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Master Pull-Ups: Eight Tips To Pulling Prowess

Most everyone craves an athletic, cut physique but they fail to master the basic, multi-joint exercises that work best.

Case in point—Pull-ups. “But wait, all you have to do is grab the bar and pull your body, and chin to the bar…right?”

Not so fast.

Many dudes do “pull-ups”, but few master pull-ups, neglecting to do them properly or enough to build significant strength, muscle, or upper-body training balance despite the popularity of imaginary lat syndrome (medical abbreviation: ILS). The dichotomy between real results and and over-inflated I.L.S. strutting egos is terrifying. No upper body exercise is a better measure of relative physical strength than the pull-up, and it is grossly neglected. If you can’t do a proper pull-up you’re looking at an obvious mish-mash of issues that need fixing: you need to improve your strength, improve the push-pull balance in your training, and lose some fat. Therefore, the goal of this article is to review pull-up variations, execution and share he best tips to master pull-ups.

Whether you’ve mastered pull-ups with additional weight or have yet to do your first pull-up you owe it to yourself and your collection pre-shrunk t-shirts to expand your pull-up repertoire and become a vertical pulling beast. The benefits are huge. You’ll build a bigger and healthier upper body. You’ll add slabs of muscle to your lats, traps, forearms, and bicep.  Plus,  “I heard” knocking out pull-ups like a champ improves awesomeness %1,000 and makes Meg Griffin Mila Kunis swoon over you.

 Convinced yet? I thought so.

Master Pull-Ups with these Pull-Up Variations:

The pull-up is performed with the palms pronated, or facing away from you. The pull-up places a greater emphasis on the rhomboids, traps and lats as well as the brachialis and brachioradialis muscles. Chin-ups are performed with your palms facing you, known as supinated. This grip is typically easier than a pull-up and emphasizes the biceps more. Still great for training the lats, this is one of the best exercises for building big arms. Parallel grip pull-ups, known as the neutral grip, are performed with the palms facing each other. Neutral grip pull-ups are the easiest and safest of the three grip variations. The neutral grip is easiest on the wrist, shoulder, and elbow joints and is the most common pull-up among Bach Performance clients.

How to perform Pull-Ups

Most pull-ups are executed with half-extended arms and a full body seizure in effort to get the chest to the bar. Don’t be the idiot who only cares about rep quantity. Instead, master the quality. An exercise is only as effective as it’s execution. Start by grabbing the bar with your arms extended and shoulders retracted. Keep tension in the bottom position, avoiding  the relaxed, dead hang position. The dead hang position is best avoided as it places additional stress on the shoulders and elbows. It won’t bother you immediately, but long-term pulling from the dead-hang is problematic for consistent, long-term training. To master pull-ups squeeze the glutes to avoid over-arching the lower back while pulling the elbows down, bringing the chest to the bar and actively depressing your scapulae, finishing with your chin to the bar. Lower yourself under control, maintaining tension during the eccentric before repeating for desired reps. Can’t do Pull-Ups? Read “How to Do Pull-Ups” below: Part 1 Part 2


1.)  Select grip and width

2.)  Hold the bar with tension maintained in the lats and shoulders while squeezing glutes.

3.)  Drive the elbows down, pulling the elbows to neutral. 

4.)  Depress your scapulae and pull your chin over the bar.

5.)  Lower your body under control, fully extending the arms.

6.)  Maintain tension and repeat for prescribed reps.

7.) Here’s  a Fantastic video by Eric Cressey to help clean up your chin-up. Prepare to have your mind-blown. ===> Clean up your Chin Up

Eight Tips to Master Pull-Ups

1.) Drive the elbows down

You’ve seen it, a few “bros” barely extending the arms for sets of herky-jerky quarter-rep pull-ups. It’s as ineffective as it is stupid looking. Without extending the arms most tension is kept in the forearms and to a lesser extent, the biceps. Unfortunately, this limited range of motion fails to fully incorporate the lats. Pull with the elbows to build some serious wings and a well-developed back.

2.) Stop Spastic Reps

Yes, I mean swinging and kipping, the sacred cow of Crossfit. This isn’t a pull-up. Kipping is a difficult, technical lift to rapidly accelerate the body to the bar and back down. Unfortunately, this rapid swing and subsequent rapid deceleration places tons of stress on the shoulders and elbows. It’s a technical skill that requires practice, but unless you’re competing in Crossfit competitions you’re better off mastering pull-ups, real pull-ups. Oh, and don’t do this either:

3.) Challenge Your Grip

Get strong from all positions and use various grips and tools—Fat Gripz, off-set grips, rings, towels, baseballs, wide, narrow, supinated, neutral, and pronated grips. You have no reason to be weak–Get strong pulling from various angles and modalities to minimize weak-points.

4.) Resisted Sets

Chin-Ups are best programmed like any other compound lift, with progressive overload and eventually external resistance. Keep in mind heavy, near maximal sets are extremely taxing on your nervous system, so intelligent programming and appropriate rest periods are a must. Train for strength with weighted sets between 2-6 reps, shooting to equal your chin up max (bodyweight+ external resistance) with your bench press max–Very difficult to do, but those who get close are jacked, athletic, and weight-room bad-asses.

5.) High Rep Sets

If you’re looking to build muscle, increase local muscular endurance for a sport like climbing, or “shock” your system into massive hypertrophy then high-rep pull-ups belong in your repertoire. If you do fewer than 5 pull-ups use a thick band for band-assisted pull-ups and to get the necessary training volume. If you’re a pull-up boss, able to knock out 10+ at a time with great form then try this drop-set:

  1. Pull-Ups (wider than shoulders, pronated grip) for 3-5 reps. Rest 15 seconds
  2. Neutral Grip Pull-Ups (shoulder width, neutral grip) for 3-5 reps. Rest 15 seconds
  3. Chin Ups (shoulder width, supinated grip) for 3-5 reps. Rest 90 seconds

Repeat this for two to four work sets, avoiding muscular failure until chin-ups at the end.

6.) Ditch the Dead-hang

Relaxing the shoulders and arms at the bottom of pull-ups removes muscular tension and places all the stress on the ligaments and tendons of the elbows and shoulders—recipe for future dysfunction and injury. Long-term vertical pulling is great for upper body strength and stability, when done correctly. I’ve found clients that stick with the “dead-hang” position are more prone to shoulder and elbow issues than those who stay slightly retracted. pull up positioning, deadhang pull-up, master pull-ups

Dead-hang position (left) versus slightly retracted (right)

7.) Lose Fat

Unless you need the additional bulk for sport or improving your powerlifting total, dropping  body fat will improve health, performance, and your chances with the Mila Kunis (maybe).  Few exercises test and build relative strength like the pull-up, dropping a few pounds will instantly boost your numbers, improve your ability to train with high volume, and help you master pull-ups.

8.) High Frequency Training

Think back to when you first started riding a bike: When you took off your training wheels you struggled right away and probably took a digger, and scrapped your knee. It wasn’t until you practiced over, and over again that you become proficient. The same persistence is required as you seek to master pull-ups. To make rapid improvements you need high frequency training. Training two pull-up variations per week will help you master Pull-Ups due to improved neural efficiency, muscular strength, size, and endurance. Train one workout per week with high reps and one workout with an emphasis on heavier resistance and lower reps. In both cases avoid failure—this only develops poor technique and zaps your nervous system. If you struggle to do many reps take 50-75% of max reps and do smaller, technically perfect sets, like four rep sets instead of eight. Practice doesn’t make perfect; rather, perfect practice makes perfect.  

Wrap Up

It doesn’t take complicated exercises nor “super-advanced” programming to build a strong, shredded, athletic body– it takes hard work and mastering the basics. Pull heavy, pull light, pull frequently, and pull correctly to  master your pull-ups—they’re a vital tool for building upper body health, strength, and mass.
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Dirty 30: Build Better Arms Fast

In the last post I hooked you up with a brief muscle building-workout:Shoulders to Boulders.

But, not everyone is focused on getting huge all the time; sometimes, we’d like to shred fat and improve the look of a body part even when short time.

This is especially true with arms.

Chin ups build great biceps


Great arms, whether it’s big biceps or toned triceps, aren’t easy to come by: They’re earned with hard work and worn like a badge of honor.

While it’s possible to build a good set of arms even when you’re training is lacking balance a well-designed program adds icing to the cake. With only 30 minutes to hit the gym a well-designed exercise program will get the job done.

Luckily, you don’t need to search the web for that program.

I have it right here.

This workout will blast the arms with supersets, making your rest periods shorter and workouts more efficient. Muscles will be challenged through different angles and rep ranges to recruit the maximum number of muscle fibers and build better arms fast.


Superset 1

Chin Up: Chin-Ups are great for building great biceps. By supinating the palms—palms facing you—greater emphasis is placed on the biceps. With this compound exercise you will stimulate fast-twitch muscle fibers for growth. Perform four sets of five reps, using weight if necessary.

Reverse Grip Barbell Floor Press: *** USE A SPOTTER.

Have a spotter? Good, if not, use a normal, supinated grip for the press. Supinating the grip while performing a pressing exercise increases the range of motion (ROM) of the triceps, the biggest muscle of the upper arm. Compound exercises like the floor press add muscle to your arms and  boost your lockout strength in the bench press. Perform four sets of five reps after your chin-ups.

Superset 2

Barbell Curl: You didn’t think I would forget these did you?Curls are necessary to build arms. Pick a moderately heavy weight and a shoulder width grip for your curls. Three sets of eight to ten reps will finish off fast twitch fibers and recruit moderate-slow twitch muscle fibers.

Parallel bar dips: Dips are a great exercise for shoulder, chest, and triceps development. If needed, add a dip belt and perform dips to 90 degrees, extended the elbows just short of lockout at the top. Three sets of eight to ten reps will do the trick.

Superset 3

Dumbbell Hammer Curls: Hammer curls are a biceps curl, only with a neutral grip. This variety places more emphasis on the brachilias and brachioradialis, two important elbow flexors. Perform these under control for two sets of 20 reps.

Overhead Triceps Rope Extension: Using a rope attachment on a cable extend the arms overhead, flexing the triceps. This exercise will give the triceps a huge stretch and a powerful contraction to stimulate the long-head of the triceps. Perform two slow sets of 20 reps.

triceps, parallel dips
Photo Credit:http://www.muscleandfitness.com

The Workout

1a.Weighted Chin Up 4×5 Rest 60 sec

1b.Reverse Grip Barbell Floor Press 4×5 Rest 60 sec

2a Barbell Curls 3×8-10 Rest 0

2b. Dips 3×8-10 Rest 30 seconds

3a.Fat Gripz Hammer Curl 2×20 Rest 0

3b.Overhead Triceps Rope Extension 2×20 Rest 0

Wrap Up

A good set of arms, whether that’s bulging biceps or toned triceps, looks good on everyone. Luckily, this can be achieved by mixing compound, heavy exercises with isolation high-rep exercises.

Time is no longer an issue. Thirty minutes is all you need to build better arms fast.

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Top 10 Tips to Add Muscle

tips to add muscle, high performance exercises

I’m going to keep this simple and straight forward.  If you’re not building muscle, you’re probably missing the basics.

1. Eat Big to Get Big

You can’t put 60 miles worth of gasoline and drive 120 miles can you? Providing your body with the essential calories and nutrients is rule #1. You will be working hard in the gym, you not only need to provide enough calories to fuel your workout, but you also need a caloric surplus in order to gain weight. For each meal aim for 1-2 fistfuls of protein (30g or so), 2 fists of vegetables, healthy fats, and carbs such as sweet potatoes or rice. Track what you eat using a site such as livestrong.com and consider reading up on carb cycling to maximize muscle and minimize fat.  Supershakes are a convenient and easy way to pack your body full of quality nutrients for muscle growth.

2. Progressive Overload

To build muscle you must follow the laws of progressive overload. You must continuously work to add weight to the bar, increase the speed you move the bar, increase the number of reps, or decrease rest periods each time you set foot in the gym. Give your body a reason to grow by challenging to a new level every chance you get (within reason), repeating the same workout pound for pound and word for word will not help yield the gains you are looking for.


3. Stick with Compound Exercises

Mixing in endless amounts of curls, leg extensions, calf raises, and lateral raises will do little more than delay your recovery and hinder your progress. Stick with squats, deadlifts, presses, bench presses, chin ups, dips, hip thrusts, and rows to build a well rounded physique. Major structural exercises like these will work the most muscle mass and stimulate the biggest release of testosterone to fuel your muscle growth. You don’t need gimmicky machines, cable crossovers, and shiny new equipment to get the job done; they are often a waste of time. Pay your dues with a barbell, kettlebells, dumbbells, and your own bodyweight to move your body the way it was built to move.


4.  Train Heavy

Training heavy is becoming a lost art in many gyms. I see so many people training every exercise at 12-15 reps chasing the pump that it makes me sick. Most individuals tend to follow body part splits with crazy high volume and rep ranges that only work for beginners and/or steroid users. Most drug free lifters make phenomenal gains by putting more weight on the bar and focusing on rep ranges between 3-8. Anything over 8 reps really begins developing endurance unless you can handle significant weight for reps. Bottom Line: If you add 50 pounds to your squat or a deadlift in a year you will be bigger, add weight and see magic happen!


5. Get In Get Out

Workouts are meant to stimulate, not annihilate the body. Get in a solid warm up and try to complete your workout in 45 minute or less. You are in the gym to work out and see results, not socialize in-between sets on the preacher curl. Get in, get out, eat, and repeat.

6. Sleep 8+ Hours

You need to recovery to grow, and optimal growth and recovery comes with getting 8+ hours of sleep per night. Sleeping well and long will increase your testosterone naturally while giving you more energy and making you more efficient throughout the day. Turn off the TV and get some sleep

7. Foam Roll

Staying healthy and recovering from workouts is absolutely vital to making consistent progress in the gym. Foam roll troubled areas such as the shoulders, pecs, IT bands, calves, and piriformis to improve movement quality. Pick up a foam roller or use tennis balls, baseballs, softballs (ouch), medicine balls to break up scar tissue. If you are financially able try to get a deep tissue massage once per week.


8. Incorporate SOME higher reps into your training

The emphasis on your training still needs to be on lower repetition multi-joint exercises to build muscle. However, increasing reps on occasion to 10-15 reps will increase your muscles ability to store glycogen and water. This will add volume to the muscle and increase their size. This is known as non-functional hypertrophy. If you goal is solely aesthetics and not strength/power mix 1-2 exercises per workout with a higher volume. Just be aware this can compromise your performance on big lifts!


9. Keep a Workout Journal

Writing down your workouts and tracking your progress is incredibly important to make consistent gains in the gym. How in the heck will you know when you have a new PR, or when you increased your reps by 5 on your squat from 2 months ago? Keeping a detailed workout journal will show you exactly what has worked in the past and what has not. Your workouts will improve and so will your knowledge of how your body reacts to different workouts.


10. De-load every 6-8 weeks

De-loading the muscles and nervous system every month or two will keep you healthy and mentally fresh in the long term. Muscle building is not an overnight ordeal, it takes years to build and smart programming. Take a complete week off on occasion, drop your intensity, or your volume for a week to allow joints, ligaments, and the nervous system to health up.

The Top 10 Tips to Add Muscle

Lift heavy, eat, sleep, repeat to get the gains you want. By taking these tips and focusing on 1 at a time until it becomes common practice will bring your training and physique to where it wants to be.
And if you’re looking for a program to get rollin,’ I’ve got you covered here.

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Total Body Exercise Selection

Total body workouts are the most time efficient manor in which to design a resistance training program. The entire body is designed to work in synchrony, with some muscles stabilizing while others contract to create movement.

Most trainers and trainees look for a list of muscles stating whether they are prime movers or stabilizers to design a body part split. Unfortunately, this fails to recognize that the role of muscles often change depending on the bodies position and the joint in action.

This leads to un-balanced programming issues such as imbalances in flexion versus extension, more upper body pushing than pulling, and neglecting deeper muscle tissues and focusing solely on the superficial muscles of the body.

To combat against poor programming total body workouts are designed based upon movement patterns.

Some of the patterns I typically use are as following:

Upper Body

Horizontal Pushing

Vertical Pushing

Horizontal Pulling

Vertical Pulling

Lower Body

Knee Dominant

Hip Dominant

*** Also included are various unilateral variations of each movement, core stabilizing (mostly anti-rotation exercise), additional mobility work and total body combination exercises such as a clean and jerk or thruster.

A sample program I may design would be based upon having an upper body push, upper body pull, and a lower body lift.

Day 1:

1a.Pull (Horizontal) – 3 Pt Dumbbell Row

1b. Core Stabilization- ½ kneeling cable lift

2a. Lower Body (Knee Dominant)-Front Squat

2b. Mobility- Wall Ankle Mobilization

3a. Push (Vertical) – 1 arm Standing DB Press

3b. Upper back work- Rope Face Pulls (90% of all trainees could use more!)

Conditioning Work

Body weight circuits, sled work, strongman circuits

Day 2:

1a. Push (Horizontal) – Low incline bench press

1b.Mobility/Corrective Movement- Scapular Wall Slides

2a. Lower Body (Hip Dominant) – Conventional Deadlift

2b.Core Stabilization- Squat Stance Palloff Press

3a. Pull (Vertical) – Neutral Grip Chin Up

3b. Upper back work/rear delt- DB Rear Lateral Raises

Conditioning Work

Stairs, Sled Pushing/ Pulling

Upper Body workouts are my preferred method of program design for most populations. I have seen good success on as few as 2x per week using this template, but have also gone up to 4x per week with more trained individuals.  Mix and match exercises to get a well rounded workout and include necessary non-fatiguing assistance work to bring up weak areas. Use multiple rep ranges for each body part to hit more muscle fibers and develop a well rounded and trained body.

Copyright 2012 by Eric R Bach.  All rights reserved.  This material may not be duplicated or distributed without written consent from the author.

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