Category Archives: Pull-ups

Take Your Pull-Ups to the Next Level


Take Your Pull-Ups to the Next Level
Pull-ups are to workout routines like vegetables are to nutrition. We all know we should eat lots of fresh vegetables, but how many of us actually do? The same goes for pull-ups.
It’s an exercise that should be in any training program, regardless of whether the goal is strength or physique oriented. There’s no better test of real-world strength, and getting strong at pull-ups will have carryover to all other major lifts. They’ll also add serious muscle to your lats, traps, rhomboids, biceps, and forearms, and if you control your lower body, even your core.
According to strength coach Mike Boyle, lifters should be able to do pull-ups with as much weight (including bodyweight) as they can bench press, meaning that a 200-pound guy that bench presses 300 pounds should be able to do a pull-up with 100 pounds added.
In my opinion, a 1:1 pull-up to bench press ratio should be the minimum. I’d much rather see the scale tipped towards pull-ups.
Sadly, I rarely see that happening, and considering pull-ups have been removed from most middle school physical education curriculums – because so few kids can even do them – it’s doubtful that we have a generation of kick-ass “pull-uppers” on the horizon.
This is not okay, and it’s time we raise the bar and get people pulling their chest up to meet it.
I’m going to assume that most of the males reading this can do at least 7-8 bodyweight pull-ups, with whatever grip you prefer. If you can’t, and have been training for more than a few years, take this as a wake-up call that you seriously need to reconsider your training, nutrition, or both. Read this article from T NATON contributor Tim Henriques and get to work. If you can already do 7-8 reps, keep reading.
Once you’ve established a solid strength base, it’s time to take it up a notch. Here are five effective ways to get more out of your pull-ups and build some big-time strength and muscle to take your training to the next level.

Isometric Holds

I put these first because they lay the foundation for the progressions to come.

  • Pull yourself up until your upper chest is level with the bar.
  • Keep your chest puffed out, elbows pulled down and back, and focus on squeezing the shoulder blades together hard. Now hold it right there.

Feel those muscles burning in your upper back? Those are the ones you should be using on every rep of pull-ups. For now though, just squeeze harder.

Iso holds are great because they force you to recruit the proper muscles. If you don’t actively retract your scapulae and try to rely on your arms to do the work, you won’t last long. They’ll also help strengthen the lower traps and rhomboids, which can assist with posture and ward off shoulder issues.
I recommend doing these with a pronated “false” grip (an overhand grip with the thumbs draped over the top of the bar). While both variations work the lats, research has shown significantly higher EMG activation in the lower traps during pull-ups as opposed to chin-ups, which emphasize the biceps. Using a false grip helps take the elbow flexors out of the equation so the back can bear the brunt of the work.
Try adding a 30-45 second hold at the end of your regular pull-up workout. Once you reach 45 seconds, add weight.

Hands Free

Here we literally take the arms out of the pull up. You’ll need a pair of ab straps, typically used for hanging leg raises.

  • Get into the same starting position as you would for leg raises, with your upper arms in the straps and your legs hanging straight down (I prefer to cross them to prevent leg swing).
  • Make sure the straps are flush against the top of the triceps, almost into the armpits.
  • Puff out the chest and arch the back slightly.
  • Now pull up as high as possible and hold for a second.

If done correctly, you should get a similar sensation in your upper back that you felt during the iso holds, and the body position should be essentially the same: chest up, elbows back, shoulders pinched together. Now lower as far down as you can and repeat for reps.

The range of motion will be slightly shorter than a normal pull-up, but the basic movement pattern is the same. These aren’t meant to replace pull-ups, but can serve as a teaching tool to help you learn to use the right muscles to get more out of pull-ups. Try doing a set of these before your regular routine to help activate the right muscles and give you a sense for how it should feel.
This variation is also great if you ever (heaven forbid) incur an injury to a finger, hand, wrist, or elbow so you can still get a good training effect while your injury heals.

“1.5” reps

Take Your Pull-Ups to the Next Level
This is a personal favorite of mine because it’s a teaching tool and a muscle and strength builder all wrapped into one. When someone comes to me saying that they “can’t feel their lats” during pull-ups, I give them these and voila, it’s an instant cure.
You can use any grip you wish – pronated, supinated, neutral, they’re all great. However, if you go with a pronated grip, I’d recommend using a “false” grip since this is more a “feel” exercise and we want to remove the elbow flexors as much as possible.

  • Perform a pull-up as normal.
  • Now lower yourself halfway down until the top of your head just clears the bar, and pull yourself back up. That’s one rep.
  • Now lower all the way down and repeat.
  • Perform 3-4 sets of 6-8 reps.

This style helps ensure that each rep is done under control and the right muscles are doing the work. Not to mention that because you’re performing twice as many contractions as a normal set, it’s great for strengthening the upper back and lats, and the increased time under tension can lead to more muscle growth.
1.5 reps can be used in place of regular pull-ups in your routine. Remember though, that 6-8 means 6-8 “1.5” reps. You should be able to handle about two-thirds of what you can do for regular pull-ups, so if you can normally get 12, you should be good for 8 “1.5” reps.
Once you can get 6-8 clean reps, add weight. Just be aware that they can produce intense soreness, particularly in the beginning, so be aware and consider limiting the volume to start.

Speed Work

Let’s shift from “feel” exercises and focus on getting stronger. Weighted pull-ups are the first step, but most lifters will quickly reach a plateau. Here’s where “speed work” can come into play.
Powerlifters have long used speed work to improve their bench, squat, and deadlift. The goal is to improve rate of force development, so instead of going heavy they’ll use a lighter load and move it fast. Taking this concept and applying it to pull-ups, we get the band-resisted pull-up.

  • Attach one end of a band (or bands, depending on your strength level) to a heavy dumbbell on the floor directly beneath the pull-up bar.
  • Affix the other end to a belt attached to your waist. The band should be taught at the bottom, but not overly tight.
  • Do pull-ups as normal, trying to do each rep explosively. Speed is key here.

Bands work great because they provide accommodating resistance, meaning there’s less tension at the bottom and more tension at the top as the bands get pulled tighter. This forces you to pull explosively through each rep to avoid being pulled down by the bands as the tension increases.
Once a week, perform 6 sets of 3 reps in place of your normal pull-up workout. Do 2 sets each with a pronated, neutral, and supinated grip, and don’t go anywhere near failure on any set. Add more band tension as needed, but err on the side of too light as opposed to too heavy.

Supramaximal Weighted Hangs

Take Your Pull-Ups to the Next Level

I got this idea from Dante Trudel, creator of Dogg Crapp Training, and adapted it for my own purposes. Dante suggests strapping onto the bar and doing a heavily weighted, wide-grip pull-up hang for 90-120 seconds at the conclusion of a back workout to help stretch the fascia and induce hypertrophy in the lats.
There’s research to suggest that prolonged weighted stretching may induce hypertrophy, and Dante’s track record of producing behemoths certainly backs up his methods. However, that’s not my primary goal with this movement.
I suggest doing the hang without straps and only holding it for 45 seconds. This is to increase task-specific grip strength and to get the body acquainted with heavier loads than you’d otherwise use for pull-ups, so when it comes time to perform the weights don’t feel as heavy. It can also lead to some new muscle growth, but I suppose that’s just gravy.
It’s important to note that this isn’t a passive hang – you still want to keep the chest puffed out, lats flared, and scapulae depressed to keep the tension on the muscles and off the joints. Another way to think of it is to keep your shoulders pulled down as far away from your ears as you can. A pronated or neutral grip works best here, as a supinated grip puts too much stress on the shoulders and biceps.
Perform one hang at the conclusion of your pull-up workout, on a different day than you perform the iso hold mentioned above. Be sure to choose your weight conservatively in the beginning and work your way up slowly. It will take some getting used to, but soon you’ll be able to handle far more weight than you could ever dream of pulling up. Once that happens, grip strength should be a non-issue and your heaviest pull-ups will feel far less intimidating.

Wrapping Up

Take Your Pull-Ups to the Next Level

Now that you’re armed with five new tools for your pull-up arsenal, it’s time to figure out how to put them to use in your current program. While I suggested general guidelines for how to use each exercise, I avoided exact sets and reps recommendations as that must be based on your current strength levels and the program you’re following.
I certainly wouldn’t include all five variations at once though, simply because you’d have no way of knowing what worked and what didn’t! Add them in slowly, and always give it a few weeks to see how things go before making further changes.
Which exercises work best for you will largely depend on your weaknesses. If you’re one of those people that can’t seem to “feel” their back working on pull-ups, the hands-free and “1.5” rep technique work well.
On the other hand, if your rhomboids are weak and you struggle to finish the last few inches of each rep, iso holds may help, and if you lack starting strength, try speed work. Finally, if you need grip work, weighted hangs could be just what the physique doctor ordered.
You get the idea. Figure out where your weaknesses are, and see if you can apply the right tools to help shore them up. Whichever way you chose, just make sure that you include some form of pull-ups and for goodness sake, get strong at them. After all, someone has to carry the mail for the next generation of couch potatoes.

References

Jose Antonio and W.J Gonyea. Progressive stretch overload of skeletal muscle results in hypertrophy before hyperplasia. Journal of Applied Physiology. 1993; 75:1263-71.
Robert M. Palmer et. al. The influence of changes in tension on protein synthesis and prostaglandin release in isolated rabbit muscles. Biochemistry Journal. July 1983; 214, 1011-1014
JW Youdas et.al. Surface electromyographic activation patterns and elbow joint motion during a pull-up, chin-up, or perfect-pullup rotational exercise. Journal of Strength Conditioning Research.December 2010; 24(12): 3404-14.

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>T NATION | 5 Pull-up Challenges

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5 Pull-up Challenges

5 Pull-up Challenges

Pull-ups: feared, cursed, and avoided, but also revered.
Anyone that’s put in the time and effort knows that pull-ups yield a kick-ass return for a sweat-equity investment. They’re beautifully simplistic and require minimal equipment, making them a staple of old school strength training. Still, there’s no reason to get tunnel vision with a movement that can also be so versatile. Enter the pull-up challenge.

Birth of the Pull-up Challenges

Normal pull-up tests get boring. On one hand, there’s the time-tested pull-up 3RM; still relevant and a great test of upper-body pulling strength, it’s a measure that should definitely be included frequently in programming.
Then we have the pull-up to failure test. It’s also a great test, giving solid feedback about upper-body relative strength and muscular endurance.
Yet only using these two tests seems a bit close-minded, doesn’t it? There are only two qualities being tested – it’s like going on a date with Jenna Jameson and only shooting for a good night kiss and some stimulating conversation. You might be successful, but oh, the wasted opportunity!
That’s why I started developing pull-up challenges. Not because I was going out with Jenna Jameson, but because the normal became mundane. The 3RM test and the test to failure are staples that won’t – and shouldn’t – go anywhere, but by adding a little creativity into the mix we can set new goals, learn a little more about ourselves (mentally and physically), and have some fun in the process.
Besides, facing challenges and overcoming them is what training is all about!

Warming-up for the Challenges

5 Pull-up Challenges

If you’re planning on doing a pull-up challenge at the end of your workout as a finisher, then warm-up and prep isn’t necessary. Of course, testing yourself at the end of the workout isn’t ideal. But if you’ve decided to hit a challenge pre-workout or on an off-day, you’ll need a bit of preparation.
I know, you’re thinking, “I’m just doing pull-ups, how much preparation do I need?” Not a lot, but there are some definite advantages you can reap by using a warm-up.
I use two methods to prep for challenges – a couple of sets of heavy, weighted pull-ups or hitting some concentric pull-ups. Both methods are great for firing up the nervous system and preparing the lats, biceps, and upper-back to do some serious pulling. Each method also has its own merits and disadvantages.

Perform two or three sets of weighted pull-ups, building up to a moderately heavy set of three reps (but not a true 3RM). For example, when I use this technique my warm up is 65 lbs. x 3, 80 lbs. x 3, and 90 lbs. x 3; all with a dumbbell strapped to my waist and preceded by a few body weight sets. My actual 3-rep max is 100-lbs.
The big disadvantage to the heavy set technique is that it can lead to pretest fatigue if not done carefully. Make sure to keep the set volume low and go no heavier than a set of three with a load that you could potentially get for five or six reps.

They’re performed just as the name implies. Only include the concentric pull and remove the eccentric lowering phase by allowing your body to drop to a box or the floor. They can be performed explosively without inducing much fatigue.
Try them out in cluster-rep fashion, resting about five seconds between each rep while hitting sets of three to five reps. Do three or four cluster sets.
Still a little unsure about how concentric pull-ups work? Check out the video below. I keep my hands on the bar in some reps in the video, but the descent isn’t with an eccentric muscle contraction.

A Working Definition of a Pull-up

A few quick words on what will actually count as a pull-up is probably warranted. Chin above the bar with limited kipping, and returning to the bottom position with your arms extended. That’s all it will take.
Let’s be honest, these are challenges, so every rep isn’t going to be beautiful, but limit the body English because a super kip won’t cut it unless you’re training for the Crossfit games. For the clap pull-ups, your hands have to make contact off the bar. Just letting go and waving your hands wildly like a confetti-less Rip Taylor will only earn you awkward glances.

The Challenges

5 Pull-up Challenges

Here are five challenges to test yourself. Be prepared to be humbled.

1. The 1-Minute Pull-up Challenge.

There are 1,440 minutes every day. Why not fill one of them with something awesome, like our first pull-up challenge? It’s as simple as the name implies and it’s the least demanding of the five challenges, so it’s a great way to cut your gums for the four nasty SOB’s that lay ahead.
You’ve got one minute to get in as many pull-ups as possible using a pronated grip. You can take breaks, let go of the bar, call your mom and tell her you won’t be home for supper; just as long as your chin gets above the bar on every rep.
This challenge can be as much about strategy as it is about measuring your testicular fortitude, so have a plan. Lactic acid build up is almost inevitable, but you want to keep it to a minimum, because once it starts—you’re toast.
Hit your reps in spurts and rest before the acid takes over. That way you can stay fresh for the first 50 seconds. At the 10-second warning, turn it on and go for broke, hitting as many reps as possible. Your goal is to get at least 25 reps, and anything over 30 reps is noteworthy.
Here’s a video for inspiration.

2. The Clap/Pronated/Supinated Pull-up Circuit

The second challenge only involves 15 reps, but it also involves explosive power, body control, and speed. Instead of having a set time to complete the reps, you’ll be racing the clock to get five reps of each variation in as quickly as you can.
The first part of the circuit is composed of five clap pull-ups. Being able to complete five of them in a row is a challenge in itself. After they’re done, transfer right into pronated pull-ups. Get those five done and switch your grip – supinate your hands (a.k.a. chin-ups) and finish off the last five.
Growing the ‘nads to let go of the bar during the clap pull-ups is half the battle. The concentric pull-ups used during the warm-up can help you progress into the claps because they teach explosion through the pull. Once you have the explosion part of the lift down, trust yourself to be able to let go and get your mitts back on the bar.
For an example of only clap pull-ups, check out the video below.

Though it’s a race against the clock, keep the swing under control. Too much body swing will result in being out of position and can murder a great time. Pull fast, but be aware of your body position.
Let’s recap. Five clap pull-ups followed by five pronated pull-ups before switching to five supinated pull-ups, all performed as fast as possible. Your goal is to get it done in 20 seconds, anything under that and you’re a beast. See the video below for a demo.

3. The Cliffhanger Challenge

The title may be reminiscent of a bad Sylvester Stallone movie, but this challenge is no joke. Picture yourself dangling from a cliff and your only chance for survival is to pull yourself up repeatedly without letting go.
That’s the crux of this challenge, just keep pulling until your lats curse your name and your biceps go on strike. As soon as both hands leave the bar, the challenge is over. You’re through. This challenge is great for testing your grip strength and breaking through the lactic acid threshold.
Sounds a lot like the failure test, doesn’t it? I’m about to drop a wrench in the gears. Plan on starting with a prone grip? Great, you have 10 reps until you have to flip to supinated or switch over to the neutral handles. The grips are up to you, pick two and pull like a porn star.
If you can’t go over 10 reps in a row at a given grip, it doesn’t mean that you have to do exactly 10 reps with that grip. You can switch grips at any point before the 10-rep limit. Get more than 20 reps total before letting go and you can pat yourself on the back (if you can).

4. The 5-Minute Challenge

When I first told my business partner, Chris, about my idea for this challenge he called me a crazy bastard. Why would anyone want to do five minutes of nothing but pull-ups? However, Chris actually inspired my crazy bastard idea, at least partially.
MMA is Chris’ forte as a strength and conditioning coach, and he’s worked with professionals and amateurs alike, namely Dustin Pague, the Ring of Combat champion in the 135-pound weight class.
Pros in the MMA game battle it out for five minutes each round, striking, blocking, guarding, and trying to sink submission holds. Dealing out an ass whooping during those five minutes while avoiding having said ass whooping dealt to you takes skill, conditioning, and a plan. So will this challenge.
If you’ve never competed in a sport that is based on rounds, completing this challenge will open your eyes to how long five minutes really is. But before you plan on hitting 10 pull-ups at the beginning of each minute and resting for a while, check out the rules.
At least one pull-up must be completed every 15 seconds for the ENTIRE five minutes. If you feel like busting out those first 10 reps in a fury, realize that you’ll have to have your hands back on that bar in no time. This is where the plan comes in.
Like most aspects of training, the best way to approach this challenge is to set a goal and work backwards. Say your first go round you want to hit 40 reps – break down the time and rep combinations into a plan that will get your chin above the bar 40 times. Make sure you give yourself some extra time!
For the five minute challenge shown in video below, I reasoned that if I did one pull-up every five seconds, I’d hit 60 in five minutes. Unfortunately, time in your head doesn’t work the same way it does in the real world, so I miscounted and only ended up with 45 reps. Moral of the story, if you’re planning on ripping up to the bar every five seconds, go on a four-count.
Hit more than 60 reps in five minutes and you’ve reached a status of manliness that most she-men can only covet.

5. The Race to 100 Reps

5 Pull-up Challenges

Since competition is the mother of all progress and doing 100 reps of any compound lift isn’t for the faint of heart, let’s kill two birds with one stone and compete by racing to 100 reps. Grab your training partner, block out some time and scare all the shirtless Crossfit guys away from the pull-up bar.
Our race to 100 reps isn’t a race in the classic definition. The first one done doesn’t necessarily win the bragging rights, and this one comes with two variations. Victory will be yours in each variation by getting to 100 total reps in the fewest number of sets.
If you train push/pull with your upper-body, variation number one will fit perfectly into a training session. You and your partner will keep all your normal pushing planned for a given workout but cut out all pulling, replacing it with 100 trips above the pull-up bar.
Nothing complicated, just alternate every set of pushing with a set of pull-ups. The rest periods are up to you. If it’s a dare that you fancy, keep all your regularly planned pulling for the day and add the 100 reps on top. In that case, I suggest clearing the next day’s work and training schedule and replacing it with foam rolling, couch surfing, and sympathy sex.
To make the challenge seem a bit more like a race, I added time into the mix for the second variation of the 100-rep challenge. You’ll only get one-minute to recover in between sets, so plan your reps wisely. Too many reps per set and you’ll burn out quickly, not enough and you’ll fall behind pace. It all comes back to knowing where you stand and having a plan to get the W.

Improving Your Challenge Numbers

If your first rodeo with the challenges doesn’t go as planned, there’s a simple way to boost your subsequent performances. Do some pull-ups! In my article Upper Back Training for Deadlifts, I talked about three ways that I train pull-ups:

  • With heavy loads cycling from sets of six down to sets of three
  • Working for total volume throughout a training session
  • Working for max reps

Improving absolute strength by doing loaded pull-ups is going to boost performance in all the challenges, as gains in absolute strength will carry-over to relative strength in most situations. We’re applying the same principle used to improve performance on the 225-pound bench test; bumping up your 1RM by 25 pounds is going to get you more reps at 225-pounds. Increasing your 1RM pull-up will get you more reps with only your body weight.
The total volume approach increases exposure to the same stimulus. You’re going to get better at doing pull-ups because you’re continually practicing pull-ups. It’s also the basis of the Race to 100 Reps Challenge.
Training for max reps with your body weight is a great complement to the first two strategies. The relative strength you’ve gained from the increase in your one-rep max provides those extra few reps, and the total volume work improves your pull-up skill to keep your form tight, keeping your hands on the bar for longer so you can improve your lactic tolerance.
Use all three approaches on separate days. Be sure to cycle your grips.

Pulling it all Together

The value of a pull-up has long been established, and now you have five new ways to test your mettle against a tenured staple of upper-body strength. Not only will you learn about yourself in the process, but become a pull-up challenge pro and you’ll see fuller lats, improved grip strength, and have a battle tested upper-back. Try these bad boys out and shoot me your results in the LiveSpill.

Programs For the Pull-up Deficient



You can’t really consider yourself fit if you suck at pull-ups. That’s just the way it is.
Think of the fittest, baddest looking sumbitches at your gym: do they bang out sets of 10 or more lat-stretching pull-ups, often with a couple chalk-dusted plates chained to their waist? Or do they struggle to perform even just one anemic rep before sulking over to the assisted chin machine?
I suspect that if it’s the latter, your opinion of their overall badassery would quickly diminish.
Those of you that suck at pull-ups today have likely sucked since birth, and can likely recall the humiliation you experienced during pull-up day in gym class, when all you could do was hang from the bar and twitch spastically for a few awkward seconds before falling to the floor in a shameful, tear-stained heap.
To alleviate that problem for future generations, most schools have since removed the pull-up from their Physical Education programs, replacing it with the flexed-arm hang, plank variations, or calculator races — or simply removed PE class altogether.
Thank God they ditched the pull-up. It’s important that we teach the leaders of tomorrow that when presented with a seemingly insurmountable challenge, you need only to cry to your parents about how unfair life is, so said challenge can be reduced, removed, or replaced with something else that doesn’t have callous-building potential.
Besides, it’s not like anyone will ever need to pull him or herself up in real life, right?
End that rant.

The 800-Pound Gorilla With A Fanny Pack

Before I get to the meat of this article, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the 800-pound gorilla in the room (no, not your mother-in-law) — a HUGE component to any pull-up challenge is total bodyweight.
Regardless if you’re 300 pounds of donuts and Kashi or 300 pounds of striated muscle, all that extra weight is going to make performing the pull-up more challenging.
Obviously, dropping body fat never fails to drive pull-up numbers sharply — so if your V-shape looks more like a big ‘O’ and you want to bang out pull-ups like a seasoned Marine, it would be a wise move to first drop some chunk. I doubt few lifters would argue with that statement.
But it’s the other side of the bodyweight argument that really ticks me off. If I have to hear that weak sauce cop-out, “It’s because I’m so big and muscular that I can’t do pull-ups to save my life,” I might just blow a gasket. You’re pissing on my leg and trying to convince me it’s raining. It’s not working.
Check out the video on the right of Konstantinovs, a powerlifter, doing about 55 pull-ups with fairly decent form — at a bodyweight of nearly 275-pounds.
Despite being a freak, Konstantinovs is definitely not alone. I can think of dozens of big, jacked guys that can bang out pull ups with abandon, as well as dudes in the 180-220 pound range that can kill it with an extra 50-100 pounds strapped to their waist.
So your excuse, big guy, is no excuse at all.

No Pull Ups? Other Issues

When you can’t do any pull-ups at all, you likely have more issues than Windows ME but fear not, we can still make progress.
The first problem area is strength, or lack thereof. You don’t have the necessary strength to pull your own bodyweight up, so it’s obvious that you need to get stronger.
The primary muscles working in the pull-up are the lats, biceps, and rear deltoids, with numerous synergists including the forearm flexors, elbow flexors, rhomboids, teres major, external rotators, and trapezius; even the core and legs, to a lesser degree.
Of course, one of the best ways to strengthen these muscles is to do pull-ups, but obviously that isn’t one of your options. Other exercises we’ll be focusing on are 45-degree bent over rows, dumbbell rows, lat pulldowns, and then some specific pull-up related exercises.
I like the lat pulldown as a gauge of pull-up strength potential. The general guideline I use is if you can lat pulldown 75% of your bodyweight or more for 1 rep, then you’re close to being able to do one real pull-up.

Pull Up Technique

As with all lifts that involve some skill, the technique on a pull-up is important. (For a demo of a strict pull-up, see the video on the right.)
Most people know the basics, but the key to mastering pull-ups (or just to stop sucking at them) is to learn how to kip properly.
A kip is when you use some other muscles and momentum to perform the pull-up. I can picture the CrossFit-phobes snorting into their protein shakes when I mention the kip, but first you have to realize that there are two types of kips: conditioning kips and controlled kips.
Conditioning kips are when all you care about is getting the chin up over the bar at all costs — and to accomplish this you use every ounce of lower body momentum at your disposal. That’s definitely not what I’m talking about.
A controlled kip is a relatively subtle movement that involves some power generation in the legs and hips, where that power is then transferred to the upper body.
Make no mistake, it definitely makes the exercise easier, but if you can’t do any strict pull-ups at all (or hardly any), it’s best to use the controlled kipping variety, at least for the time being.
In a few months you’ll be able to perform strict, clean pull-ups thanks to the strength built from performing controlled kip pull-ups.

What’s A Good Kip?

A good kip is a little hard to explain (see video on right) and when you’re first learning the technique it’ll feel a bit exaggerated. Once you get more proficient, your kip will become more subtle.
When I’m ready to do pull-ups, I usually bend my knees a bit, cross one leg over the other, and then go.
The first part of the kip is a slight raise of the legs (hip flexion). The knees shouldabsolutely not go higher than the hips and in many cases they just move up 10-20 degrees; but when you’re learning you’ll lift the legs up higher than that.
 The movement needs to lead into a near-instant transition into a hip thrust, where you try to use some of your biggest muscles in your body (glutes and upper hams) to do some hip and trunk extension. It’s a little like the pull in a hang clean; the hips thrust forward and that propels the upper body upward.
Again, when learning it feels more exaggerated, becoming subtler as experience and power increase.
The chest should be up as you pull yourself up to the bar. I think of trying to pull my upper chest to the bar — your chest may not literally hit the bar, but thinking “chest up” can help with form.
Often when people think “chin above the bar,” they round forward and protract at the end to jut their chin forward, which is not the position we’re looking for. You want to keep the chest high and tall, with the shoulders down and back. In looking at the trunk (not the arms), the finish position of a pull-up is actually similar to the finish position of a heavy curl or deadlift.
 When you perform a kip right, the exercise will feel a bit easier, and that’s what we’re after. Don’t worry about “squeezing the lats” or anything; they’ll get enough stimulation from the exercise itself. Our goal is performance, not size.
So when you do it right and feel yourself shoot up to the bar, try to remember that and duplicate it every rep.

The Exercises

 Using a pronated grip, start with the arms extended and pull yourself up so your chin is above the bar.
Compared to the chin-up, pull-ups place more emphasis on the rear delts, mid back, brachialis, and brachioradialis. It’s generally considered harder than a chin-up.
 Using a supinated grip, start with the arms extended and pull yourself up so your chin is above the bar.
Compared to the pull-up, chin-ups place more emphasis on the lats and the biceps. It’s generally considered easier than the pull-up.
 Get your chin above the bar and hold that position for a set time. The grip is normally supinated but can be pronated.
 Get your chin above the bar and then lower yourself back down until your arms are straight, attempting to keep control of your body at all times. Generally, negatives are 6-10 seconds in length.
 Perform a pull-up, but start off with a jump; this makes it easier and generates more momentum. Return to the ground and jump at the beginning of each rep. When done repeatedly this can create a significant conditioning effect.
 As previously described this involves using some momentum to do a pull-up. This is in contrast with a strict pull-up (legs immobile, full stop at the bottom, full range of motion).
 Get your chin above the bar and then lower yourself down as low as you can without losing the ability to come back up. In short, anything less than full range of motion is a partial, and the shorter the range of motion, the easier it is.
Loop a band around the pull-up bar and place the other end around your foot or knee. The band will help you pull up to the bar, thus making the lift easier. Bands provide more help at the bottom than at the top, and if placed around the foot provide more help than if placed at the knee. Using a mini, light, or average band is most common (or a combo of the above). This is an ideal substitute to the partner-assisted pull-up if you don’t have a partner.
 Cross your legs and have your partner hold your feet pressed up against his upper thigh. He’s not lifting you, he’s keeping his hands stable. You press against him (perform a leg extension) to push yourself up; thus you can regulate how much help you need. The more tired you are, the more you push.
A method of progression is to just hold one leg instead of both. Your partner doesn’t need to be very strong to do this unless you’re very heavy.
This is one of the best ways to learn how to do a pull-up.
Please note that the assisted pull-up machine (where you stand on a platform and pull yourself up) is near useless for learning how to do pull-ups, so do NOT perform that exercise.

The Programs

Before I present you with a few strategies to get you on the road to pull-up success, we first need to determine what category of pull-up suckery best describes you:


To be fair, you probably don’t suck at pull-ups if you can do more than 5 with good form — and if you’re a female, that’s actually pretty good — but you can still get better.


Category #1: The “I really, really suck” program

 Zero Pull-ups
 2 times a week, spread out by 2-3 days each
Day 1

Day 2

Optional

 Do a 5-second negative, 1 jumping pull-up OR a 10-second flexed-arm hang as frequently as you wish.
 Train biceps 1-2 x week, often at the end of this program. Go moderately heavy.
 Forearms can be trained if grip is an issue.

Progression

 When you can perform your heavy set on the assistance exercises, increase all weights per set by 5 lbs.
 For the negatives, work on being in control throughout the ROM and not just at the top.
 For the flexed arm hang, increase by 5 seconds when you can (usually about every 2-3 weeks).
 Test yourself every 4 weeks to see if you can do a strict pull-up yet. It’s okay to jump up and start at the top (don’t count that one), lower yourself down and then try to come back up. Be sure to go at least ¾ of the way down for it to count as one rep.


Category # 2: The “I kind of suck” program

 1-4 pull-ups
 2 times a week, spread out by 2 days of rest minimum.
Day 1

Day 2

Optional

 Do a 10-second negative, 1 kipping pull-up, OR a 15-second flexed-arm hang as frequently as you wish.
 Train biceps 1-2 x week, after your pull-up program. Go moderately heavy.
 Forearms can be trained as well if grip is an issue.

Notes

 On day 1, use jumping pull-ups once you can’t do any more pull-ups yourself (i.e., do 2 regular pull-ups with the negative and then do 2 more jumping pull-ups with the negative to get the 4 reps required).
 When the weight goes up, the reps go down. For example, a male doing the bent-over row might look like 95×10, 115×8, 135×6, 85×15.

Progression

 Each week add 1 rep to two of the pull-ups with negatives sets.
 Each week add 5 seconds to two of the flexed-arm hang sets.
 Every other week you can do all sets/reps on the assistance exercises, increase weight by the smallest increment possible and repeat.


Category # 3: The “I sorta suck” program

 5+ pull-ups
 3 times a week with one day of rest in between each day
Day 1

Day 2 (Hard Day)

Day 3

Notes

 You MUST learn to kip properly and that must be practiced on every rep.
 Movement can consist of regular pull-ups or chin-ups.
 Increase weight by about 10-20 lbs each set on the bent over row.
 Increase weight by 5-10 lbs each set on the DB row.

Progression

 Every third week add 1 rep to all non-weighted pull-up sets.
 Every other week add 5-10 lbs to the assistance exercises and repeat.
 Every other week add 2.5-5 lbs to the weighted pull-up.
No matter what degree of “suckitude” you currently fall in, this program has what you need to get your chubby chin over the bar. Once you can move into the next category (i.e., you go from doing 2 pull-ups to 6), you can then begin following the prescribed training protocol for that new strength level you’ve achieved.
In two to three months, you should see a significant difference in your pull-up strength, not to mention your back and upper arm musculature.
Granted, it may not erase all those painful memories of crying in the corner of the school gym, but at least you’ll sleep soundly knowing that the dreaded “you suck” stigma is a thing of the past.

To start building a strong back, a pull up bar is all you need.

To start building a strong back, a pull up bar is all you need.

In this classic shot, Franco Columbu shows correct end-position of the
    pull up.

In this classic shot, Franco Columbu shows correct end-position of the pull up.

Bent over barbell row

Bent over barbell row

We know, you've got too much muscle to perform pull-ups. It's
    okay, we believe you.

We know, you’ve got too much muscle to perform pull-ups. It’s okay, we believe you.

© 1998 — 2010 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Wikio

Pull-Up Strength: The Missing Link



by Domenic Micheli

This isn’t skinny twig fitness. We couldn’t care less about the 120-pound and proud of it guy who can bust out dozens of pull-ups with no problem. But give us a guy with muscle who can’t do more than a handful of pull-ups and, well, we start to get worried.

One of the most impressive displays of strength-to-bodyweight—not to mention one of the best ways to add muscle to your upper body—is the pull-up. (If you don’t find it impressive, think about it for a minute: you’re using your upper body to pull your entire body up your entire arm length. I mean, holy shit.)

Thing is, unless you’re one of the guys who can jump up to the bar and bang out 12 good ones right now, it’s safe to bet that one of the biggest muscles in your body is probably one of the weakest, too. And that’s never a good thing.

It’s time to fix that.

— Nate Green

Pick Your Poison

Do a pull-up every time you walk by the bar. Do 50 sets of one, 25 sets of two reps, or don’t stop until you get 100 reps. Eccentric pull-ups or band-assisted. The list goes on.

For most guys, these methods don’t work because none address the reason why your pull-up sucks. This article does.

Why Your Pull-up Sucks

Everyone knows that men, as a whole, are stronger than women. Men have more muscle, better strength-to-bodyweight ratio (most times), and more Testosterone. But looking closely at why women can’t do certain things can give you insight into why men can’t do things as well as they should be able to. (Insert inappropriate sexist joke here.)

Take an average in-shape woman (but not a star athlete), put her on the bar, and watch her try to do a pull-up from a dead hang. Often, she won’t be able to move. Like, at all. Now if you help this same woman up through the first third of the exercise, she’ll suddenly gain a tremendous amount of strength and often be able to perform a few reps on her own, as long as she doesn’t drop down into a dead hang.

How does this relate to a man?

Most men suffer from the exact same lack of pull-up strength as women, the difference being most men have enough muscle mass to call upon—be it biceps, brachialis, brachioradialis, long head of the triceps, or teres major—that he will get up there. It’ll just look ugly as shit. (You’ll also notice most men avoiding dropping into a dead hang, because they know they’re extremely weak there.)

Herein lies the problem of all the pull-up methods I listed earlier.

All the aforementioned muscles—like the biceps and teres major— are going to be strengthened doing 50 sets of one rep, or eccentric pull-ups, or whatever method you choose. But there’s one muscle that not only won’t be getting stronger. In fact, it’ll be getting weaker because your body will be practicing not using it: the lats.

“But I Can Feel My Lats Working!”

Think what you like. But if you can’t bang out one pull-up where your upper chest easily flies up and smashes into the bar while your shoulders stay down and back, your lats—especially your upper lats—aren’t working nearly enough. And they probably aren’t working at all initially.

Liken it to chest training from a bodybuilding standpoint. As you press up out of the hole on a dumbbell press, you first feel your outer chest, and then the emphasis shifts as you press up further.

Pulling exercises are the same. When you initiate a vertical pull, for instance, you’re going to pull through the uppermost portion of the lat, which can be found in your armpit when your arm is overhead. And if you don’t get your upper lat from the very beginning of the motion, you won’t ever get it.

A major problem is that the uppermost portion of the lat is so weak that doing full pull-ups, band pull-ups, negatives, or even assisted pull-ups on the lightest setting is going to be way too heavy. It’s like trying to build glute function by doing hip thrusts with 315 before you do hip thrusts with bodyweight.

That’s why I like lat pull-downs for activating and strengthening the upper lats. (But not the kind you’re used to.) Yep, you read that right; I’m ditching pull-ups for a machine. But only for a while.

Over at the Pull-Down Machine

Most guys will go right to 170 pounds or something semi-heavy right away. (That’s why most guys in my gym get beaten with the bar.) We just established that your lats are not working because your pull-ups suck. How is doing the same weight you’ve been doing going to fix anything? (Hint: it’s not.)

You’re gonna have to face facts. The muscle with the most potential to be the strongest muscle in your body—your lats—is extremely weak right now, especially the upper portion. That’s why you have to go light enough that your lats can actually begin to work.

Admittedly, this method is a bit of a bitch; it takes concentration, discipline, and throwing your ego to the side for at least one month. But you’ll come back to the bar much stronger and finally able to engage your lats.

The How To
The typical female pull-up. Okay, not so typical. This girl can bury    you, but you get the idea.
The problem with the lat pull-down is that you have to concentrate very hard to get the lat to work from the start.

To do it, set up on the lat pull-down with a third of the weight you normally use. (If you’re a 170-pound puller, you should start with roughly 60 pounds.) Grab the bar and let yourself dead hang while seated. Focus on squeezing your upper lat (it’s in the armpit when your arms are overhead) before you do anything else.

Once you’ve squeezed the upper lat, pull your shoulders all the way down (without bending your elbow) and begin to pull the bar down using your lats. Go slow and do it smoothly. Make sure your forearm angle stays in line with the cable as the bar passes your chin, and pull the bar down to your collarbone.

The first few sets will be the worst, but by the fifth or sixth set you should really start to feel yourself pulling through the lat. I like doing eight reps since it’s enough to get several cracks at the motion, but not so much that you’re fatigued before you get to the next set.

A Few Specific Tips

• Be sure to use a weight light enough that your lat can work, but heavy enough that you feel it working. If you use a weight that’s too light, your body will have a very hard time recruiting more muscle mass than it needs. If you go too heavy, you’ll just engage all the wrong muscles.

• Remember that when your arms are overhead the upper lat will be in your armpit. (The lat basically wraps around to the front side of the body.) You want to focus on pulling from your armpit at the beginning of the movement to activate the upper lats.

The Transition

As each week of this first month goes by, you should feel yourself getting stronger and better able to perceive yourself pulling through your lats. If you’re especially in tune with your body, you’ll feel your lats thicken up, too.

By the end of the month, it’s unlikely that you’ll be completely ready to ditch pull-downs for pull-ups, but you should start incorporating some pull-ups into your workout. (You should still take one day of the week to continue to work on the lat pull-down. Think of it as lat activation.)

Start with one or two pull-ups at a time. The only caveat: they have to come smoothly and relatively effortlessly. That’s how you know they’re viable lat-developing pull-ups.

Over time you’ll be able to get higher and higher with greater ease, and eventually be able to ditch the lat pull-downs and move into straight sets of pull-ups. You may even be able to transition into muscle ups, which require incredibly explosive lat strength. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Bottom line: get your lats engaged, do more pull-ups, and start building more muscle.

A former bench-riding Juco basketball player, Domenic Micheli now lives and works as a personal trainer in Nashville, TN and holds a BS in Exercise Physiology from Umass-Boston.

The typical female pull-up. Okay, not so typical. This girl can bury you, but you get the idea.

I…can’t…even…do…one!

When performed correctly, a lat pull-down can help build the upper lat, which is usually inactive.

The final product. Kickin’ it old school.
The final product. Kickin' it old school.

© 1998 — 2010 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Wikio

Pull-Up Strength: The Missing Link


Pick Your Poison

Do a pull-up every time you walk by the bar. Do 50 sets of one, 25 sets of two reps, or don’t stop until you get 100 reps. Eccentric pull-ups or band-assisted. The list goes on.
For most guys, these methods don’t work because none address the reason why your pull-up sucks. This article does.

Why Your Pull-up Sucks

Everyone knows that men, as a whole, are stronger than women. Men have more muscle, better strength-to-bodyweight ratio (most times), and more Testosterone. But looking closely at why women can’t do certain things can give you insight into why men can’t do things as well as they should be able to. (Insert inappropriate sexist joke here.)

Take an average in-shape woman (but not a star athlete), put her on the bar, and watch her try to do a pull-up from a dead hang. Often, she won’t be able to move. Like, at all. Now if you help this same woman up through the first third of the exercise, she’ll suddenly gain a tremendous amount of strength and often be able to perform a few reps on her own, as long as she doesn’t drop down into a dead hang.

How does this relate to a man?
Most men suffer from the exact same lack of pull-up strength as women, the difference being most men have enough muscle mass to call upon—be it biceps, brachialis, brachioradialis, long head of the triceps, or teres major—that he will get up there. It’ll just look ugly as shit. (You’ll also notice most men avoiding dropping into a dead hang, because they know they’re extremely weak there.)
Herein lies the problem of all the pull-up methods I listed earlier.
All the aforementioned muscles—like the biceps and teres major— are going to be strengthened doing 50 sets of one rep, or eccentric pull-ups, or whatever method you choose. But there’s one muscle that not only won’t be getting stronger. In fact, it’ll be getting weaker because your body will be practicing not using it: the lats.

“But I Can Feel My Lats Working!”

Think what you like. But if you can’t bang out one pull-up where your upper chest easily flies up and smashes into the bar while your shoulders stay down and back, your lats—especially your upper lats—aren’t working nearly enough. And they probably aren’t working at all initially.
Liken it to chest training from a bodybuilding standpoint. As you press up out of the hole on a dumbbell press, you first feel your outer chest, and then the emphasis shifts as you press up further.
Pulling exercises are the same. When you initiate a vertical pull, for instance, you’re going to pull through the uppermost portion of the lat, which can be found in your armpit when your arm is overhead. And if you don’t get your upper lat from the very beginning of the motion, you won’t ever get it.

A major problem is that the uppermost portion of the lat is so weak that doing full pull-ups, band pull-ups, negatives, or even assisted pull-ups on the lightest setting is going to be way too heavy. It’s like trying to build glute function by doing hip thrusts with 315 before you do hip thrusts with bodyweight.
That’s why I like lat pull-downs for activating and strengthening the upper lats. (But not the kind you’re used to.) Yep, you read that right; I’m ditching pull-ups for a machine. But only for a while.

Over at the Pull-Down Machine

Most guys will go right to 170 pounds or something semi-heavy right away. (That’s why most guys in my gym get beaten with the bar.) We just established that your lats are not working because your pull-ups suck. How is doing the same weight you’ve been doing going to fix anything? (Hint: it’s not.)
You’re gonna have to face facts. The muscle with the most potential to be the strongest muscle in your body—your lats—is extremely weak right now, especially the upper portion. That’s why you have to go light enough that your lats can actually begin to work.

Admittedly, this method is a bit of a bitch; it takes concentration, discipline, and throwing your ego to the side for at least one month. But you’ll come back to the bar much stronger and finally able to engage your lats.

The How To

The problem with the lat pull-down is that you have to concentrate very hard to get the lat to work from the start.

To do it, set up on the lat pull-down with a third of the weight you normally use. (If you’re a 170-pound puller, you should start with roughly 60 pounds.) Grab the bar and let yourself dead hang while seated. Focus on squeezing your upper lat (it’s in the armpit when your arms are overhead) before you do anything else.
Once you’ve squeezed the upper lat, pull your shoulders all the way down (without bending your elbow) and begin to pull the bar down using your lats. Go slow and do it smoothly. Make sure your forearm angle stays in line with the cable as the bar passes your chin, and pull the bar down to your collarbone.

The first few sets will be the worst, but by the fifth or sixth set you should really start to feel yourself pulling through the lat. I like doing eight reps since it’s enough to get several cracks at the motion, but not so much that you’re fatigued before you get to the next set.

A Few Specific Tips

• Be sure to use a weight light enough that your lat can work, but heavy enough that you feel it working. If you use a weight that’s too light, your body will have a very hard time recruiting more muscle mass than it needs. If you go too heavy, you’ll just engage all the wrong muscles.
• Remember that when your arms are overhead the upper lat will be in your armpit. (The lat basically wraps around to the front side of the body.) You want to focus on pulling from your armpit at the beginning of the movement to activate the upper lats.

The Transition

As each week of this first month goes by, you should feel yourself getting stronger and better able to perceive yourself pulling through your lats. If you’re especially in tune with your body, you’ll feel your lats thicken up, too.
By the end of the month, it’s unlikely that you’ll be completely ready to ditch pull-downs for pull-ups, but you should start incorporating some pull-ups into your workout. (You should still take one day of the week to continue to work on the lat pull-down. Think of it as lat activation.)
Start with one or two pull-ups at a time. The only caveat: they have to come smoothly and relatively effortlessly. That’s how you know they’re viable lat-developing pull-ups.
Over time you’ll be able to get higher and higher with greater ease, and eventually be able to ditch the lat pull-downs and move into straight sets of pull-ups. You may even be able to transition into muscle ups, which require incredibly explosive lat strength. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Bottom line: get your lats engaged, do more pull-ups, and start building more muscle.

The typical female pull-up. Okay, not so typical. This girl can bury    you, but you get the idea.

The typical female pull-up. Okay, not so typical. This girl can bury you, but you get the idea.

I...can't...even...do...one!

I…can’t…even…do…one!

When performed correctly, a lat pull-down can help build the upper lat,    which is usually inactive.

When performed correctly, a lat pull-down can help build the upper lat, which is usually inactive.

The final product. Kickin' it old school.

The final product. Kickin’ it old school.

© 1998 — 2010 Testosterone, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
PUBLISHED 05-10-10 08:00
Discuss | Rate | Print Version

Wikio

HFT 2.0: How to Add Muscle or Hit 20 Pull-ups


Back in 2005 I wrote my first article on High Frequency Training (HFT), a system of training a muscle group or exercise more than four times per week, and it created quite a buzz in the industry.
I think the concept of HFT struck a chord with lifters and word spread quickly for three reasons.
First, intuitively it makes sense that training more often will yield faster results, provided your central nervous system (CNS) can recover. Second, most guys want to do more than they’re currently doing. Give them the thumbs up to train calves or biceps five times per week and they’re as giddy as Kirstie Alley in a doughnut shop.
Third, and most importantly, HFT works!
I’d already spent four years experimenting with HFT when I wrote that article, and since then I’ve written many more on the topic. I keep adding to my body of work because I’m constantly tweaking my original HFT parameters as I work with more people at various levels of the fitness spectrum.
Some guys want to add more muscle; others want to finally be able to knock out 20 pull-ups, while other guys want to improve local recovery. Different goals require a different approach.
So now it’s time for my latest, most effective and user-friendly version of HFT that will add new muscle wherever you want it.

A Brief History

I started experimenting with HFT in 2001 after experiencing an awakening while watching the Alexis Brothers break every sacred fitness principle in Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere.
What they were doing, especially with regard to training frequency and recovery, shouldn’t have been possible — with or without steroids.  And man do those dudes have incredible physiques, replete with muscle that’s as strong as it looks! Just one of their performances would hurl most of us into rhabdomyolysis. But these guys perform 10 shows per week! Indeed, they’re the embodiment of HFT.
Why does HFT work? It’s based on a very straightforward concept: some muscles need a lot of volume to grow; significantly more than what you’re currently exposing them to. But there’s a limit to how much volume you can stuff into one workout, or even one day.
Therefore, you must step back and look for ways to increase your weekly volume. Boxing for 60 minutes once each week won’t give you great deltoids, but boxing for 30 minutes six times per week definitely will.  Arnold turned his pathetic calves into one of his best body parts when he started training them six times per week.
I can give dozens and dozens of other real-world examples and you probably can, too. The bottom line is that HFT should be a component of your hypertrophy program. It’s not a stand-alone principle, but it’s an important spoke in the wheel. When you get it right, HFT stands tall as one of the best ways to build new muscle fast.
HFT is also based on another principle: increasing the volume of an exercise in a systematic way will make your muscles grow. With the HFT parameters in this article you’ll increase your training volume each week because you’ll be able to perform more reps of a particular exercise by upregulating neurological and muscular processes.
Importantly, the progression you’ll experience isn’t linear. You won’t add reps with every workout. There will be some stock-market like fluctuations. And just like the stock market, all that matters is you finish significantly higher than you started.
I don’t stake any claim in creating the simple concept of training more often to build muscle. Arnold figured it out, and many other lifters probably did long before him. But HFT has been altered, modified, and sometimes watered-down to the point where it’s no longer anything more than just training an exercise a bunch of times per week in hopes that something magical will happen.
I know how Dr. Tabata must feel when he sees a YouTube video of droll fitness folk doing shoulder presses for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest labeled as the “Tabata Method.”
Over the years I’ve seen numerous adaptations of HFT protocols. Some make sense; others miss the target completely because of a fundamental misunderstanding of the principles it takes to get the right ratios of volume, intensity, and recovery.
The appeal of HFT is huge, so it’s easy to think that it’ll work equally well for building strength, adding muscle, burning fat or increasing your speed. Therefore, it’s important to know what new principles I’ve learned since my last article. With this new information you’ll learn how and when you should use HFT, and when you shouldn’t use it.
So let’s get started.

3 Goals that Align with HFT

Now, let’s start with the goods. HFT is ideal for the following three goals.

Goal #1 — Add more reps to body weight exercises

Fitness buffs want to be able to crank out 20 body weight pull-ups, yet most of them can’t. The same is true with 100 push-ups or 20 single leg squats. If you’re weaker, your goal might be to achieve 20 full range-of-motion dips for the first time. Basically, I’m talking about adding reps to any exercise that only requires your body weight for resistance. If you currently fall short of your rep goal, this info is for you.
There are typically two schools of thought when it comes to boosting your reps with a body weight exercise. I’ll use the pull-up for the sake of this discussion. The first school looks at the muscle groups involved in the pull-up and sets up a workout of exercises that target each muscle group.
Since a pull-up challenges the forearms, biceps, deltoids, lats, rhomboids, lower/mid traps, and core, you’ll need a few sets of each exercise for those seven muscle groups. So you’re looking at 14-21 sets of isolation exercises on top of everything else you’re doing in the workout. That’s fine if you don’t have a job and your recovery and nutrition are stellar. However, even if you do have those luxuries, it’s still not ideal. Why?
From a neurological perspective it’s wise to make the muscles contract in a way that’s specific to the exercise. The pull-up, or any other movement, requires a precise firing combination during different phases of the movement. This is called a motor pattern.
The lats aren’t always maximally involved throughout a pull-up. Neither are the biceps or rhomboids since they fire at different rates at different joint angles. A straight-arm lat pulldown is a good exercise but it doesn’t challenge the lats exactly like a pull-up does. This, by the way, is why leg curls have little to no impact on boosting your sprinting performance.
But don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. When the goal is maximal strength or hypertrophy with strength, you must do exercises that strengthen key muscle groups.
The glute-ham raise is great for boosting your squat, and the lying triceps extension is effective for increasing your bench press. However, when the goal is to increase the number of reps with a specific exercise, it’s imperative to develop the nervous system with practice –- perfect practice.
Getting big and strong for the sake of being big and strong isn’t the same as achieving 20 pull-ups for the first time.
The second school of thought relies on the law of repetition, which states that practicing an exercise more often will boost your performance. It does so faster than isolation exercises because you’re training the motor pattern, not just the muscles.
Each time you repeat the motor pattern it makes that neurological blueprint stronger as a result of feedback and feed-forward mechanisms. This is why it’s essential to always do each rep with perfect form. Only perfect reps enhance the motor pattern, and that’s key to elevating your reps. Even a slight shift in technique (swinging or kicking your legs) will not enhance the ideal motor pattern as effectively as doing it with perfect form.
This brings me to an important part of boosting your reps with any body weight exercise: you must be able to perform at least six perfect reps right from the start.
I frequently hear statements such as, “I can only do two pull-ups so I’m using your HFT plan to increase them.” It won’t work. You’ll end up doing crappy reps that will, in turn, enhance the wrong motor pattern.
Here are the parameters for adding reps to a body weight exercise. Again, you must be able to perform at least six perfect reps for HFT to work.
 perform two sets of as many reps as possible five days per week on a 3 on/1 off and 2 on/1 off cycle for four weeks. Here’s how the weekly plan looks if you start on Monday.
 2 sets of as many reps as possible
 off
 2 sets of as many reps as possible
 Off
 perform one set of as many reps as possible six days per week on a 6 on/1 off cycle for four weeks. It’ll look like this:
 1 set of as many reps as possible
 Off
At the end of four weeks take 3-4 full days off from the exercise and retest your maximum rep performance. It’s common to double your reps in one month.
Why the discrepancy between methods? It’s about intensity and recovery. The closer you are to your one-repetition maximum (1RM), the more recovery you’ll need due to CNS fatigue.
That’s why you need two days off per week if your starting point is closer to your 1RM. If you can only do six pull-ups it’s obviously much more taxing on your CNS than a body weight exercise you can do for 25 reps.
Being farther from your 1RM allows you to train more frequently without overtraining. If you can do 60 push-ups, and your goal is 100, you could easily do one set every day for three weeks straight and probably add a rep each day. This is not the case with exercises that put more stress on your CNS. Those exercises require more recovery, hence an extra day of rest each week.
What about lifting speed? When the goal is endurance, you don’t need to worry about it. You can’t add endurance to high-threshold motor units so there’s no need to tap into them. Lift with a moderate tempo and crank out as many reps as possible.

Goal # 2 — Add mass to a specific body part

Most of the people who add HFT into their program are looking to add size to a specific muscle group – calves, biceps, forearms, etc. It works awesome, if you do it at the right time.
When should you add HFT to your program? When you’re on a muscle-gaining nutrition cycle. In other words, you must be getting plenty of calories and sleep. HFT and the Velocity Diet don’t mix.
You’ll need to add 250 extra calories per day when you incorporate a HFT exercise into your current routine. This is on top of the extra calories you should already be feeding your body on a muscle-gaining diet.
Where the calories come from aren’t as important as the fact that you’re getting them. Importantly, you only need those extra calories on the days you’re adding the HFT exercise into your routine. This is a simple way to take advantage of calorie cycling, an excellent nutritional strategy for building muscle while staying lean.
So let’s say you’re doing three full-body workouts per week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For muscle growth you need more volume than you used for simply adding reps to an exercise. You’ll take the parameters that I mentioned above and add one set so it looks like the protocol below.
: perform three sets of as many reps as possible five days per week on a 3 on/1 off and 2 on/1 off cycle for four weeks. Here’s how the weekly plan looks if you start on Monday.
 3 sets of as many reps as possible
 off
 3 sets of as many reps as possible
 Off
 perform two sets of as many reps as possible six days per week on a 6 on/1 off cycle for four weeks. It looks like this:
 2 sets of as many reps as possible
 off
At the end of four weeks take 5 full days off from the exercise and take measurements.
Now, let’s say you want a bigger chest so you choose push-ups as the HFT exercise. You can currently do 22 reps. Perform two sets of as many reps as possible on Monday-Saturday, in addition to your full-body workouts on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
On the days that you’re performing your regular workout, put the push-ups at the beginning of the workout to take advantage of the pre- and post-workout nutrition that should be a part of your nutrition plan. Rest a couple of minutes between each set of push-ups to ensure that you’re getting complete recovery.
I know what you’re thinking, “Can I do this HFT method for more than one exercise?” You can if it’s an exercise that doesn’t work any of the same muscles, and it mustn’t be taxing on the CNS.
In other words, you should be able to do at least 10 reps of the second body weight exercise, or use a weight that allows 10 reps of a single-joint exercise, right from the start. A perfect addition would be calf raises with just your body weight, or biceps curls with a 10RM.
Combining pull-ups with dips is tough to pull off, but many guys do it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, but be certain your nutrition and recovery are spot on for the month.
Here’s a simple principle to remember: the easier an exercise is on your CNS, the better your chances of success when doing HFT for more than one exercise. If you choose three exercises they must all be single joint, such as a lateral raise, biceps curl and standing calf raise. For multi-joint exercises such as pull-ups and dips, two exercises are the limit.
For hypertrophy it’s imperative to perform each rep as explosively as possible in order to recruit all your muscle fibers.

Final Words

Now you know how to add reps or muscle to a woefully inadequate body part. In the next installment you’ll learn the 3rd Goal, the times when it’s not appropriate, plus a program to add muscle to the most notoriously stubborn muscle group: the calves.

The Alexis Brothers gave birth to an idea.

B and white chinGetting her mind right for dips.

Getting her mind right for dips.

What was once pathetic grew through high frequency training.

What was once pathetic grew through high frequency training.

guy doing pull upsGirls doing pull upsGuy doing push ups

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Increase Your Pull-ups in Record Time

March 15th, 2010 by Chad Waterbury

Of all the upper body exercises that you can choose from, the pull-up ranks at the top of the list. That’s because it builds strength and size in your upper back, arms, and gripping muscles. Specifically, I’m referring to the lats, rhomboids, mid/lower traps, rear deltoids, biceps, and forearms. You’d be hard-pressed to find another single upper body exercise that does so much good.
In fact, a true measure of physical prowess is the pull-up test. Put simply, the pull-up is the ultimate test of relative strength, a measure of how strong you are in relation to your body weight. My male clients need to be able to perform at least 20, while females should knock off somewhere between 8-10. Of course, more is better, but this is a good starting point.
So, how can you increase your pull-ups? There are generally two schools of thought. The first school pulls out a magnifying glass and breaks the pull-up into little bits and pieces: isolation exercises. For example, you’ll perform an exercise or two for the following body parts: forearms, biceps, rear delts, rhomboids, mid/low traps, and lats. This equates to 6-12 different exercises. Taken a step further, you would need to find time for dozens of extra sets in your current routine.
The other school says to just do the damn things. After all, the SAID principle states that your body will Specifically Adapt to the Imposed Demand. Force your body to do pull-ups on a frequent basis and you’ll be rewarded with more muscle and strength. You’ll enhance the neural connections between your nerves and muscles through the Law of Repetition.
I’m all for solutions that require the least investment of time with the greatest reward. Therefore, I adhere to the second methodology: more pull-ups will boost your pull-up performance without protracting your workouts.
The simple truth is that you don’t need to perform more than one set of maximum rep pull-ups, provided you do them every day. So let’s just say that each set lasts about a minute. If you do one set every day for four weeks, that equals 28 minutes of total time.
What should you expect? In my experience, you’ll double (or almost double) your current performance with this simple strategy. I know it sounds like marketing B.S. to tell you that you can virtually double your pull-ups with 28 minutes worth of work, but that’s exactly what this guy did.

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