One of the exercises I made a goal to master in 2018 is the ever-so-daunting pull up! In theory, it should be a simple enough exercise, but do I even need to state how hard it actually is? The simple explanation: naturally, your lower body is stronger than your upper body. When you’re using your upper body to pull your lower, heavier body-it’s not an easy task. For this week’s fitness post, I put together three different sets of exercises you can do to help to strengthen and eventually master, your pull up.
In no way am I claiming to be an expert OR that I have perfected this exercise. I am sharing exercises that have helped me make measurable progress in strengthening my pull up.
Disclaimer: This is a simplified plan and explanation of the pull up exercise. I am not a doctor or certified fitness professional. This was written under advisement of a fitness professional. Please use caution and proceed at your own risk.
The first step in measuring where you are in your pullup progress: test to see if you can do a pullup. To measure progress, you have to first establish what you’re able to do now. Can you perform a pullup: Overhand? Underhand? How many reps? How many sets of reps? Write down your baseline.
The following exercises are going to help work two grips so you can strengthen different muscle groups necessary to perform a textbook pull up. Exercises that work with an overhand (pronated) grip help strength back muscles and lat activation. Lats and back are the main pull up muscles. Underhand (supinated) grip exercises work on biceps, pecs, and more lat. It’s important to work on both grips to hit a wider variety of muscles and different levels of activation. You’ll notice you’re stronger in one grip over the other. The four different exercises are listed below:
- 3×10 overhand and 3×10 underhand eccentric pullups (jumping up, slowly letting yourself self down to a count of 3). The slow “down” motion (eccentric motion) helps with muscle activation-as in, you’re using/awakening the same muscles you need to strengthen to eventually pull up.
- 3×10 Assisted pullups: most gyms have an assisted pullup machine that you add weight to perform the excercise, hence lightening your body weight as you perform the pull up exercise. If you weigh 130 lbs and add 100 to the machine, you are pulling 30 lbs. Find a challenging yet doable weight for you-the last 7-1o reps of each set should be challenging. Other options: thread a resistance band on a pullup bar and put one or both feet in the band to use as resistance.
- 3×10 Lat pulldown machine: start light/no weight to get the feel of the machine if it is your first time. The thing you want to focus on is using your back muscles to pull down-i.e. engaging the muscles that you need to strengthen to perform a pullup. For detailed instructions or different variations on how to use this machine, refer to this article.
- OR 3×10 bent over dumbbell row: Similar theory to the lat pull down machine, but if you do not have access to a machine or just want to do both exercises, free weights are always my choice! See here.
Perform the 3-4 exercises 2-3 times a week for 12 weeks-measure your progress at 0, 4, 8, and 12 weeks. How did you improve over the cycle?
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