Get better at pull-ups without ever leaving the safety of the ground
Life is hard, pull-ups are harder.
I received a less than polite email from a reader that effectively said: "You suck! This free pull-up guide sucks! I can't even do one pull-up, and that's your fault!"
Cool. I have some family members that would love to start a Michael Sucks club with you.
So, in this article I'm going to lay out a plan for you to use to get that first pull-up. That plan involves 4 exercises and a way to implement the plan into your current training plan.
- RKC Plank
- Hollow Body Hold
More importantly though, the plan teaches three skills. Those skills are what this article is structured around.
Total Body Tension
Three of the exercises on this plan train total body tension, if you do them correctly. The RKC plank, hollow body holds, and hanging all rely on your keeping total tension in your body for the whole time you are performing the exercise.
I talked about this concept in This lifting cue has all the life advice you'd find in a Clint Eastwood movie when it comes to bar path for barbell based exercises. The same rules apply for your body when doing bodyweight exercises; the less extra movement you have in your body the better you'll be at a movement.
When it comes to pull-ups, it does feel like it's easier to perform a few reps when you are swinging wildly on the bar. I'm not talking about intentional kipping, I'm talking about just being loose and letting the momentum of your swinging body help you. This sensation is a lie though, don't listen to it.
Instead, learn how to properly hold tension in your body so that you are ONLY moving up and down during a pull-up. Loose legs cause energy bleed-off, a loose neck does the same, and is a cervical spine injury waiting to happen.
When you perform the exercises above you're teaching your body that you're in charge of the path of movement it takes and will not tolerate any extra movement for any reason.
Comfort on the bar
If you want to be able to do pull-ups you need to feel comfortable on the bar. So, yeah, I guess the ground-based pull-up guide is a lie. I'm okay with that. My primary goal is to get you doing pull-ups, not to be truthful to a title.
Marksmanship is probably the most salient example here. How good can you be at firing a weapon if it feels foreign to even hold it? The answer there is, not very good. The same holds true for pull-ups if you want to get a bunch of reps you need to know what to do when you get on the bar. Not only mentally, but you need to have the muscle memory to engage the proper total body tension as soon as you start hanging.
In order to put all three of these together, you need to do all three in unison.
Putting it all together
The original plan that got me in trouble with you guys. It's still great. I stand by it.
Now that you are training your essential pull-up skills, you just have to ensure one other variable is in place and then you'll be ready.
You need to pull: horizontal rows, vertical rows, lat pull downs, barbell rows, etc. Your training plan should include these types of pulling exercises to ensure your back is getting stronger. As long as that's happening you'll be golden once you start getting on the bar properly.
You're getting strong and you're training your pull-up form as you start to get better on the bar it's time to start swapping in some of the exercises that are in the double your max pull-up PR plan: eccentric pull-ups, horizontal rows where you start to elevate your feet, and most importantly scap pull-ups.
Scap pull-ups get you into the position you need to be in order to start pulling with your full back's potential. Swap these in first. In your first set of hanging perform a set of five scap pull-ups. After that point, just start swapping in more and more sets and reps.
I know it seems simple...because it actually is. You just need to train this stuff consistently. Not once a week either. Minimum is two times a week that you should be going through all these exercises with the intent that you're doing them to get better at pull-ups. The full circuit may take 15 minutes max. Do it like this:
- 2-3 sets of MAX hold RKC plank
- 2-3 sets of 75% of your max number of perfect push-ups
- 2-3 sets MAX hold hollow body hold
- 2-3 sets MAX hold hanging
Send your pull-ups gripes and concerns to email@example.com
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