Recently I was having an email back and forth with a Twitter follower about trying to improve her leg strength and endurance. Of course, she didn’t want to hear it. Instead she told me she wanted to do 20 pull-ups. Yeah, I guess those are pretty similar to each other. LoL <---- I refuse to be like everyone else; cuz I'm awesome like that.
Anyways, it got me thinking about it at least. Pull-ups/Chin-ups are like, the most amazing upper body movement there is. Yes, that's right. It's NOT the bench press or bicep curl, irregardless of what some of you may think. In fact, I guarantee that if you did more pull-ups, you'd see your bench press and curls improve immensely. But what do I know?
Speaking of amazing upper body movements. I’d even put overhead (OH) press above the bench press too. When you want to talk about joint health and “functional strength”, OH press and Pull-ups/Chins are far superior. Just keep that in mind. Not that it really has anything to do with this post, I just felt like you all needed that extra bit of knowledge.
So why do I have such a rager for pull-ups? The answer is thrice fold:
1) The male species is SO engrained in bench pressing, “our” posture is usually horrible.
2) When one muscle group becomes overdeveloped (your chest….from benching), your brain tells it to stop functioning because your brain is trying to protect your body from injury due to your idiotic programming. Therefore, you’re really not going to be able to progress much further until you balance yourself out. Your body knows more about you than you do. *cough* Biofeedback Training *cough*
3) Also, due to “our” love of benching, our shoulders are at greater risk of injury. An underdeveloped rear delt (the backside of your shoulder) creates an incredibly unstable joint. Read: joint instability = increase risk of injury.
4) In general, a chin-up/pull-up will recruit more muscle to perform the movement than a bench press.
5) If Dave Tate of EliteFTS says he takes 2 months out of the year to “rebalance” his body, that’s a good enough reason for me to do them as well.
So, how do you go about doing 20 pull-ups? With awesome programming and continual progress of course!
Keep in mind, this “program” would be performed on its own day, much like you would dedicate an entire workout to benching or squatting. It is easily incorporated into your existing program, but if you want to do 20 pull-ups, you better make it a priority. Ya hurrd meh?
Since regular pull-ups are the primary goal, you’re going to test them first. If they test well, do them! But what if regular pull-ups don’t test well? Test other movements that are extremely close to a pull-up. The ones I show you in the following video are wide-grip pull-up, chin-up, and towel pull-up. There’s a ton of other variations as well. Try whatever ones you want and pick the one that works best for you on that day.
FYI, I’m going to bold and italicize this next paragraph because it is the basis of biofeedback training and you will be referring to it often…
Biofeedback will tell you how many to do and when to stop. The trick is setting your ego aside, actually LISTENING to your body, and STOP when it tells you to stop. This is extremely easy with chins/pull-ups. As soon as you can’t perform a rep as fast as the previous one and with full ROM (Range Of Motion), STOP. Do as many sets as you can at full speed with full ROM until you know you can’t do more than one. If you’re just starting out, you might be doing sets of 1. That’s ok! You have to start somewhere, right?
What if you can already do sets of multiple reps. Ahhhh, you’re lucky! That means you actually test intensity vs. volume. How do you get intense about a pull-up? By adding external weight of course. So, rather than doing multiple sets of mulitple reps with just your bodyweight, you keep doing singles with increasing weight until you’re “told” to stop.
Alright, what’s next? In the spirit of keeping the body balanced, we’re going to do something opposite of vertical pulling. Any guesses what that’s gonna be? Yup, vertical pressing. (See, this sht isn’t rocket science, people. Just keep a few key principles in the back of your mind and connect the dots.) So anyways, what can we do for that? Well, there’s only so many ways you can do overhead pressing. There’s the standard barbell and dumbbell, alternating dumbbell, and then those same ones but with a neutral grip (palms facing in, towards each other). Luckily I know this dood that knows all about asymmetrical muscle imbalances and how to get rid of them. Watch this. TRY this. Test yourself to find out what kind of sets/reps you should be doing just as we did above for the main lift.
Up next is horizontal pulling. WTF is that?! Easy, child. Horizontal pulling is any pulling movement perpendicular to your torso. Think: bent over barbell row variations, dumbbell row variations, and inverted rows (with multiple grip variations). Personally, I find that inverted rows with different hand positions transfer the best, but as you will find out, they don’t always test the best so other “rowing” type movements should still transfer.
Do you do the same set/rep “scheme” as above? Yes and no. There’s no guarantee what your body is going to tell you, but sometimes just thinking about what you want to do will actually make you test better or worse…..SOMETIMES. In a perfect world, I’d want to do the opposite set/rep scheme that you did for your primary movement. So, if you ended up doing sets of heavy singles for chin-ups, ideally you’d want to do sets of multiple reps here (and vice versa). Again, listen to your body.
When I shot this video, I wasn’t yet doing biofeedback so I don’t have any tests of different variations, but here is a good example of pronated barbell inverted rows.
Are you done yet? Nope. When you go do a bench workout, do you only do 3 lifts and call it done? Hellz no. You probably do 4 more lifts with at least 3 sets of each. amiwrong? Don’t worry though, this is your last lift. I know I was bashing bicep curls before, but sometimes they really do have a purpose. I’m not going to spend a lot of time here because testing and choosing a curl variation as well as the set/rep scheme is just getting redundant. You do that the same way with different variations that you’ve done 3 times already for the other lifts.
So, in summary, if you’re going to focus solely on doing pull-ups, here’s your template:
Lift 1 – Vertical pulling
Lift 2 – Vertical pressing
Lift 3 – Horizontal pulling
Lift 4 – Curls for the girls
I would actually try doing this template 2 days per week. If you do, it will become VERY obvious that different lifts, sets, and reps will test differently from day to day. That’s the beauty of biofeedback, peoples.
Now, if you’re just going to incorporate these into your existing program, you would substitute the corresponding pressing/pulling variations accordingly. But if you only have one pulling movement in your entire program on a certain day:
1) Sad panda
2) In this order: test vertical pulling. If that doesn’t work, test horizontal pulling. If that doesn’t work, test vertical pressing. If that doesn’t work, find a large cliff and take a leap. KIDDING!!! Just go for a walk or drink some coffee or anything that “gets you in the mood” to lift. As Mike tells me, “state before skills”.
Gosh, that post was certainly long and meaty, just like I like my…..*SHUT YO MOUTH!!*