There are a select few people who can walk into a gym and rifle off a set up strict pull-ups. If you aren’t part of those select few and would like to be one of them, I have some tips for you. Let’s talk about pull-ups and how you can get better at them.
First, let’s talk about physics. A pull-up bar has no manners, it will tell you right away if you’re too heavy. Heavy is a relative term, though. If you’re 200 pounds of South Beach muscle, the bar won’t say you’re too heavy. On the other hand, if the bar is giving you some tough love, it’s time to spend some more time planning your meals, taking pride in what you eat, and working on pull-up regressions.
The first regression to achieve a strict pull up is some sort of pull-down. We use Keiser half kneeling pull-downs and X pull-downs quite often at State of Fitness This is a great way to work the big muscles in the pull-up. Be careful not to cheat this exercise; I see a lot of people rotate their shoulders forward and hunch over as they pull the handles down. Granted, you may have ended up with the handles down to your shoulders, but now you’re on your way to a pull-up-dream-crushing shoulder injury. Think “elbows to the waist” and pull your shoulder blades together.
The second regression is a banded pull-up. I’m a fan of banded pull-ups for people that are right on the cusp of getting their first unassisted pull-up. I love that this regression gets you to the bar. Your core has to do some pretty crazy work to accomplish a pull-up and, sadly, you don’t get that recruitment on the pull-down exercises.
My biggest issue is that the nature of the band makes the body lighter at the bottom of the pull-up and heavier at the top. If you train the muscles like this exclusively, the bottom movement is always going to leave you hanging. See what I did there.
On the other hand, if you aren’t on the cusp of getting a pull-up, the band you would probably need would be pretty thick, thus running the risk of shooting your leg into orbit when your set is over. I would rather you use a smaller, thin band when doing band pull-ups to avoid possible injury. If you cannot use a thin band for pull-ups, refer to regression number one.
Jumping Pull-up with Eccentric Lowering
Another great way to get stronger is to simply step up on a box to get your chest to the bar or jump up to get into the top of the pull-up, and slowly lower yourself down. This will help you get stronger at the eccentric phase of the pull-up, which is a crucial part in being able to perform strict pull-ups. If the way down looks like a free fall, leave a foot on the box to slow it down and be in control.
Assisted Pull-up Machine
The last regression and my personal favorite is the assisted pull-up machine. It is that giant thing in the gym that looks like someone stole it from Dave and Busters. The machine will push you up with a set amount of weight, and is a clear gauge to how much weight you need to lose/how much stronger you need to get before you go unassisted.
However, this thing is straight up dangerous. If you are careful, take your time, and use the machine as intended, you’re good. But from a mama bear perspective watching the little cubs (clients) lift, this thing is terrifying. Make sure a trainer shows you how to use this properly, hand position can be a tricky thing on this, as well.
If you do want to get better at pull-ups, you have to look at how often you are practicing them. Practicing pull ups once every week or even every other week will not get you much improvement.
In order to get better at something, you need to do it often. Not often enough that we get an injury, but often enough that you are getting better. I would say aim for 3-4 times of practice per week. It can be as simple as doing 3 sets of a couple reps with breaks in between sets.
If you are on your way to the unassisted pull-up, I suggest you get a good mix of all the different regressions. They all offer their pros and cons and are all valuable tools to becoming one of the select few who can walk in the gym and get their chin above the bar.
Are you looking to improve your strength and want to know the best way to do it? Getting stronger takes the proper program that best fits your needs. We can help with that! Just drops a note below to get started.[ninja_form id=9]