How many of you love a pull up? I know I do, but for many a pull up is a soul destroying exercise that torments them every time they attempt them! My Grandfather was a power lifter who swore by the motto ‘learn to manage your body weight before you start lifting weights’, so from an early age I was practicing pull ups, press ups and air squats in order to acquaint my muscles with resistance work before introducing weight. This put me in good stead for performing a pull up, which has since led onto weighted pull ups whereby I will hold a dumbbell between my feet or use my weighted dip belt with a 20kg plate hanging from it.
Why do people struggle to learn pull ups?
Well one thing is for sure, it’s not the complexity of the technique itself, rather it’s the distribution of body weight combined with the distribution of muscle. For many people the majority of their weight is in their lower body (the legs are the largest body part after all), and their arms are rightly so, proportionately smaller than their legs. The key to managing your body weight is to ensure that your arms and back are up to the challenge, but if you’ve not been performing pull ups from an early age then chances are you’ll find it difficult to perform enough pull ups in order to induce adequate muscle development and strength in your arms and back to improve.
So how do you improve?
The key here is to utilise alternative pull up techniques such as band assisted pull ups, ground and box assisted pull ups, supine pull ups and of course, performing lat pull down exercises and biceps and triceps isolation moves.
These are an integral piece of equipment as they assist you both in the positive and negative phase of a pull up. Your foot is placed in the band as you lower yourself to the starting point, then as you start to pull yourself up you are quickly assisted by the band (concentric muscle contraction). When at the top of the pull up the band is relatively slack meaning it will begin to tighten as you descend into the eccentric part of the pull up, in turn generating elastic potential energy ready to help you pull yourself back up.
Supine pull ups
This variation of the pull up offloads some of your body weight so that you can strengthen the back and arms, progressively building up to normal pull ups. To perform these safely you might want to lower the smith machine bar to one of the lowest latches so that you can rest your heels on the floor yet allow enough room to fully extend your arms. Check the image below for best form, aiming for a 3-5 rep range to increase strength building up to a 10-12 rep range when you’ve got this down.
Jump assisted and box assisted pull ups
There is nothing wrong with jumping into the pull up first of all, this allows you to get past the initial sticking points whilst providing some momentum to help you through the movement. You can use a box to help you into the movement too. The better you become at them the less you jump, eventually progressing into full pull ups.
The strength training that you perform e.g. wide grip lat pull downs and bicep curls will put you in good stead for developing your pull up. Patience is key with pull ups, but persist and you will achieve it!