One of my new year goals this 2019 has nothing to do with fitness yet everything to do with fitness, and that’s to write more about fitness (and overall health) for YOU.
I spent five or more years of my life trying to figure out how to build up a following for StrongFigure and then Erik and I had our sweet little Brielle (who just turned two in December), moved into a fixer-upper house (that still needs fixer-upping), and I’m now running a full-time business (YAY StrongFigure Bootcamp!!) while still running a full-time toddler. 😉 Time to get seriously organized right?!
So right now I’m tackling two tasks: I just wrote up a pull-up progression for one of my bootcamp members who is DETERMINED to get her first pull-up this year (hopefully by her 50th birthday!!) and I’m dropping it right here for you to either use to help get your first pull-up OR to pass along to your friends with that same goal.
I have never actually used a pull-up progression on myself to get pull-ups (don’t hate me, I’ve just always been able to do them and I have NO clue why!!) so writing this progression was challenging. That’s why I built this cycle with skills I’ve learned from gymnastics seminars with my friend and fellow StrongFigure, Maria Hayden. Maria is an award winning CrossFit athlete AND gymnast, so she is my go-to for all things that require swinging your own body weight around. 😀 She’s also up for hire (and she posts daily gymnastics tips and tricks that you seriously need to be following). If one-on-one coaching is what you prefer, please reach out to Maria! I can’t say enough amazing things about her!
How I Help:
So with my clients and bootcamp members, I use all the exercises that I know to build up the muscles needed for pull-ups. I put people on the rings instead of bands when they first start out because I feel like most people can grow their pulling muscles faster with ring rows than banded pull-ups (though a combination of the two are likely to rank superior to anything else). Ring rows with a mixed grip (sometimes overhand, sometimes underhand, sometimes neutral grip) and varying where you put your feet (knees bent make it easier, legs straight out make it harder) and your distance from the floor all make it possible to do ring rows about 15 different ways.
I also tend to have people perform negative after negative after negative. Holding yourself up in the top of a pull-up position and slowly letting your body down is HARD work–especially for someone who lacks a lot of that pulling strength, but it’s a very doable exercise for most people that WORKS and works well. And negatives progress quickly. Most people tend to get pretty good at these faster than they do some of the other exercises, so mentally, that’s a really good boost to stay motivated towards reaching the pull-up goal.
Passive hangs–just hanging from the pull-up rig, and active hangs–pulling your shoulder blades down and back while hanging (activating your lats), are amazing pull-up builders. I usually have members start out with about 20 seconds of hanging and progress to 30, 45, and even 60 seconds! Doing both active and passive hanging is an excellent strength builder for not only your arms, shoulders, and lats, but for your grip and core! You need both in order to hang on the bar for an extended period of time.
Speaking of Core:
Do not ignore the core. The stronger your core, the easier it will be to pull yourself up. You want your body to be tight when you’re pulling–like a surfboard. You’re not flailing around or kicking your legs–you need to use ALL the muscles. Your core is your powerhouse. You’ve got to build the house. So build your core. Adding in some core exercises like hollow rocks, supermans, glute/hip thrusts, bridges — they all help. And this is just a starter list. It’s hard to go wrong here–just focus on anything that makes you build a strong, solid wall of abs. Planks, Paloff holds, they’ll all help. Work the deep abs with movements like these (not so much sit-ups or flexion work — you want to mimic the type of movement your body will be in when doing a pull-up) and you’ll reach pull-ups much faster.
Seriously. Do your back exercises. Bent over dumbbell rows, barbell rows alternating with a narrow grip and wide grip, renegade rows, lat pull-downs if you have access to a machine OR banded lat pull-downs. Even some rowing on a Concept 2 will help build your back. Anything you can to do pull something towards your chest — do it. And do it well–meaning heavy. Obviously not so heavy you throw your back out but you need to find a weight heavy enough that will break down the muscle tissue so that when you rest, you build up the muscle needed for more pulling — and eventually pulling YOU. This is where it helps to either have a friend or a mirror so you can see your form when pulling. Pinch your shoulder blades back and focus on keeping a straight/flat back with a neutral neck position every time you pull. When your form starts to fall apart or you have to start jerking your body wildly to get the weight to your chest, it’s too heavy! So find that good balance or else if you go too light, it’s going to take you 3-4 times as long to get that pull-up. Think about how much you weigh–that’s how many pounds you’re going to have to pull to get that pull-up. So pick up a heavier dumbbell, ok?
Maximize Your Gym Time.
Most of us can’t afford hours a day in the gym trying to squeeze in a workout PLUS do a bunch of extra exercises on top of what’s already planned, so maximize your gym time. If you’re designing your workouts, make this (or any) pull-up program a part of your routine. If someone else is designing your workouts like I do for my members, make sure you’re choosing the right weight for rows, and you’re putting in all the effort that you can afford for every single moment that you can. Hollow Rock until you can’t rock any more, push for two more reps on your single arm rows, and pick up a dumbbell 5 lbs heavier than you normally would. As Brad Stulberg wrote in Peak Performance, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.”
Try out my four-week pull-up progression program (link below) and see where it takes you! And if you have any questions on any of the movements, feel free to email me at strongfigure@gmail. Also, check out Maria’s Instagram — she has some amazing tips and tricks for conquering not just pull-ups but a whole host of gymnastics moves!
Click here for your free 4-week Pull-Up Progression by StrongFigure.com
After you complete all four weeks, try your hand at a pull-up or two! And don’t fret if pull-ups don’t come after just four weeks. You may need to repeat the program, building up the weights that you use, and focusing on getting stronger! Also…don’t hate me for saying it but pull-ups are in fact easier when you’re leaner. If you need help tightening up your nutrition, please reach out. Not only do I offer nutrition coaching but I have a wonderful staff of people who are ready to lend a hand.
I’d love to hear feedback about the program. Please shoot us an email at strongfigure@gmail and let us know what you thought!