God Bless all of those who were put in harms way during Hurricane Sandy this past weekend. Here in Astoria, I was not hit hard, but my heart goes out to all of those who were this weekend. Especially those in the Rockaways, Breezy Point and Lower Manhattan and New Jersey. I hope everyone is able to get back on their feet as quickly as possible.
Also with my being back in grad school I am still finding it hard to keep blog posts coming on a continuous basis. But I hope all my visitors stop by periodically to see if anything new came around. This blog is not disappearing and my goal is to still educate anyone who is willing to learn.
With that being said, I am returning to the next part in the Big Five series with the Pull-up. The Pull-up is a staple that should be in every person’s exercise arsenal. Regardless of your gender, or your goals you should be doing all the different pull-up variations week in and week out. Whether you want superior strength, you want a bigger bench, dead-lift, improved your posture, or just lose weight pull-ups will get you there faster then without. You name your goal and I will name you multiple reasons why you must be doing pull-ups.
I know a lot of people out there who attempt pull-ups and butcher them pretty badly, and for those of you who can not do a pull-up currently, doing so seems as daunting of a task as your grandmother trying to use a computer. But trust me, it is much easier then you think. All it takes is a little work, attention to your technique, and consistency and within no time you will be banging out pull-ups.
Here are some progressions you can follow to master the pull-up.
1. HAVE BASELINE STRENGTH
If you can only row 20 pounds, good luck doing a pull-up. The reason pull-ups are a challenging exercise is because you must lift your entire body weight against gravity. I do not feel that you must row more then your body weight, but if you have good mechanics and you can row 75% of your body weight you should be able to begin a pull-up program. That number that I picked is very subjective. I have not tested out the waters enough to say that number is set in stone, and it may even be an over estimation. But the better your technique is and the stronger you are horizontally it will definitely have a carry over to your vertical pulls.
2. GREASING THE GROOVE
This is a term I first learned from the great Pavel Tsatsouline . What this is referring to is you must get practice within a specific movement that you want to master. Our brains work through a series of neural networks. When we do a new movement it will take a lot of repetition to make those neural pathways strong enough to be solidified in your brain. I would begin with some Lat Pull-downs. Just to get the pattern of the pull-up down and to ensure you feel the lats all the way to the hip. It would be a good idea to do these while building your baseline strength. This is because lat strength will help assist you in your horizontal pulling as well as develop a lat-mind connection where you are able to really feel your lats squeeze and do the work. Once you have that down, you must do a high volume of pull-ups. The more you do them, the greater activation of muscle you will be able to incorporate into your lifts and the better your technique will get.
3. FOLLOW A PULL-UP PROGRESSION
For those of you who cannot do a pull-up you will start here.
When beginning I always begin teaching the pull-up with a neutral grip. I feel that the scapula works best in this position and is an easier position then chin-ups and wide grip pull-ups.
- STATIC HOLDS – For these, you will get up to a pull-up bar, set up a bench or stepper underneath it. Grab the bar, jump up so your head is well above the bar and squeeze your entire back all at once. The point is to hold the top position for 30 seconds really trying to feel all your back muscles squeezing as hard as possible.
- NEGATIVES – This technique works the eccentric (down phase) of the pull-up. Since the body can naturally handle more load during the eccentric phase of the lift, we will take advantage of it. The set-up is the same for the static hold, but instead of holding for twenty at the top, we lower our selves slowly for about five seconds.
- ASSISTED PULL-UPS (preferably with a superband) – These is a great method for getting stronger with your pull-ups because it makes you lighter. The band, or machine makes you lighter, so you can lift yourself up with a more appropriate weight. Use a progressive overload system, and you should be able to improve your strength.
This video is from Mike Robertson, who is an exceptionally smart guy. If you want to learn more about the band pull-up from him, click here.
For those of you who can already do one pull-up:
- VOLUME – One of the best ways to improve your pull-ups once you are able to do one is to increase the volume. Charles Polquin suggests taking the number of pull-ups you can do in one set and divide that by two and do ten sets. So if you can do 4 pull-ups, you then do ten sets of two. This should help improve the amount of pull-ups you can do pretty quickly.
- INCREASED STRENGTH –Continue to work on getting stronger with your horizontal pulls, the stronger you can get yourself, the lighter you will feel.
HOW TO PUT IT ALL TOGETHER
Week 1: 5 sets of 25 second hold.
Week 2: 5 sets of 30 second hold
Week 3: Assisted Pull-up 3×8
The weight shouldn’t be an 8 rep max. It should be just heavy enough where you can have perfect technique for all reps because if your form should falter, and you do all your pull-ups like that you will stall out and not make maximal progress.
Week 4: Assisted Pull-up 3×10
Week 5: 4×6 negatives, taking 5 seconds on the decent.
Week 6: 1st set as many pull-ups you can do. 3×8 negatives
Week 7: Once you can do two pull-ups, begin using Charles Polquin’s method above. But don’t forget to sprinkle this other exercises in here and there. They will continue to help you grease the groove and master the technique, as it is a difficult one to conquer.
Also some people may need more time to get there, it really depends on their base level. But as long as you keep progressing you know you’re on the right track. The trick here is to keep practicing, and progressively try to improve.