Monday, March 14, 2011

Improving Pull-Ups

Why would anyone
not do pull-ups?

Like the push-up, another exercise everyone is familiar with is the pull-up. It's not as easily performed, however it's still one of the best movements to incorporate into a training program.

If you can't do a single rep then this post is for you. I wasn't very adept at them, but over time I got strong enough to train them regularly.

How strong in the last three years? Well for fun the other day I did 3x2 + 25lbs. of thick pull-ups followed by 3x6 + 35lbs. of chin-ups. I never train that heavy and I could have added more weight as well.

While there are plenty of tips on improving pull-ups, the ones that follow are what helped me (in order of usefulness).
1) Lat-Pulldown
  • I regularly read to use negatives, bands or a partner for assistance, or a machine to bring up strength. Frankly, I never utilized any of those options.
  • You can opt for the lat-pulldown or a cable machine that allows you to attach a long straight bar and work from a kneeling position.
2) Grip
  • The more reps you do, the longer you need to hold the bar. If your forearms are taxed before your lats you'll let go before completing all your reps. It's a subtle weak link that needs to be addressed.
  • Either get your set done as quick as you can or improve your grip strength. For the latter add in farmer's walks at the end of a training session.
3) Variety
  • Work with a variety of grips. A chin-up [underhand], neutral pull-up, mixed grip, and pull-up [overhand] are all unique from one another.
  • Every two or three weeks change which grip you use. Alternatively if you have a horizontal pull in your cycle, swap the grips between that and your vertical pull.
  • For example, if you do supinated barbell rows and pull-ups one month then the following month perform pronated barbell rows and chin-ups.
4) Training Parameters*
  • Variety is the spice of life and it's in your best interest to make sure your own workouts aren't bland. Sticking to the same sets and reps for an extensive period is.....boring. Different set and reps ranges bring different results in addition to some people working well in certain parameters compared to others and vice versa.
  • I personally do better at low reps with heavy weights, but it's always worth a try to experiment. Attempting 4 sets of 8 is different from 8 sets of 4 reps - despite both totaling 32 reps.
5) Single-Arm Pulldowns
  • For whatever reason I hardly come across the single-arm lat-pulldown in a training program. The most common unilateral rowing movement I've witnessed is the dumbbell row typically off a bench. If not that, it's often a variation of it - some other unilateral horizontal row. Regardless, this exercise will iron out any strength discrepancies between your dominant and non-dominant sides.
  • Similar to #1 instead this time with one arm. Since the lat-pulldown is meant for bilateral pulling I tend to hop on a cable machine. Either perform kneeling, in a split-stance [lunge position], or slide a bench over and sit on it.
*I have separate post for this topic, see here.
Aside from the things listed above, I don't think I've done anything different to become better at pull-ups. With a bit of persistence it shouldn't be terribly difficult to achieve at least one pull-up. And if I wasn't clear throughout this post, much of what's recommended can be combined entirely within a month's training plan.

I may write about pull-ups again in the future. Consider this post for the beginners to get their feet wet.

Even the cat
does pull-ups!

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