Pull Ups Are Hard, most people can’t do pull ups, and people in the calisthenics community forget that, because for us lot, it is considered a basic exercise.
Ok, so low level is the wrong word, but it is an exercise you master at the start and then move on to more advanced variations quite quickly.
Use Your Thumbs
One thing a lot of people forget to do is use their thumbs when they are doing pull ups. I know I was guilty of this when I first got started.
Because I was training on scaffolding poles (that had been bolted to some trees) it meant I couldn’t use my thumbs, because of the thickness of the bar.
When you do pull ups, you want to be gripping the bar with your thumbs and not letting them sit on top of the bar next to your fingers.
The reason for this is that you are letting your thumbs relax, meaning that a big chunk to muscle in your forearms is not being activated - the one that enables that opposable digit to grip.
By using your thumbs to grip the bar, you are engaging more muscle, muscle that will help you hold onto the bar longer, muscle that will help your elbow to close up and pull you up to the bar.
So use your thumbs!
Improve Your Pulls With Isometrics & Negatives
When I started out, I couldn’t do a lot (if any) pull ups. So instead of just doing 1 or 3 reps each set, I would fill up the numbers with negatives and isometric holds.
Here’s is what I would do . . .
Start at the bottom, pull up to half way, pull through to the bar, drop to half way, lower to straight arm relax shoulders.
At each step I would pause for a second or two.
I could only do like 2 or 3 of these, so I would then finish up with negatives. Slow negatives. Slower than you think, and even slower again!
This is not a perfect set of pulls by any means, but you know what? It bloody worked!
Think of it like a drop set, star with the hardest and work your way down but I’d do this every day.
Pair Them With Dips
I see a lot of people doing pull ups, loads and loads of pull ups. But if you are only doing pull ups you are literally building an imbalance into your body.
You are only working your pull movement pattern.
So what I always recommend is that you pair them with dips, so you are always covering both sides of the coin (and your body!)
Do them as a Superset - that’s two exercises back to back
Do them as a Triset - that’s three exercises back to back to back
Check out the Foundation Triset for the full details on a complete upper body workout (In one set).
I’ve already shown you an example of this, with the drop set above, but that is just the tip of the iceberg for progressing to pull ups.
As soon as you get there, don’t settle for just plain old pull ups!
Instead try mixing in a few Simple Variations, things like basic grip changes that will help change the dynamic of the movement and focus on certain muscle groups within that pattern
The easiest way to do this is to do wide or close grip pulls (or chin ups). They are almost the same, but your hand position changes slightly and so your muscles get worked in slightly different ways.
Wide grip tends to be more Back focused, close grip tens to lean on the Biceps more.
And then your Neutral Pulls hit everything with more balance.
Hmm . . . that is 3 variations to get involved with as soon as you can do a few pulls
SO that means we have a Triset, (spoiler alert) with pulls dips and leg raises.
Then we have 3 variations of pulls . . .
So why not just do a different one each set?
Start with the hardest (that’s usually wide grip). Then the next time you do Close Grip to balance it out. Then last, you finish up with the regular pulls to round it all off nicely.
And that is an insight into my training philosophy 😉
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