The Hunter-Gatherer (faustin) wrote,

developing a pull-up

Let's imagine that you can't do a pull-up, and want to develop the ability.

The following approach will assume that you can hang from a pull-up bar for more than a few seconds at a time; it will assume that you are close to doing a pull-up.

Below you will find: a) techniques to build up to a pull-up and b) prescribed workouts.

  1. Equipment
    You need a pull-up bar. But you also need at least two other pieces of equipment:
    1. a jumpbox or chair on which you can stand. Standing on a chair, bench or jumpbox, you should be able to hold the pull-up bar with a slight bend in your elbows.
    2. a "low bar" about 30-36" off the ground that will support your bodyweight. The edge of a table or desk, perhaps even a broomstick, bar or pipe supported by furniture may do the trick.

    Your pull-up bar should be comfortable to hang from, and your feet should not touch the floor while you hang. 7'6" or 8'0" are good heights.


  2. Assistance
    If you can't do a pull-up, you need to be able to complete the motion -- somehow (i.e. with assistance). These are the somehows:
    1. jumping pull-up: while standing on the chair, bench or box, you jump your chin up above the bar and lower yourself down, controlling your descent with your arms (this controlled descent is called the "negative" or "eccentric" portion of the movement.)

    2. gravitron or machine-assist: A wonderful tool, you can set the exact amount of assistance (in increments of 5 pounds). A kneepad or foot bars will push up against you, helping you with the motion. You can even incorporate a kipping motion with a gravitron, which you'll soon learn.

    3. assistance bands: these are big rubber bands, either hung from the pull-up bar or stretched horizontally below the pull-up bars at about knee-level.

    4. partner assist: your partner can hold your ankles from behind and help you complete the pull-up movement. Strongly recommended if you have an attentive partner, strongly discouraged if your partner can't figure out when he needs to let go of your ankles and let you dismount gracefully.

  3. Exercises
    • Body rows or ring rows - hang your body below the low bar (or rings, or table's edge, 30-36" from the ground). Your feet rest on the ground or on a slightly elevated support like a step or bench. Pull your chest up to the bar / rings and lower back down. Aim for the greatest range-of-motion you can achieve.

    • Swings - to develop a kipping pull-up, you need to be able to swing first. The swing for the kipping pull-up has your hips moving backward and forward, while your feet stay in place below the bar and your whole body curves. At the front and back of your swing, your body should look like these parentheses: ( and )

    • Jumping pull-ups - described above in Assistance. You can do A LOT of these. But those negatives -- those eccentric contractions, as you're controlling your descents -- can really make your arms sore!

    • Assisted pull-ups - especially when assisted by a partner, these can very closely shadow your maximum effort to do a pull-up, giving you just enough help to complete the motion. A partner can make your pull-ups more productive and more satisfying.

    • Knees-to-chest - hanging from a pull-up bar, lift your knees up towards your chest, allowing your legs to bend. Return to fully open hang position.

    • L-sit - hanging from a pull-up bar, lift your straightened legs in front of you until you are 'piked' 90-degrees at the hips, your legs horizontal to the ground and held rigidly, straight in front of you. Do not swing. If you can't get it, bend your knees. Progress towards straightening your legs.

  4. Routines or Workouts
    • Grease-the-Groove, or GTG. This is a method: it means stopping a few times throughout the day to do several repetitions of an exercise, in an attempt to increase the number of reps one can do.
      1. Routine 1: jPU: Everyday, grease the groove with jumping pull-ups, descending slowly (emphasizing the negative). Aim for 5-7 sets of ~5 reps each over the course of the day.
      2. Routine 2: assisted PU: Exactly the same as routine 1, but use assisted pull-ups instead of jumping pull-ups

    • Workout 1: Body Rows & Knees-to-Chest
      3 rounds, 12-9-6
      • body rows
      • knees-to-chest
      For time.
      If your time gets better than 3:15, increase reps to 15-12-9. :-)

    • Workout 2: L-swing-jump
      5 rounds of
      • 5 L-sits
      • 10 swings
      • 15 jumping pull-ups
      For time.
      (substitute knees-to-chest if L-sits are too difficult)

  5. Variables
    Grip: you can use any grip you like, but the overhand, "pull-up" grip will give you the greatest flexibility and power in your swing, which will pay off down the road. Importantly -- you can and should switch between grips. There are four total grips you might use on a normal pull-up bar -- both hands under, both hands over, and mixed (left-under, right-over or left-over, right-under, which gives you two more variants).


The above routines and workouts will not only develop your ability to do a pull-up, but will also develop the skills, strength and confidence to achieve kipping pull-ups. Kipping pull-ups can actually develop your ability to do deadhang, strict pull-ups faster than if you were working only on strict pull-ups all the time. (This is because kipping pull-ups generate more power, and power -- work per unit of time -- is the secret sauce of effective physical training; it is what stimulates neuroendocrine response, getting you a greater return in strength than any comparable but slower effort.)

Please, tell me if you know of any technique, routine, workout or approach that is better for developing the pull-up. I've searched widely and read a lot but I want to find or develop the best methods possible.

Also, please tell me of your progress in developing pull-ups, I love to hear these, especially including the details of what was the most difficult part for you, how it felt, what obstacles you encountered, and what you think made your success possible.

Go get some.
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