This an article that went out in my last newsletter for those of you who didn’t get it. And if you’re not subscribed to my newsletter, go to richruffing.com and sign up now!!
Call it a pull up. Call it a chin up. Whatever you want to call it, I’m not seeing enough of them being done by the average gym goer. What happened? Back in the day, pull ups were regarded as the king of all upper body exercises. They were used as a standard for testing in gym classes. Now, I do not even think they are used. They were and still are used as a standard for testing when entering the military. It used to be that someone entering was tested to see how many pull ups he or she could do. Now they test you to see whether you can do just one pull up. I go to a gym now that doesn’t even have a standard power rack or bar to do chin ups or pull ups from. It has every upper body training machine, but lacks a straight bar to do chin ups or pull ups.
It’s easy to figure out why people are not incorporating chin or pull ups into their exercise routines. For one, they’re not easy. I’m not going to lie. Pull ups or chin ups are tough. Do a set of lat pulldowns and compare that to doing a set of pull ups. And do not tell me they are the same thing. They are not as you will find out when you test the two out.
The second reason I do not see more pull or chin ups being done is because a good majority of people can not even do one pull up or chin up. This majority of people is resigned to the fact they can not do one and just simply do not work on the ability to do one chin up or pull up. I’m here to tell you that there’s hope. Through some pretty simple training methods and a couple of other principles you can break this barrier.
Drop some body fat – The ability to do a pull up does not only deal with your training. It also deals with your nutrition. Fat does not help you move. Having less of it does. The leaner you are, the greater your chance of doing a pull up or chin up. Clean up your diet, incorporate some metabolic conditioning and get yourself leaner.
Get some bands – I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with those Gravitron type of machines that give you some assistance if you can’t do a pull up. The ones where you kneel on a platform as you go up and down for an endless amount of reps. I like a better method. And also a pretty cheap method. Pick up a Superband from Perform Better . Loop it around a bar and there’s your Gravitron machine for $15-25 dollars. And you can take it and work with it anywhere. The thicker the band, the more help you’re going to get and vice versa. Also, your stabilizers are going to have to work a lot more now that you’re not locked into a machine.
Partner Assisted Pull Ups – If you have a training partner, but don’t have a band, get some help from your training partner. Simply have your training partner help hoist you up, giving you as much help as you need. I like to use a progression with this method. Start with having the training partner support both of your legs for the first couple of weeks. After a couple of weeks go to one leg supported. After another couple of weeks have the training partner support you through your upper back. After another couple of weeks, kick that training partner to the side and pull yourself to the bar!!
Do them every day – If you want to get better at something, you have to practice it more frequently. As long as heavy loads are not being used some exercises can be done on a more frequent basis, such as pull ups. Look at gymnasts. They do pull ups every day during practice or competition. So every day work a couple sets of assisted type of pull ups into your training routine. Do them between sets of squats. Do them between sets of bench presses. Just do them more frequently.
Fat Man Pull ups – I actually like to call them inverted rows, but others refer to them as FatMan Pull Ups. They are an easier exercise because of the angle your pulling from. Your body weight is not going directly against gravity. It’s still not an easy exercise. But it will
get you used to moving your body through space against gravity and pulling yourself to a bar. And the nice thing is that it incorporates a lot of the same muscles or requirements that are going to help you with a pull up: grip strength and endurance, biceps strength, the ability to retract your scapula and core stability.
Work on Horizontal Rows – I did a little experiment last summer. I wanted to see if I took some time off from doing pull ups, if my performance would suffer when I tried to do them again. All my pulling work for four weeks consisted of horizontal pulling work (rows). When it came time to test my little experiment, I actually had gotten better. I was able to knock out two more pull ups than I had before. Working on my upper upper back and my scapular retraction strength had improved my pull up numbers. Pull ups are not just a biceps and lats exercise as some people may think. They also rely heavily on your mid and lower traps along with your rhomboids. Bringing up the strength of these muscles will help bring you up to the bar and bring up your pull up numbers.
Strengthen the weakest link – You’re only going to get as strong as your weakest link. In the case of pull ups you’re weakest link is probably the external rotators of the shoulder. Focus on including some external rotation work (side lying dumbbell raises, cable external rotations) on your upper body training days working in the 8-15 rep range with these exercises.
There are some other tried and true methods, but I find that the methods detailed above are some of the most effective. Do me a favor and set pull ups as your goal. I don’t care if you’re male or female. I don’t care if you’re 25 or 45 years old. Don’t let anyone tell you can’t do a pull up.