The infamous pull-up. I have a faint memory of a 5th grade gym class where most boys in my class weren't able to do more than 3 pull-ups. I mustered a healthy double and dropped down feeling ok about myself until a tiny female gymnast named Kristen climbed with ease up the rungs, gripped the bar and ripped out a dozen without breaking a sweat.
I would like to tell you that I swore in that moment that I would never again be upstaged at a pull-up bar but the reality is that I ran from pull-ups for a long time after that. Instead, I focused on lifts where heavier bodyweight easily correlated to bigger numbers. That was a huge mistake.
Then, I found kipping pull-ups and convinced myself that they were basically the same thing as strict pull-ups. But let's be honest, they aren't. They are a specific movement for a specific sport that requires coordination, strength and timing but they sure are not the same as strict pull-ups. Anyone who tells you differently is wrong.
Now, I have worked hard over time to be able to do pull-ups the right way and no longer run away from them. I have by no means mastered this particular movement, but I continue to get better and for me that's all I can ask for.
But a year ago, I could barely do more than a couple at a time and I found a few workouts that have really helped and I am going to share one of my favorites below.
So let's begin by talking a little bit about form, because although it's a bodyweight exercise, you are putting a decent amount of stress on your shoulders, back and arms. There is also a variety of grips which can really dictate which muscle groups you are targeting and can help avoid injury.
For the purposes of this article, I am only going to discuss the basic (albeit difficult) pull up.
Grip: Your grip should be shoulder width apart, with your palms facing out or away from your body and your thumb wrapped either around or behind the bar based on preference.
The Pull: When you start to pull it's really important that you do a few things and don't do a few others. Here are some do's: Keep your gaze up, not uncomfortably high but slightly above level, focus on keeping your elbows in and pulling straight up with the intent to get your chest to the bar. Here is a helpful video from coach and Crossfit athlete Jason Khalipa about things to focus on during a strict pull-up.
Now onto some dont's: Jump from the ground or a box (that's cheating the movement), don't stop with your chin over the bar, instead aim to touch your chest to the bar, don't "kip" by bringing your knees or legs up and don't just drop from the top, the lowering portion is almost just as important as the initial pull
Now, let's imagine that you can't do more than a couple of pull-ups this workout will not only be doable for you but it will also help you build a platform to build on and eventually do more pull-ups. Or maybe you can do a boatload of pull-ups like Kristen, the tiny gymnast from my nightmares, this workout will test your mettle as well.
Let's get to it.
- Warm-Up: 5 Minutes of light, conversational pace on a rower
- Then, grab a pair of light plates (2.5/5/10) and do 3 sets of the following:
- 10 x Front Raise (2 second pause at the top)
- 10 x Side Raise (2 second pause at the top)
- 10 x Push-Ups (2 second pause at bottom)
- Then do 10 full minutes of pull-ups with lots of rest. A good thing is to do is set a rep target and break it down per minute. Beginners should start at 30, Intermediate at 50 and advanced at 75. But make sure they are good, strict pull-ups and aim to improve each week
- Then set a bench up at a weight you can comfortably do 15 reps with a good place to start is 135 for most guys
- Also set up a place to do plank pulls or horizontal pull-ups - see this video for a how to.
- Then do the following ladder
- 10 Bench Press / 1 Plank Pull
- 9 Bench Press / 2 Plank Pull
- 8 Bench Press / 3 Plank Pull
- 7 Bench Press / 4 Plank Pull
- 6 Bench Press / 5 Plank Pull
- 5 Bench Press / 6 Plank Pull
- 4 Bench Press / 7 Plank Pull
- 3 Bench Press / 8 Plank Pull
- 2 Bench Press / 9 Plank Pull
- 1 Bench Press / 10 Plank Pull
- Cool down - some light rowing or running is recommended
And there you have it, our sweat of the week which will have you bursting through pull-up plateaus in no time!