Can you do a pull-up?
Like a proper pull-up?
How about 20 consecutive pull-ups?
Don’t be ashamed if you can’t, for I’ve also been unable to do a pull-up for a really long time.
And that was, until I came across this “weird” training technique from this Russian fellow.
It goes completely against the grain, but it has helped me go from 0 to 20 consecutive pull-ups, in less than 12 weeks.
Want to know how I did it?
Keep on reading to find out.
3 Reasons Why Pull-Ups Are Awesome
I’d be able to sit here and name you countless of reasons why pull-ups are awesome, but for the sake of brevity, here are the top 3 reasons.
Works Your Body as a Whole
I like to think of pull-ups as some kind of an upper body squat. There’s almost no other upper body exercise that’s so simple to do, while being so effective.
Almost no muscle gets spared from the action. In the picture below, you can see, which muscles work the most.
And what’s also cool about the pull-ups, is that they work your triceps muscle. You see, the long triceps head point of origin is located on the infraglenoid tubercle of scapula, which means that, the long head is responsible for movement in two joints—the shoulder joint and the elbow joint. So, while you’re doing pull-ups, the long head of the triceps also takes some pounding.
You Can Do Them Anywhere
There’s just no excuse for you not to do pull-ups.
You can literally do them anywhere. As long as you have a bar that’s able to withstand your bodyweight, then it’s your job to do as many pull-ups as you possibly can.
Just be creative when on the lookout for a pull-up bar.
They’re Easy to Learn
There’s nothing really much to the pull-up. At the end of the day, it’s just pulling yourself up to the bar and then lowering yourself down, with good form of course.
But simple as they are, there are still many subtleties that you need to be aware of, if you’d like to do pull-ups in the years to come, injury free. And this brings me to the next topic, which is …
How to Do a Pull-Up With Good Form
Like I said, pull-ups are a simple lift. They don’t require months of learning, like some more complex lifts—snatch, clean and jerk.
You can learn how to do a pull-up in a single afternoon.
The Starting Position
Start with your hands shoulder width apart and with your palms facing down a.k.a. the pronated grip.
Now, the starting position would ideally have your body fully extended, and your rib cage over your pelvis, but unfortunately since many gyms have pull-up bars that are too low, a lot of times, you won’t be able to start in the fully extended position.
But don’t sweat it. If you can’t start in the perfect position, just bend your legs at the knees a littlebit in order to make room for the starting position.
The shoulders should be in nice and stable position. You do this, by imagining that you’re trying to bend the bar in half. This will reduce the slack in your shoulder joint capsule, thus creating a more stable shoulder position.
While you’re at the bottom part of the lift, you should keep your shoulders down and away from your ears and your chin must be a little bit tucked in, in order to create a neutral spine.
Each rep should start from a dead-hang position.
The Pulling Phase
The pulling phase should be smooth. While you’re lifting yourself up, you should really focus on activating your lats. This is best done by imagining, that you’re trying to push your elbows down—this is by far the best mental cue for activating your lats.
Your chin should always be tucked in and you should never crank your head back in order to clear your chin over the bar.
The Lowering Phase
When you’re lowering yourself, always do so in a controlled fashion.
Lower yourself till the start position and then repeat the exercise.
That’s all there’s to it.
Here’s How a Set of Pull-Ups Should Look Like
From 0 to 20 Consecutive Pull-Ups in Less Than 12 Weeks
When I was first started to work out, I wasn’t able to do a single pull-up.
But with the training method I’m about to describe in this chapter, I was able to take my pull-up from zero to hero in less than 12 weeks.
But actually, let’s take a step back first.
Before I came across this training technique, I wasted a couple of years following dumb advice from fitness gurus that didn’t know what they were talking about. When I first started to learn how to do pull-ups, everybody and their mothers recommended, that you should first build up your back strength with some assistance exercises, before venturing out into the pull-up land.
Here’s what they usually recommended:
- Bent over dumbbell rows for a couple of weeks.
- Negative chin-ups for the next few weeks.
- Then, after a couple of months went by, “try” doing some pull-ups and if you’re lucky, you’ll maybe get two reps.
I spent months doing dumbbell rows and inverted rows, but when I tried to test myself on the pull-up bar, I failed miserably. I still wasn’t able to do a single pull-up!
Talking about bad advice.
But here’s the deal …
If you want to get good at something, you need to make deliberate practice.
Specificity + Frequent Practice = Success
So, if you want to get good at pull-ups then practice pull-ups.
By doing other exercises like inverted rows and dumbbell rows sure, you’ll get stronger, but you’ll get stronger only at those lifts. There might be some carry-over to your pull-up strength, but in my experience that would be minimal.
Therefore, you need to put all of your focus on working on your pull-ups.
“But wait … how am I supposed to focus all of my efforts on doing pull-ups, if I can’t do a single pull-up??!?!”
Well, I’m glad you asked.
But before I give you the answer to that question, let me first say a few words about the technique, which will allow you to unlock your pull-up potential. The name of the technique is …
The “Grease the Groove” Technique
I first came across this technique, while I was reading some material from the legendary Pavel Tsatsouline. I highly recommend you check his stuff out, because he’s a really cool dude.
Anyway, in one of Pavel’s articles, he says how very frequent and heavy training, will help you become stronger through the mechanism of “synaptic facilitation”. Synaptic facilitation is just a fancy word for saying that your motor neurons—the neurons that fire your muscles—will reinforce its connection to your muscles and it may also form brand new synaptic connections.
This means that when the time comes to lift heavy weights, more voltage will be able to flow through your muscles, which will result in harder contractions. And you know what harder contractions mean—more weight and reps lifted.
This is why Olympic weightlifters are able to lift so much weight. By training every day with heavy weights, for years on end, their neurons are able to discharge a shit-load of juice into their muscles. They probably have one of the best wiring systems in the sports world.
Anyway, to tie this technique back to the pull-ups … if you want to make good use of the “synaptic facilitation” technique, you must make sure to practice pull-ups multiple times per day.
But how does this apply to you, the beginner who can’t do a single pull-up yet?
Well, for starters, if you’re not able to do a single pull-up, you’re going to need some assistance. And by far the best way to do assisted pull-ups, is to get yourself an assisted pull-up package (some elastic bands basically).
With these bands, you’ll be able to progress really fast. The way you use these bands, is you tie one end to the pull-up bar and you step with your foot on the other end.
Check the video below to see what I mean.
Now, let’s say a couple of words about the programming.
Not training till’ muscular failure is key here, since you don’t want to eat up too much into your work capacity. Remember, we’ll be doing plenty of work so there’s really no need for you to go balls-to-the walls with every set.
Don’t even think about lifting till’ complete muscular failure.
Ideally you should aim to get 6 to 10 reps every set. Like I said before, don’t push yourself to complete muscular failure. Always finish your sets with some reps still left in the tank.
If you’re not able to do 6 to 10 reps, then use the assistance bands to help you out. And try to get off of the assistance bands as soon as possible—just think of them as training wheels.
The goal with the “Grease the Groove” technique is to get as much work as possible per week basis. Said in other words, the goal is to increase your weekly tonnage.
You can easily keep track of how much you lift, by sticking a piece of paper next to the door, where you’ll have the pull-up bar installed. Every time you’re done with a set, just jot down how many reps you did.
In order to get how much work you’ve done in a day for example, simply multiply the number of reps with your bodyweight, in order to get your total daily tonnage.
Work on making that number bigger every week.
“You should train as heavy as possible, as much as possible, while staying as fresh as possible.” —Click to Tweet!
These are the words to live by.
A lot of fitness pros would suggest that you should work each muscle group two times per week tops, in order to let them fully recover. But I believe that this is not an optimal strategy for regular strength training athletes.
Instead of doing pull-ups two times per week for ten sets total (5 sets every workout), it’s far better in my opinion, if you split that workload into two sets per day. This strategy of splitting up your workload over the course of the whole week is very helpful, when it comes to promoting strength gains, especially in the nervous system.
So, my suggestion is to place a pull-up bar in your door frame so every time you cross that pull-up bar, you’re going to bust out at least 6 reps with good form.
I strongly suggest that you buy yourself a pull-up bar and install it on your door frame, because this will eliminate all of the excuses you might have for not putting in the work.
Do these pull-ups next to your usual workout routine.
Beyond 20 Reps…
Congratulations, you’re able to do 20 reps with excellent form.
Or, if you’re not there yet, you’re wondering, what to do, once you get to the 20th rep.
There are many roads for you to pursue. One example would be to start training for the muscle-up. Muscle-ups are an exercise, where you start at the bottom position like with the pull-ups and then you pull yourself up and over the bar.
The other thing for you to try would be to do weighted pull-ups. Just get a hold of a dipping belt and strap some weight on to yourself. With weighted pull-ups, I recommend that you stick to a rep range of 3 to 8 reps, since this will allow you to make consistent progress.
And last, but not the least, you can test yourself by doing some pull-up bar “aerobatics”. Just like you see those guys on YouTube doing stunts on the pull-up bar. It’s definitely a nice way to impress your friends and make them jealous of your newfound strength.
Over to You…
So here’s what I want you to do right now.
Go find a place, where you’ll be able to do some pull-ups and start now. Do a set of pull-ups and finish your set with some reps still left in the tank.
If you’re not able to do a single pull-up, order the woody bands and do what I told you here.
In case you don’t have anywhere to practice pull-ups, go buy yourself a pull-up bar that you can install on your door frame and start busting out those suckers like there’s no tomorrow.
Any questions or comments?
Leave them in the comments section below and let’s get the discussion going.
Image credit: Matt Lee
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