So Close To a Pull-Up…
By David Osorio
Originally published on 1.8.2013
Are you “so close” to a pull-up? Do you feel like it’s within reach but has still eluded you despite your most sincere efforts? Below are three things I think will help folks who are close to pulling body weight get over the bar.
Start with Chin-Ups
Chin-ups are easier than pull-ups and you’re more likely to get your first chin-up sooner than your first pull-up so it’s a pretty good place to start. In my experience once a couple chins have been developed the pull-up magically shows up a lot faster. That being said, both versions are totally legit and huge milestones for anyone who didn’t have them before. Chins are also easier for people to organize well. The upper arm is already rotated into a more stable position and the last few inches over the bar usually involve less neck craning and wiggling. Once you can do about 3-5 chin-ups you’ll be a lot closer (if not already there) to the pull-up. When performing chin-ups, keep your hands just inside shoulder width and imagine pulling the bar down to your chest, not pulling yourself up to it. That cue usually helps people fire the upper back and pull the elbows posteriorly during the ascent, both good things.
Keep The Reps Low
If you’re struggling to get your first pull-up, your muscles experience the effort as a near maximal exertion. You’re going for something that you’ll only be able to do 1 rep of (right now), so when we train to develop our first pull-up a lot of our reps should look and feel pretty similar. Several doubles or singles with just enough resistance to clear the bar is better than high volume sets of 5 or 10 with much more assistance. If you were a 1 rep max obsessed lifter, you wouldn’t spend all your time doing sets of 5 and 10, you’d perform submax singles, doubles and triples more often to get your body ready for the effort. Here are two examples of productive training sessions:
7 sets of 1 rep with ample rest
5 sets of 2-3 reps with ample rest
“Ample rest” could be anywhere from a minute to three minutes depending on how much you require to get another successful rep. Because this is going to be a strain, make sure to warm-up with some ring rows and more heavily assisted pull-ups. 2-3 sets of 5 reps should be sufficient.
When you’re scaling workouts, use the lowest volume option possible. 20 pipping pull-ups as Rx-ed on the workout might be 5 chin-ups for you. That component of the workout won’t have anywhere near the same conditioning effect but depending on your goals that might be okay.
That being said, a little volume isn’t a bad thing. Just remember that if you want to get a pull-up you’ve got to train in a way that feels similar to your goal.
While the big jump-stretch bands can be a valuble tool in this process, they shouldn’t the only or even the majority of assistance you use. In my opinion, having a good spotter is ideal. Someone who knows how to give you just enough help to make you finish the rep without any jerky movement, uneven assistance or too much pushing. You’ve got good hands on you if you never get “stuck” anywhere in the rep but still work really hard at the most difficult positions (the very top and the first few inches at the bottom). The range of motion should be smooth and you should be able maintain good organization throughout. Another option is using a band just below what you can do on your own and having a partner gently push you through the finish. Depending on the size, height and strength of everyone involved, sometimes this is a more practical solution and can lead to better spotting. If you’re working with someone who is not a coach or giving you too much/too little/weird help, tell them what you feel and work together to make it better. One major problem with bands alone is that at the top of a rep you’re getting the least help since the band tension decreases as you ascend. If you’re flying solo, choose a band that helps you get all the way over the bar, not just enough so that when you reach your chin can barely make it over the bar. That’s a no rep.
Hopefully these three tips can help you find some success with getting your first pull-up. Make your goal to not only do it, but do it well. If you train smart in the beginning and pay attention to your neck and shoulder positions you’ll develop a solid foundation to build off of. If you make your emphasis simply getting any sliver of your chin over the bar, things will be a lot slower and less awesome for you. To see exactly what I’m talking about, watch this MobilityWOD: Stop The Pull-Up Chicken Necking People!
What Powerlifting Tells Us About The Effects Of PEDs FiveThirtyEight
Strong Gym: Inside A Strength Training Gym Inside the Affiliate
The Leap This American Life