How To Do Your First Pull Up
So there you were looking at the whiteboard checking out the workout for today. Two words stare right back at you: PULL UPS. Every time it comes up, you need to modify (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) to a ring row, machine assisted, or some banded variation. But enough is enough. You want to be able to pull your own body up so that your chin clears the bar. I hear you.
Enough is enough. I hear you.
First, let’s get the grip options out of the way. There’s the pronated grip (palms facing away), supinated grip (palms facing you), or neutral grip (palms facing each other). Pick one which you feel most comfortable with and work with it. The differences are in the synergy of the muscles that bend the elbow and the degree to which each of those muscles work to flex or stabilize the elbow. The bottom line is that the lats will be the primary mover of the pulling action regardless of grip.
Most often we see that failure in completing a pull up happens anywhere from half-way up through the top where your chin is over the bar. So how do we overcome these points of failure? Train with a purpose using eccentric and isometric muscle actions.
Train with a purpose using eccentric and isometric muscle actions.
Eccentric (Negative) Pull Ups
The case for doing negative pull ups is to get your body to recruit more motor units. However, the amount of stress is increased with eccentric muscle actions, so we’ll limit the volume of work here. Perform 2-3 sets of 4-6 repetitions, 1-2 times per week. Aim for 3-5 seconds to lower yourself on each rep. Start with the lower range of sets and repetitions to assess your tolerance to the work and gauge your soreness/recovery. Increase the number of sets as your capacity increases.
Start with the lower range of sets and repetitions to assess your tolerance to the work and gauge your soreness/recovery.
Isometric Pull Ups
I like to address pull up failure in three isometric positions:
Bar To Crown
Bottom/ Start Position
The least intuitive of these three positions is the bottom/start position, as many seem to hang without tension in the shoulders. As you hang in the bottom position, think about “sucking” the shoulders into the body and hold that position.
“Sucking” the shoulders into the body and hold position.
The goal here is to accumulate time in each position. Use a box or other assistance to get into position. Start with 2-3 sets of 10 seconds in each position, 2-3 times per week. If you are unable to complete your target time, get off the bar (stop counting – be honest with yourself!), take a deep breath or two, then get back on the bar and continue counting until you reach your target time. Increase time in each position as your capacity increases.
The goal here is to accumulate time in each position.
Muscles contract in three different ways and we often focus just on the part that gets the chin over the bar. Let’s use eccentrics and isometrics to bring in a more comprehensive approach on your path to the pull up. In Part 2, we’ll take a look into different pull up modifications and progressions.
Let’s use eccentrics and isometrics to bring in a more comprehensive approach on your path to the pull up.
As always, I hope this helps! If you have any questions or would like to read about certain topics, send us an email at TeamSP@SportsPerformancePT.com.
-Shane Adamos, MS, CSCS, CF-L1
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