The pull-up is one of the most versatile exercises out there; you can do them with your body weight, throw on some chains, use wide and narrow grips, even turn your palms over and do a chin-up. This staple movement not only develops strength and muscularity, but it carries over to any real-world scenario where you might need to…pull yourself up and over something. While the pull-up doesn’t seem all that hard to do, it’s one of the most difficult exercises to even get started with so I came up with this short list of the 7 reasons why you STILL haven’t mastered pull-ups!
- YOU ARE TO HEAVY
Pull ups are all about relative strength. Meaning you need to be as strong as possible relative to your body weight—strong and light!!
More often than not, the folks who have the most trouble with body weight movements like pull-ups are a little on the heavy side and they’ve developed little-to-no general physical preparedness (GPP). Six-seven years from now when you’re carrying 20 more lbs. of muscle you can probably get away with being heavier, but right now, losing that fat will make a massive difference in your body weight movements.
Be honest with yourself: if you have a lot of fat to lose and you’re out of shape, you need to tackle one obstacle at a time. Start by getting your nutrition in order so you can drop some weight. As you work to trim off some fluff, you’ll need to improve your work capacity by doing heavy resistance training with a barbell and dumbbells biking, swimming, walking, rowing, sprinting, sled dragging, and even carrying heavy stuff.
So if you are carrying a few extra LBS pull ups will not be easy. Tighten up your nutrition plan, lose some body fat and watch your pull up numbers soar.
- Your grip strength isn’t up to par
If you come from a sedentary background – i.e. you don’t play sports, work a physically demanding job, or get a lot of activity in general – chances are your grip strength is lacking. If your grip strength isn’t sufficient to hold your body weight, there’s only a slim chance that you’ll be able to do a pull-up. How do you fix this? Contrary to what you may see at your local globo gym, doing thousands of repetitions of wrist curls with 2.5 lb. plates is NOT the ticket to a bone-crushing grip. To improve your grip strength, you need to perform exercises that involve static contractions of the hands, forearms, shoulders and upper back. Hang from the pull-up bar for time, grab two kettlebells & take a long walk or just load up a barbell and do timed holds for 30-60 seconds. Grip training is hard, so don’t bite off more weight than you can chew; start off light and go for endurance.
- YOU RELY ON BANDS TO DO PULL UPS.
Bands provide ACCOMODATING RESISTANCE—-meaning the assistance or resistance they provide varies at certain points in the range of motion.
But they have a major drawback!
Unfortunately many folks hit a brick wall when they try and get their chin over the bar. The band provides the least assistance at the top of the pull up, where most people need it, and the most assistance in the bottom portion of the range of motion. It’s the exact opposite of what most people need to get a pull up.
This is why you watch folks fail to gain a pull up using bands–even after months of work.
- You aren’t practicing often enough
You are what your repeatedly do. If your form is on point, but your specific work capacity sucks and you have to jerk your body around to get your chin over the bar after the first repetition, you’re just teaching your body to express an inefficient movement pattern. It’s much more difficult to unlearn bad form than it is to teach it, so you’re going to want to add in some specialized practice whenever possible. One of the best ways to practice pull-ups is to hang a cheap doorframe pull-up bar in a room cut your max reps in half, take that number and do sets throughout the day. Slowly add reps each week. Top Strength Coach Pavel Tsatsouline describes this as “greasing the groove” and it takes advantage of increased training frequency and specificity to perfect whatever movement you apply to it & works great I’ve had many clients drastically improve their pull ups doing this. For some of you that may just be a static hold on the top or the bottom position—but that’s OK! THEY WILL IMPROVE!
If pull ups are your goal, stop talking about it, grab the bar, and bang some out!
- YOU ARE A KIPPER
Kipping pull ups are great in some situations & is a great skill to master especially if your preparing for a CrossFit competition, but for a lot of folks they are totally inappropriate and could lead to injury if you haven’t built up the proper strength. Kipping pull ups will not build strength they are a skill that’s used for conditioning and also can be used for hypertrophy. I never advise my clients to practice kipping until multiple strict pull ups can be done in sets.
Strict pull ups build strength.
Yes, they are much harder. Don’t cheat and kip to make it easier.
On the other hand, if you can do 5 strict pull ups already then your shoulder girdle is strong enough for you to kip during CONDITIONING workouts. GO FOR IT! But don’t confuse strength workouts with conditioning workouts.
Or if you are seeking to build some muscle and extra wide lats do a set of strict pull ups, when you can’t do anymore, immediately bang out some kipping pull ups to extend the length of your set. Get your SWOLE on.
- Your back needs to get stronger.
This may seem like a no brainer – that’s why you’re trying to incorporate pull-ups into your routine anyway, isn’t it? Although pull-ups are one of the best ways to develop back strength, the fact of the matter is that staring at the rig isn’t building a single ounce of muscle. Whether you can’t do a single pull-up or you can only bust out a few ugly reps before you’re gassed, you should add a few upper body pulling movements into your back workout to ensure that you’re getting stronger each week. Try these exercises for 3 sets of 10 repetitions each:
- Pull-up negatives have tremendous carryover to the pull-up. Stand on something or jump up to the bar and get yourself in the top position of a pull-up. Lower yourself in a controlled fashion until your arms are fully extended, then get right back up there and keep going until you’re done with your set!
- Ring rows are a go-to pull for building strength in your entire back and core because they get you working with your body weight and can be easily modified as you progress. Start with your feet on the floor, then elevate your feet with a box as you get stronger.
- Single-arm dumbbell rows are great because they offer freedom of movement and an increased range of motion. Support your body with one arm by leaning on a bench and explosively pull the dumbbell back like you’re trying to elbow someone in the gut.
- Lat Pulldowns or any vertical pull done with a cable machine can help you develop pulling strength along the same plane as a pull-up and they offer the same freedom of movement as a dumbbell.
These specific physical preparedness (SPP) exercises use the same muscle groups and similar motor recruitment patterns as the pull-up. If you improve at a number of SPP exercises, you’ll that elusive pull-up in no time.
- YOU DON’T STAY TIGHT
If you can’t maintain relative body position throughout the pull up then you have what we call an energy leak. What this means is that instead of using your entire body to pull, you’re relying on whatever muscles will do the work – most likely your rotator cuff which is not good. Everything should stay tight when you pull; point your toes, lock your legs, squeeze your glutes, pack your neck, tuck your chin, take a big breath, and squeeze your core out as you pull your upper chest to the bar with a vice grip around the handles. Don’t loosen up until you’re done with the set! It won’t be comfortable at first, but will be worth it in the end.
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