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Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Best Upper Body Strength Exercise! Tips to Get Better At It!

I hope everyone has had a wonderful weekend! I had a friend remind me of a post she made that she saw robins flying outside today, which really made me excited!

Could it be near!?

I am really eager to see spring arrive! Mainly for the nice weather, but I am hoping by spring I can be back jogging again and maybe doing some lower body resistance training! We'll see! I'll keep my figures crossed and hope for the best!

But until then, I'll continue to live my dream and follow God's plan for me! It's a plan I can honestly wake up everyday for my life doing, and LOVE every second of it because there is nothing better than seeing athletes and clients reach their goals from YOUR programming!

 .....Living the life of a Fitness Professional!

But until I lace up the running shoes, I will gladly keep improving in the world's best strength measuring exercise...


 Some call this the upper body squat.  It's THAT important! The pull up measures your strength to weight ratio better than almost any other exercise known to man.

 I also love them in a fat loss program because they're highly metabolic while also serving as a great incentive – as you get leaner, your pull-up performance will improve dramatically.

First A Little Ego Hindering Background:

Every so often I will see the so called "gym meat-head" head for the pull-up bar.  This is where it gets interesting. They either take 3 options:

1. They look directly into the mirror in front of the bar and make sure their hair is perfectly combed over so the girl on the stepper notices.

2. They hang from the bar in some ego boosting attempt to perform a stretch that most likely impinges their rotator cuff or improperly twists their lumbar spine.

3. They go for the pull up! Oh my, or can I even call it that!? How about a hang with a 3 inch upward thrust.

Now I am sorry if you are one of these people.  But you can easily fix that problem.  Trust me, you do not want to be the GUY who can't do a pull up! When the day comes where you are on a playground with your son and he is hanging from a bar beside you....I am 100% sure that you will want to show your daddy strength and pull yourself up! Not only that, they are just plain fun to do and there isn't a better strength building exercise for the upper body!

So here's my little gift to you....a few tips to get better with your pull ups!

1. Do NOT Go To Failure

So often I see this! Guys taking their pull ups until they get stuck 1/2 up the bar and can't pull any more.  Or maybe you finished the rep, but it didn't look like the previous one.  Well I am here to tell you that doing this WILL NOT build strength! If you are doing squats and are dying on rep 9 of 10 that you can barely get it up, will you go for rep 10? Of course not! Nobody wants a barbell crushing down on your hips and making you look like the gym dummy! Yet so many times I see the strangest ways to see people get that last rep, and unfortunately, all it will do it hurt your progress!

2. Lose Body Fat

I'm sorry but if you have a high body fat percentage, it will be difficult to do pull-ups, which is why it is such a good gauge of fitness for athletes. If you like being bulky then try lifts that require more leverage like deadlifts and squats.  Otherwise, trying to do pull-ups will be tough for you!

3. Start In The Proper Position

Starting in the "dead hang" position is incorrect! Your scapula is elevated and your shoulder are touching your ears.  This is improper and dangerous. When you do this all of the tension is placed on your tendons and ligaments instead of your muscles.

When you get on the bar you want to pull your shoulder blades down and lock your shoulders into their sockets.  This is a much safer position and puts the stress on the muscles, which is exactly where I want it :)

4. Maintain A Slight Elbow Bend

Just as above, this is very important! It will save your elbows! The bend is barely noticeable, but you still want it done regardless!

Do not start with your elbows completely locked. This, again, places all of the stress on the tendons and ligaments instead of on the muscles. On each successive rep you should lower yourself until your arms are nearly straight, stopping just shy of lockout.

This does not mean you can CHEAT! The elbows are 99% locked out! Just not straight!

5. Start With The Lats

As you begin your pull, fire with the lats, not the biceps. If your not sure where your lats are, have a spotter touch them before you begin! I have my hand on my clients back while they pull to show the proper motion I want them moving in as they progress up to the bar.

6. Pull Your Chin Over The Bar

Pulling your chin the last couple inches over the bar will get the smaller and weaker muscles in the mid back! These muscles will be the building blocks of your pull-up power! The exercise should target the lats mainly, but getting that chin up to the bar while maintaining good posture will build serious strength!

 Keep the core stable – the lumbopelvic hip complex (LPHC) will want to do all sorts of things to make the movement easier. Typically you'll see lumbar hyperextension and anterior pelvic tilt, perhaps as a counterbalance strategy to shift more of the load forward. Don't let this happen.

7. Use A Variety Of Grips

Try Forward, Reverse, Alternating, palms facing each other or away. You can also pull up on bars, rings, Fat Gripz, ropes, towels, suspension straps, beams, Eagle Loops, and even baseballs or softballs hanging from a chain.

The variations are endless. Use as many different chin ups as possible to avoid burnout or overuse injuries.

8. Use A Variety Of Rep Ranges

You need both strength & endurance to do multiple sets of pull-ups.

 Strength is built with low reps. You can do low reps with a weighted vest or dip belt or you can simply perform more difficult variations of pull ups.

Endurance is built with high reps. This is where the use of bands comes in handy.

Rep Range:

3-6: Maximal Strength
7-12: Hypertrophy
15-30: Endurance

9. Include DB And BB Rows In Your Workouts!

Incorporating rows will be a sure fire way to build back strength without struggling!

10. Strengthen Your Grip!

 The stronger your grip is the easier pull ups will feel. You can add in some more specific grip work at the gym like fat bar holds, hexagon dumbbell holds, as well as various pinching and crushing exercises.


Here is A Little Workout You Can Try If You Are Looking To Better Your Pull-Ups!

Warm-Up First

•    Do 10 assisted pull ups – You can do band pull ups, jump pull ups, step up pull ups. Just remember to do a slow hang every time you get your chest to the bar to work the negative or eccentric portion of the movement.
•    Do 10 DB rows per arm – Use as heavy dumb bell as you can. Start with your weak arm
•    Repeat this three times.
•    Finish with hanging leg raises. Do 10 leg raises, ensuring you rock at the hip instead of just bringing the knees to parallel, rest up to 30 seconds and repeat.

 Note: For those who can do anywhere from 5-15 reps –? & have a pull up bar accessible at home. whatever that number may be, cut it in half, and perform that many reps every hour or two.

There You have It! Now you have all the tools you need to get a little stronger with pull ups!

If you want even more tips and a better workout, you will have to sign up for Double Dare or Rush for our next 8 week session starting March 4th! Message me or visit for details!

Until next time,

“Wouldn't it be great to be gifted? In fact...It turns out that choices lead to habits. Habits become talents. Talents are labeled gifts. You're not born this way, you get this way.” – Seth Godin

Mike Over
CPT / Strength & Conditioning Specialist

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