Can You Finish this ‘Ninja Warrior’ Pull-Up Workout?

pull-up workout
American Ninja Warrior competitor Jessie Graff shared her muscle-shredding pull-up workout. Wing It Inc. Productions, Jessiegraff.com

Jessie Graff made history as the first woman to beat Stage 1 of the American Ninja Warrior finals. But the professional stuntwoman isn't just surviving the competition, she's thriving and has a shot to win the $1 million prize. On Stage 1, she comfortably finished with 12 seconds remaining for the two-minute cut off — good enough for the fifth fastest time of the 90 competitors.

Graff's athletic background includes circus training, gymnastics, and pole vaulting, which have helped her build ample strength and power. But those skills aren’t enough to become a true Ninja Warrior. Recent seasons of the competition have seen the ascension of rock climbers for their ability to hang and support their bodyweight seemingly forever. So it makes sense that when we asked Graff what her favorite Ninja Warrior workout is, she landed on this brutal pull-up routine.

The three-part workout begins by lighting up your back, then works your grip until failure, and finishes by blasting your biceps. Graff says she performs all sets at max effort (completing as many reps as possible), though she recommends that those who aren’t in Ninja Warrior contention start with just one or two rounds of the pull-ups and curls. She performs this workout every three days, but start with once a week.

"When you start fighting for that last rep, even if you're losing, that’s where you make the biggest gains," she says. "Instead of aiming for a specific rep number, I want to feel my muscles trembling.” 

Part 1: Max-effort pull-ups

On a pull-up bar, use an overhand grip with thumb side-by-side with index finger (a "suicide grip"). Perform each pull-up variation for maximum effort — so, doing as many reps as possible — taking one to two minutes rest between sets. Do three rounds for nine total sets.

  • shoulder-width pull-ups
  • wide-grip pull-ups
  • narrow-grip pull-ups

Part 2: Grip strength

Using a rock climbing fingerboard, perform hanging intervals to work your grip strength. Graff uses a Beastmaker fingerboard, which comes with an interval workout app. You can also use a pull-up bar or sturdy door frame.

Do 10-second on, three-second off intervals, starting with full-hand grips and working down to as few fingertips as possible. Start with two rounds of six different holds, but work up to as many rounds and holds as possible.

Part 3: Bicep burnout

Finish with three rounds of these four dumbbell arm curl exercises. Do 8-12 reps per set, and perform all but the preacher curl seated on a high incline bench. Take one to two minutes rest in between sets.

  • reverse curl, palms face out
  • hammer curl, palms face your sides
  • curl, palms face in
  • preacher curl, back of arms supported on a bench