How To Get Your First Pull Up
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How To Do Your First Pull Up
Growing up I was a heavier kid. I was the fattest of all my siblings. I always struggled to do pull-ups and was jealous of the kids who went into gym class, testing for the presidential fitness award, who just busted out pull-ups all day. In third grade I weighed 120 lbs and I struggled mightily to do pull-ups. I got to the point where I would hang on a tree branch outside my parents house and just flail. At the time, I didn’t know what specific muscles I was strengthening, but I knew I was working towards improving myself for a pull-up. Eventually, my dad told me to jump up and just slowly lower myself. By the time I reached middle school, I could finally do pull-ups.
Mechanics Of Doing A Pull Up
When in the hanging position and fully lengthened, our rhomboids, lats, and traps will be initiating the bottom position. We really need to think of retracting our scaps using the rhomboids, traps, and lats to get out of the bottom position.
As we exit the bottom position and enter the midrange to the top, we will be focusing on our biceps, lats, and rear delts to help us execute the entire pull-up.
The strength curve, meaning the hardest part of the movement and easiest part of the movement, helps us determine where we need to focus accessory work. The most challenging point of a pull-up is the bottom position. We need to think about rhomboids, lats, and traps to initiate that bottom position to get us moving into that midrange where the movement tends to be a little easier.
Seated Dumbbell External Rotation
I like to focus on strengthening the rhomboids here by pinching the shoulder blade back with the elbow just a little bit below the shoulder. Really focus on the rotator cuff and go through a slow eccentric before lifting the dumbbell back up fast.
The exercise will increase overall shoulder stability and increase athletes’ strength in their shoulders. This is a unilateral movement. Do four sets of eight to ten reps on each side working through this pull-up progression to target the bottom position on that strength curve.
Dumbbell Scap Row
A scap row can be performed on a bench. In the bottom position of a pull-up we want to retract our scaps and hug the spine with our shoulder blades. Laying the chest on the bench, shortening the range of motion in a row, all we have to do is squeeze the scaps and hug the spine. It is a lot harder than it looks. Try to not use the biceps at all.
The exercise is really hard on the flat bench. If the flat bench is too much, do the movement on an incline bench. Keep the arms straight, lengthen the muscles and then squeeze back and feel it right around the rhomboids and spine.
Do this for four sets of eight to ten reps.
Lengthened Strength Band Row
Using a PowerLastic band, get into a lengthened position as if overhead in a pull up. The feet are still on the ground.
Squeeze through the lats and rhomboids and then row the elbows to the obliques. We are now emulating the pull-up position. This movement will also open up the upper back and help with posture from sitting at a desk all day.
Do this movement for three sets of twelve reps.
I love using isolation movements to improve compound movements. A lot of people when they do pull-ups are weak in certain positions so we can attack those weak points with isolation movements.
We are now into the midrange and are going to talk about isolating the biceps. It has been our experience that many athletes can do a chin-up (we call them curl-ups) first, before they do pull-ups. The preacher curl is a great exercise. We want to let the bicep get long, squeeze the bicep, and pull the bar to the head.
The preacher curl transfers incredibly well to the chin-up/curl-up. Then as the chin-up/curl-up is executed, we can get even stronger and more likely to be able to do a pull-up.
Do four sets of eight to twelve reps with the preacher curl.
Dead Hang Reclining Row
We can always move our feet to make this movement easier or harder. From the dead hang we want to squeeze the scaps and then row. If it is too hard, move the feet back. If it is too easy, move the feet in and even consider putting the feet on a riser.
Do this for three sets of ten reps.
1 & ¼ Lat Pull With Band
The lat pull is not the best movement to help execute a pull-up, but with a band it makes the bottom position drastically harder (the position at the top of a pull-up where the sternum is squeezed to the bar) will transfer really well. Doing the movement with 1 and ¼ rep gives us a double squeeze in the lats.
The whole goal of this movement is to focus on the midrange to the finish, which tends to be the easiest part of the strength curve, but will light up the midrange to the finish of the pull-up.
On The Bar
The first step we are going to do is to jump up and do a slow eccentric. Ideally, when an athlete can take ten seconds to smoothly go through the whole range they should be capable of doing a pull-up. Negatives work. A scale for this is to use a band to assist with getting the chin over the bar and making the negative less intense.
Sticking with the bar, we have to understand that partial range of motion can transfer to full range of motion. That means that a short stroke pull-up can transfer over. Since the top position ends up being easier for some athletes we can then do the short stroke pull-ups into a slow eccentric. Again, we can use a band. Do a jumping pull-up into a slow eccentric, but this time try to get as much bounce out of the band in the bottom position to help with the hardest part of the strength curve of a pull-up.
The next progression is to do two pull-ups banded, vacate the band, and then do a slow eccentric without the band.
We have found that most of our athletes who hit a pull-up for the first time do it by jumping up, feeling the eccentric, and are able to get a little bit of a bounce, similar to the stretch shortening cycle in a squat, to execute the pull-up. Stretch shortening cycles are real.
Now I’m not a huge fan of kipping pull-ups, but am not against it for people developing the strength to do a strict, dead hang pull-up.
Take the first four weeks, twice a week, and focus on the bottom isolation movements.
The next four weeks, bring in the midrange isolation movements. Do these twice a week and couple it with the banded pull-up work, as well as the slow eccentric work.
At the end of the eight week period, we should have at least four to six days with work on the bar. Because we did so much work with the isolation exercises as well, at the end of the eight week period with healthy body weight, athletes should be able to achieve that first pull-up.
Yo, It's Dane
Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!
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