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pull-ups

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

Breakdown:

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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How to do Pull-ups: A Surefire Progression to Pull-up Proficiency Part 2

I hope you enjoyed Part 1 of the pull-up progression on Monday. Click the link before continuing, or this will happen.

He'll visit you if you skip ahead.
He’ll visit you if you skip ahead. Photo credit:frabz.com

Seriously. Okay I’m kidding that was excessive, but skipping ahead of baseline movements is bad news.  Go read part 1 of your sure-fire pull-up progression here.

This post will be my last for the week and into next week since I’m currently Florida, attending a masquerade party–which also triggered. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m assuming that wearing a speedo, cowboy boots, and a mask won’t work. That said I get free drinks and food for a few days while working on my sunburn. Nevertheless, it’s time for business.

You’ve practiced your inverted row variations and blasted a few with your feet elevated –good job! Now, things get tricky. Pull-ups require a vertical pull, much more difficult than horizontal. The strength built up rowing your bodyweight will help, but further planning is needed before pull-ups.

Negative Band-Assisted Pull-Up: Using a band will lessen the load on the most difficult portion of the pull-up—the bottom. Use a high tension band, stepping into it from a box. With your chin above the bar lower your body, brace the core, squeeze the glutes, and lower until the arms are fully extended. Step  back to the box and repeat for two or three reps. The body is stronger during the eccentric portion exercises, so this engrains the range of motion and strength development in the pull-up.

[Use a band rather than a standing, assisted pull-up machine when possible. If you’ve reached this point you’re strong enough to control your body with a band-assist.]

 

women band assisted pull-up
Photo Credit: Band Assisted Pull-Up

Band-Assisted Pull-Ups: After gaining eccentric strength and control it’s time to perform the eccentric and concentric portions of the pull-up. Stand on the band with core braced and glutes squeezed, driving the elbows down until the chin passes the bar. Lower yourself under control and repeat for reps. Re-set between reps if needed, working with 3-8 reps per set.

Negative Pull-Ups: I program negative pull-ups with band assisted pull-ups for rapid improvements. Negative pull-ups through the entire ROM without use of any band-assistance is a great strength building exercise. Jump up to the bar OR step from a box with your chin above the bar. Keep reps slow as the arms extend, aiming for 4-5 seconds per rep for 3-5 reps per set. 

Pull-Up grip progression: Congrats! You’re ready to tackle Pull-ups, but it’s not that simple. Certain grips and hand positions are easier than others. First, use a shoulder width neutral grip (thumbs pointing back). You’ll be stronger in both a neutral and supinated (palms facing you) grip before moving to a true pull-up. Begin with these variations before a pronated (overhand grip) pull-up.

 Pull-Up Progression Programming

Pull-ups are no easy task—when 0-3 reps are your max then every chin-up is near maximal effort. This is extremely taxing on the central nervous system. Spread your practice throughout the week so theres plenty of time for recovery and avoid failure.

Each training session should include a variation of this progression, building strength and muscle to improve your chin-ups.
Since pull-ups are your primary goal start your sessions with a challenging variation; remember, pull-ups are a near maximal exercise, use plenty of rest between sets.

  • Pull-ups are the priority, plan them first in your training session.
  • Train between one and six reps per set, picking a total rep goal of 15-25 total reps in the workout. However you break up your sets is up to you.
  • Use rest pauses if you approach technical failure. Rest 10-15 seconds between reps to complete your sets.
  • Rest 60-120 seconds between sets. Remember, if you can’t do a chin-up nearly every rep is maximum effort.
  • Avoid failure. Avoid failure. Avoid failure.
  • Have a well-rounded exercise program focused on building total-body strength. Deadlifts, squats, presses, and lunges will strengthen your entire body.

Sample Program

Weeks 1-2: Focus on part 1 variations, 45 degree rows, inverted rows, and feet elevated inverted rows. Pick one variation each day and work up to 4-6×6-10 reps.

Week 3: Begin training negative band-assisted pull-ups for sets up to six reps per set. Pick the most difficult horizontal row you can perform and aim for 20-25 reps in your workout.

Week 4-5: Your eccentric strength and control has improved, so it’s time to pick things u with band assisted pull-ups.  Aim for sets up to six using a large band. Break sets up as needed until you hit your total rep goal. Pick the most difficult horizontal row you can perform and aim for 20-25 reps in your workout.

Week 6-8: Ditch the band, it’s time for un-assisted negative pull-ups. Control reps and take between 4-5 seconds on each rep. Use rest-pause technique as needed, aiming for 15-20 total negatives. Pick the most difficult horizontal row you can perform and aim for 20-25 reps in your workout.

Week 7-10: Get your mind right, it’s pull-up time! The time it takes you to master your first pull-up is specific. Different limb-lever lengths, body fat % and distribution, training experience, and gender will all play a factor. Use neutral grip or chin-up grip variations first before progressing to pull-ups.

How To Do Pull-Ups

This program is by no-means a cure-all. Schedule and training experience are highly variable, so do what fits your schedule. Its best to progress slowly if needed and be consistently successful. However, should you be feeling strong after a few negatives then jump ahead and give pull-ups a shot. Pull-ups are no easy task, doing them successfully shows great strength, determination, discipline. Armed with these suggestions you’ll be well on your way to pull-up prowess.

Drop me a line via my contact page or on Facebook once you’ve mastered your pull-ups!

 

How to Do Pull-Ups: A Sure-Fire Progression for Pull-up Proficiency Part 1

Pull-ups are my favorite upper-body exercise. I’ve been bumpin’ out pull-ups since I wore Nike wind pants and Pokémon cards were cool. I’m no longer slingin’ Pokémon cards on the playground but pull-ups and wind pants remain–they’re just too comfy.

Nothing builds relative upper body strength and carves your back, biceps, and forearms like pull-ups. Plus, they’re great for developing stable shoulders and are a fantastic indicator of overall fitness—If you’re able to knockout 8-12 pull-ups you’re clearly in damn good shape.

With the rise and media attention Crossfit games pull-ups have become commonplace in training programs, with everyone from young athletes to your 55 year old aunt looking to master their first pull-up. Swinging your way up to the bar for a “kipping pull-up” is a skill, but it’s not a pull-up. I’m here to guide your journey to strict, chest to the bar pull-ups. In the last few weeks Bach Performance online training clients and readers have been asking for help in mastering pull-ups. Whether you’re new to lifting, losing weight, or just want to finally master the pull-up then this is for you.

[This isn’t a Crossfit slam article, quite the contrary. I’m happy they have people touching barbells and looking to do “pull-up like exercises”]
Progress your way to Pull-ups

Make no mistake—Pull-ups are difficult. Seeing it on TV and wishing won’t make it happen. Mastering pull-ups takes dedication, patience, higher training frequency, and a well-designed progression. I’ve got the progression, but doing the work is on you.

45 degree inverted row: A suspension trainer like the TRX works best, but a barbell secured in a power rack works too. Position your body at 45 degrees—halfway between standing tall and being parallel with the ground. Keep the core braced, and glutes squeezed. Pull through the elbows, keep the head neutral, and control the negative (eccentric) of the lift.

pull-ups require a strong horizontal row
Photo Credit: selfmadefitness.com

Parallel inverted row: Parallel inverted rows utilize more bodyweight because the body is parallel to the ground. A good starting point is setting the barbell at hip height with enough room to fully extend the arms without lying on the ground. Brace the core and squeeze the glutes. Pull through the elbows, keep the head neutral, and control the negative of the lift.

inverted row, pull-up
Photo credit: muscleandfitness.com

Feet elevated inverted row: Elevating the feet further increases the difficulty of the lift. Use a stable surface like a bench or chair, never an unstable surface like a stability ball. Although feet elevated rows are a horizontal pull they will build tons of strength in the forearms, biceps, and back, preparing the body for vertical pulling. These are a fantastic alternative to bent-over rows and dumbbell rows

Wrap Up

Besides improving you awesomeness 10,000% these variations get the ball rolling and prepare you for pulling bodyweight pull-ups. For some of you these may be too easy, but sit tight and stay tuned for Friday. I’ll be dropping a program to guide your path to the pull-up promise land (say that 5 times fast, seriously).

P.S. I really tried to type this out five times without an error. It took four attempts. If you really can’t wait until Friday drop by and fill out an application for a FREE Skype Consultation.  Get it here: FREE Fitness Consultation

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