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Pull-Up Progression

Intro

Last week’s article stressed the importance of pull-ups and the need to do them correctly. Hopefully the details of my success with a pull-up program motivated you to consider doing pull-ups more often. If so, you are going to want to try out the following tips to ensure you make progress with your pull-ups. In the following paragraphs, I will cover how to do a correct pull-up followed by helpful exercises to progress pull-ups.

A Correct Pull-Up

As I stated in last week’s article, a correct pull-up starts with straight arms in an elbow “locked” out position and ends with your chin above the bar. Anything other than this is not a complete pull-up. There is really nothing else to say about this except to do it. Every rep!

Swinging back and forth and kicking of the legs should not be part of a strict pull-up. Here are a few things you can to do stop:

  • Straighten your legs and have them side by side
  • Point your toes towards the ground
  • Squeeze your glutes
  • Lock down your core and ribcage
  • Pull through your elbows

These points are easy to follow. However, that last point may be hard to comprehend for some people. Pulling through your elbows should feel like you are pulling your elbows straight to the ground. This is helpful because if it feels like your elbows are moving in a straight path towards the ground the rest of your body will follow. Read on for exercises that can help progress your    pull-ups.

Inverted Rows

Inverted rows may be a step down from pull-ups, but they are certainly not easy. It is a bodyweight exercise that is great to add to your workout program, especially beginners. The great thing about inverted rows are that they allow people to experience pulling their bodyweight before they can do a pull-up. It is also a horizontal bodyweight pull which combines nicely with the vertical bodyweight pull that a pull-up offers. In my experience, inverted rows help improve pull ups because it helps people become accustomed to pulling their own bodyweight, strengthens the upper and mid back, and improves grip strength. All of which are major factors in completing a pull-up.

How to do them:

  • Start with the bar at a height that when hanging from it your body is parallel to the floor.
  • Place hands in an overhand grip slightly wider than shoulder width, although this can vary. (Bench press grip for those of you that bench.)
  • Start with your legs bent and feet flat on the ground.
  • Bridge your hips so that your stomach is flat across and your core is tight.
  • Pull yourself up so that the bar touches the middle of your chest and not your collarbone or throat area.
  • Squeeze shoulder blades together.
  • Return to the starting position by lowering yourself until your elbows are once again locked out.

 Video Here:  IMG_0825

Notes:

  • If you find that these are too difficult simply raise the bar to increase the angle but be sure to maintain the rigidness of your body.
  • If you find these easy with your legs bent and body parallel to the floor straighten out your legs so that your heels are on the ground.

Hangs

Hangs are just as they sound. You simply hang from a pull-up bar, rings, etc. The reason hangs make this list on how to progress your pull-ups is grip strength. As mentioned in the inverted row paragraph, grip strength is a big factor in the ability to do a pull-up. Your upper back and lats may be strong enough to pull your bodyweight but if your grip is too weak to hold your bodyweight you won’t be able to hang long enough to do many reps. To progress with hangs you can simply hang for longer and longer periods of time. You can also start by doing a dead hang where your arms are stretched out like in the starting position of a pull-up or you can try and hold your chin above the bar for as long as you can. Either way will challenge your grip, eventually strengthening it, allowing you to better be able to pull your own weight. It should also be noted that hangs are a great way to get a full upper body stretch. They feel awesome!

Negatives or Eccentric Pull-Ups

The negative or eccentric portion of a lift is occurs when the muscles is lengthening. It is the opposite of a contraction, when the muscle shortens. It is usually the part of the lift when the weight, or in this case, your body is lowering back to the starting position. Training the negative portion of a lift can be a very successful way of strengthening the lift as a whole. However, because the muscles are lengthening, this is the portion of the lift where the most muscle fibers are tearing, which can cause soreness the following day. Negative or eccentric pull-ups are a great way to improve pull-ups. In my experience, I have had much more success at improving people’s pull-ups through negative reps then I have using assisted pull-ups with a band or machine.

 Video Here: IMG_0828

How to do them:

  • You need to start at the top, with your chin above the bar. So either jump up so your chin is above the bar, or use a bench or box to stand on so you can start high enough.
  • Slowly lower yourself until your elbows are in the locked out positon.
  • Return to the starting position using same method used in step 1.
  • Progress by lowering yourself slower and slower.

Do Them Often

I want to end this article by giving my last piece of advice regarding pull-ups. To get good at pull-ups you have to do pull-ups. I know, groundbreaking stuff. This goes for anything in the gym. So many times I hear people say that their goal is this or that and then they do something to achieve that goal one time a week. It may work but it will take a long, long time. There is no rule stating that you can only do pull-ups on back day. Do them a few times a week if you are serious about getting better at them. Refer back to last week’s article and the program at the end. I was doing pull-ups 4-5 days a week and it worked! So go ahead and give these tips a try. As always, thanks for reading and be sure to share this article and comment on any topics you would like to learn about in the future.

My Experience With a Pull-Up Program

I am continually searching for ways to improve my training. Some things work and some things don’t. I try not to get frustrated at the things that don’t because it’s all part of the process. However, occasionally I make a decision that is a game changer. Something that exceeds my expectations and makes me wonder why I didn’t try it sooner. This is what occurred recently when I started a pull-up program. It was something I wanted to try for months but for one reason or another kept putting off. Finally, when a mentor of mine sent me a tactical training book that contained a pull-up program, I had no more excuses. I started the program that week and it has been the best training decision I’ve made in the last six months.

Yes, They Are That Important

I consider pull ups the very close step child of the barbell movements. If the barbell movements are 1a, consider pull-ups 1b. The first thing I recommend to anyone seeking advice in training is to learn the barbell movements. The hinge, squat, and pressing movements can be done with the bar using heavy weight in a variety of ways that resemble natural human movement. Even though pulls, or rows as they are commonly called, can be done using a barbell, there is not an exercise that is easier to learn and arguably more effective than a pull-up. This is why doing pull-ups and doing them often is the second thing I suggest to people seeking advice. A program that emphasizes the barbell movements along with pull-ups sets a great base for whatever your goals may be.

Although Difficult, Do Them Correctly

Pull-ups are hard. This is commonly the reason people don’t do more of them. However, this is exactly the reason you need to do them. In training, you will make the greatest improvements when you focus on the things you don’t enjoy or the things that are most difficult. In my experience, people are intimidated by the pull-up. They get discouraged from trying and failing and simply give-up and move onto something else. Or they hear people say that they can accomplish some ridiculous number of pull-ups and get more discouraged from trying to get their goal of one. Well, first off let me say this, if someone tells you that they can do twenty pull ups they are either very strong, very light, or very much a liar. I am not talking about whatever they call those things they do in CrossFit, I refuse to call them pull-ups, or the half-way reps that you see most people do in the gym. I am talking about a full, strict pull-up. Elbows locked out at the bottom, chin above the bar at the top. This type of pull-up shouldn’t be exception, it should be the rule.

Not Just a Back Exercise

The full, strict pull-up will test strength throughout your entire upper body. It’s not an isolated back exercise by any means. Besides the muscles of the back, pull-ups challenge your grip and core strength unlike many exercises. If someone can crank out 15-20 strict pull-ups they most likely have a six pack. Even though your lats get most of the attention from doing pull ups, it is easy to feel your biceps, forearms, and shoulders working. If you are fortunate enough to be able to do many of them, you are well aware of the pump you experience throughout your entire upper body.

My Experience

I want to end this article by telling you a little bit about what I experienced going through this program. The complete program was 108 days long. You had two days on and one day off of pull-ups. The program starts off by having you do eccentric or negative reps. However, since I have been doing pull-ups regularly I was able to start on day 55. Each day you would do five sets. And each day the program would have you do one more rep than you did the previous day. It would add the rep to different sets depending on what day you were on. For example, if on day 55 I did five sets of 9,8,7,6, and 5 pull ups the next day I would attempt 9,8,7,6, and 6. This goes on and on with two days on and one day off until you reach day 108.

When I started the program I was able to get between eight and ten strict pull-ups. Also, before starting the program I was doing pull-ups one day a week completing as many sets as I had to get to 50 reps. It was taking me about 8 or 9 sets to complete 50 strict pull-ups. Now that I am finished with the program I can complete somewhere between 14 and 16 strict pull ups and I completed 54 pull-ups in five sets. At a body weight of 265.

Things I noticed:

  • Grip got stronger, then worse (from fatigue), and ended stronger then I started.
  • The pump I got from doing that many strict pull-ups was insane, felt like I was training arms.
  • Lats got wider.
  • Forearms got bigger.
  • Abs were more sore than ever before doing pull-ups.
  • Form got better.

I’ve attached the pull-up program to the bottom of this page.

Stay Tuned

This article was a PSA for the need to do pull-ups. Stay tuned for next week’s article where I will go into detail about how to do a correct pull-up and how to progress pull-ups. Anyone from someone who has never done a pull-up, to someone who thinks he can do twenty is going to want to read and try out the tips in next week’s article. As always, thanks for reading and please share and comment on any topics you may be interested in the future.

 

This program comes from the book Built to Endure, Training the Tactical Athlete by Mike Prevost. I highly recommend it to anyone looking into programs for bodyweight exercises.

Sports Performance Training: Don’t Outsmart Yourself

“What are you doing in the gym today? Arms? Shoulders? Chest? You’re not doing legs, right?”  “No, I did legs last month.”

 That is usually the exchange that goes on between two gym buddies when discussing their upcoming workout. Focusing on one or even two muscle groups a day is a great way to achieve mass and an aesthetic look while also giving you a great pump. These are your typical bodybuilding style workouts. As an athlete, however, the training needs to be different to fit different needs. I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds of young athletes over the past few years and it can be challenging at times to explain to them why they don’t train in this classic bodybuilding style. Most athletes, especially when they are young, start working out because their older brother or friends are doing it. They learn quickly that bench press and curls look and feel awesome. They soon realize that girls dig arms, and no one cares about training legs. They view every exercise in terms of what singular muscle it is focusing on and sometimes breaking that muscle down into an even smaller portion (i.e. upper chest.)

When training for athletic performance you can’t look at the body in terms of muscles or even individual body parts.  Instead, think about everything being interconnected.  I like to think of the human body as a big computer; a complex system where seemingly unrelated parts have an effect on how well each other performs. An athletic feat is rarely the result of a single muscle or body part and the training should represent this. Instead of thinking in terms of training a certain muscle, start thinking about training a movement.

The four basic movements are a press/push, a pull, a squat, and a hinge. You’ll find that these are not only the movements of training but these four movements comprise the movements athletes use most often to perform. These are compound movements meaning to perform each of them correctly you will use more than one joint. This coincides with athletic performance in which you use multiple joints at the same time. Because compound movements use multiple joints and therefore multiple muscle groups, you can move the most weight with these exercises. The best way to move those large amounts of weights is with a barbell. As I discussed in one of my previous articles, “Become Strong,” the barbell is simply the best tool to increase strength. The four barbell exercises that best represent the basic movements are the bench press, strict press, squat and deadlift.  Bent over row variations and pull ups are the most common exercises representing the pulling movement.

These compound movements with a barbell have benefits besides increased strength that cannot always be seen with an untrained eye. One of the major benefits is increased neuromuscular coordination. Neuromuscular coordination is how our nervous system coordinates with our muscles and is one of the biggest contributors to athletic success. Other benefits include improved balance, core strength, power, speed and so on and so forth. I will write separate articles for each of these benefits, but for now, this article will simply bring awareness to the fact that the body is a system and that system works as one unit in athletic performance.

A good example of the difference between the typical bodybuilding style workouts and training for athletic performance would be to compare dumbbell raises and the strict press. If you are unfamiliar with the strict press, check out part two of the four part series “Exercises You Aren’t Doing but Should” on this site. Okay yes, you will get a great pump in your shoulders doing dumbbell raises and if done regularly you will start to develop boulders for shoulders. No doubt a great exercise for building an aesthetic look. However, this exercise isolates only the deltoid muscle (isolation being the goal of bodybuilding). On the other hand when performing a standing strict press the body acts as a system. Anyone who has ever done this exercise feels this right away. The tight glutes set a base for pressing the weight; the spinal erectors and core muscles brace the back and transfer energy from the lower body to the upper body; the deltoids and upper chest help initiate movement of the barbell and the triceps help lock the barbell out over head. All of this occurring while neuromuscular connections are making sure you don’t fall over. With one exercise you just became stronger and improved neuromuscular efficiency, core strength, balance, and transfer of energy. All of which will improve athletic performance.

I hope that this article shed a light on why athletes need to train a certain way. Yes, I know that it sounds basic of me to tell athletes to lift heavy weight with a barbell, but if you have read any of my previous articles you know that I believe the simplest ways are the best ways. I too can come up with five different balance exercises that will look cool and make me sound really smart and I could distract you with new and shiny pieces of equipment that wobble and are brightly colored. Or, I can save you a bunch of time and energy and have you pick a heavy barbell off the ground and press it over your head. Did you fall over? No? Good, you can thank me for your improved athletic performance later. Please subscribe to this site and share this article so that I can reach more readers who may be interested in these topics. Thanks!