completely straight arms – not halfway
Breathe out as you lift up and in as you lower back down
Work with hands shoulder distance apart unless working on the wide-grip pullup

Have patience as you work toward your first or your 20th pullup…see what you can learn about your body along the way, and know that with consistency, these WILL get easier!!!