Pull Ups / Chin Ups are one of the biggest goals for many of our clients. Getting that first pull up, especially for our female clients, is a huge achievement! There are many different training strategies we use at Epicentre to help get our clients there. Here are a few:
#1 – Just get stronger first. If you haven’t set foot in the gym in years and are relatively out of shape, you should start with some basic back work 2-3x per week. Rome wasn’t built in a day so, relax; you’ll get to the cool stuff soon enough. Try various rowing movements (seated row, bent-over-row, etc) as well as pull-downs either with a machine or bands, and vary your rep ranges. Incorporate Body Rows – these can be done with a set of gymnastic rings, a TRX, or a barbell in a rack, set to about waist height. This allows you to start pulling your own bodyweight; maintain good form and increase the difficultly by changing the grip, pulling from a lower position, elevating the feet, etc.
#2 – Static Holds. So, you’ve built a decent base of strength and you’re ready to get your hands on the pull up bar, (or you are just stubborn and decided to skip the recommendations in #1). One of our first tactics at Epicentre is the Static Hold. This involves getting yourself up to the bar by standing on a box, squeeze your hands tightly around the bar with a supinated grip (palms facing towards you). Jump up (or get a boost from a trusty spotter) so that you are in the top position of a pull up with your chin above the bar and elbows pulled all the way back. Hold this for anywhere from 10-30 seconds (don’t forget to breathe!). Build to where you can hold yourself in the top position for 30s; then try to do multiple holds of 30s (say, 3-5x) throughout your workout. Try varying your grip and always control the negative portion of the pull up (the down part). Which brings us to…..
#3 – Slow Negatives. You build strength during the negative portion of an exercise (in this case, when you let yourself down from the pull up bar) so this is another strategy we use at Epicentre. Even if you don’t have the strength to pull yourself up right away, you can still build the movement by lowering yourself as slow & controlled as possible. Jump up, get a boost, or stand on a box, grip the bar tight, and try lowering yourself for a 4 second count. Aim for 2-3 sets pf 1-5 reps each time you train.
#4 – Bands. Bands are a simple piece of equipment that you can buy online and easily throw into your gym bag (unless you train at Epicentre, where we have like, 100 bands). Bands will help you train your pull up through a full range of motion and give you support on the way up & down. Choke a band around the pull up bar and hook it around your foot or bent knee. Always perform the pull up movement with control & good form. Start with a heavy band and progress to a lighter one, until you need no band at all! Note: If you are ‘that guy’ at the gym who uses the heaviest black band to perform awful-looking, swinging 1/2 reps, please stop. Go back to #1 and just work on getting stronger for a while. (You might also want to consider leaning out as this will help your cause. Less bodyweight means less weight to pull up! True story).
#5 – Perfect Singles. No, I’m not talking about a dating website. I’m talking about performing 1 perfect, controlled rep with full range of motion. If you can get one, you now have the building blocks to get to 10 or more. When you try to rush and go for multiple reps, what usually happens is your first rep looks great and then the 3-4 subsequent reps fall apart, thereby re-inforcing bad/incomplete movement patterns. Also, for the love of God, don’t ‘kip’, unless you are a competitive CrossFit athlete and this is a necessary skill for you to learn. Otherwise, it won’t help you much with your strict pull ups and will likely wreck your shoulders. As soon as our clients can perform 1 perfect, complete pull up, our strategy at Epicentre is have our clients ‘pepper’ these single, perfect reps throughout their workout. This means you do 1 good rep, walk away, and continue your workout. When you feel recovered (maybe it’s 5, 10 or even 15 mins later), walk up to the bar and do another rep. You might get 3 reps total in the first week, then maybe 4-5 in week 2 & 3, etc. When you can get 10 sets of 1, try to progress to 5 x 2; and then maybe 4 x 3…and so on. Just keep ‘collecting’ good quality reps and building the number you do from week to week. Before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to a set of 8-10 reps!
There you have it – my Top 5 Strategies for building your pull ups! Give them a shot the next time you’re at the gym. If you need help or more tips, don’t hesitate to contact us at Epicentre.