(Heave ho, it’s up the bar we go…*whistle solo*)… For those of you who did not get the reference, you are far too young and I hate you for making me feel old! For everyone who did, I’ve prepared an article on why you should do a Pull Up. (For anyone who actually sang it, you get a bonus prize which will be revealed later)
The pull up is underrated. Even people who say it’s the best exercise in the world are underrating this glorious feat of strength and co-ordination. With all the modern gym equipment available it is so easy to let the pull up slip into the recesses of your exercise brain and for it to fall into the use of nothing more than a time filling exercise between squat sets. This is a shameful practise and we should all be deeply disappointed in ourselves for allowing it to happen.
The pull up is one of the most complete pulling exercises. Effectively training your upper back, core, biceps and gripping strength all in one simple movement. The pull up is the epitome of masculinity and, let’s face it, is freaking hard work! There’s a reason that many of you cower away from the pull up bar in favour of your lat pull down machine; and it’s not a good reason at all. It’s because you’re scared of failing to complete 3 sets of 10. I can hear the songs of protest now:
“But Aaron, lat pull down machines work the same muscles so why does it matter if I’m a little girl?”.
If this were true then completing sets on a lat pull down with your own body weight loaded would be as difficult as performing pull ups and we all know that this is just not the case. Do you want a strong, defined back with arms to boot? Then you would be very wise to start including pull ups and it’s variations in your workouts.
So we’ll skip the boring anatomy lesson and crack on with some explanations and variations, If you are desperate and still want the anatomy of a pull up I will break it down very simply for you….it works the back mainly, then the arms help, the delts do a bit too, oh yeah and the core…..awesome!
The basic pull up and grip variations.
For those of you who have got this far into an article on pull ups and are still unsure as to what a pull up is then you may need to search deep in your own soul and ask if it really is a good idea for you to reproduce. To break down the exercise you have:
This is the bottom of the exercise where you hang from a bar. If you choose to hang “dead” so that your arms are straight and taking no weight this is fine, but remember to keep your shoulders pulled into the joint and not let them fall loose. It puts unnecessary strain on the shoulder joint
The good bit of the pull up. Try not to just jerk yourself up wit your arms here. Engage the back muscles by squeezing your shoulder blades together and then focusing on the contraction of the muscles in your back. Remember that this is a back exercise first, arms are just providing assistance.
Get your chin OVER the bar and hold this position for a second or so. Really squeeze the back muscles together hard then lower under control…..if it’s your last rep then dropping like a sack of spuds is acceptable 😉
Keep your legs still to stop yourself swinging. One reason for this is that it engages the core and promotes neuromuscular coordination. The second reason is that kipping (kick assisted) pull ups are completely retarded. If you disagree, you are retarded. If you see someone bicep curling by hip thrusting the weight up and down you would accuse them of cheating and poor form without a seconds hesitation so don’t you dare defend the kipping pull up. Kicking through a pull up is ONLY acceptable when learning to muscle up.
There is a lot of debate about the grip for pull ups. You have pronated (palms facing away) neutral (palms facing each other) and supinated (palms facing you).
It is generally accepted the pronated is the most difficult (pronated for professionals, ha!) and I would be inclined to agree with this. However, it doesn’t make it the best variation. The primary reason that the pronated grip is more difficult is that the assistance provided by the bicep is minimalised and the load is shifted to the rear deltoid, a less effective pulling muscle. If your goal is to perform gymnastic based movements such as muscle ups or front levers then the pronated grip is essential but, if you’re looking for a bigger back and arms, you would be better off with the supinated variation as it forms a stronger and more effective pulling chain in your body.
If you look on YouTube under pull up variations you will see LOADS and I mean LOADS of pull up videos and some of them are mighty impressive….they don’t make me jealous in the slightest…
I will list my personal favourite variations that have helped me the most through my training.
1: Muscle Up. Technically a skill in, and of, itself but it relies heavily on a very strong explosive pull up. It requires you to pull from dead hang and get your body up over the bar into a dip position to push yourself up. It requires good coordination and explosive strength and should be on everybody’s exercise wish list!
2: L-Sit Pull Up: This is a simple variation but boosted my core strength like nothing else. At the dead hang of a pull up you perform a straight leg raise so that your legs are straight out in front of you, parallel with the ground, holding them in this position you perform your pull up reps without lowering them until the end of the set. Burn much? I reckon so!
3: Front Lever: So this skill will involve you levelling out your entire body so that your back is facing the floor, your body is in a straight line and you are parallel to the ground. To perform it you will pull up to the top of a pull up. Then tilt yourself backwards keeping your body straight and rigid. You should end up looking like you are lay on an invisible bed in the sky….
This requires phenomenal back strength and coordination but it is achievable! I promise.
So there you have it boys and girls. Pull ups in 2 easy to read pages. If you’re still not convinced that pull ups are for you then you are beyond saving.
Much love, speak soon!
Bonus Prize (If you didn’t sing then stop reading! You didn’t earn this!)
The human flag pull up: So the human flag is where you support yourself on a vertical pole so that you look like you’re in a pull up dead hand but you are parallel to the ground sideways. It’s not easy. In fact it’s really really hard. However if you wish to qualify for the title of “a real man” but feel no compulsion to grow a moustache, drink ale from a pint mug or wear socks with sandals then look no further. The human flag pull up is pretty self explanatory. You raise yourself into human flag position, then you perform a pull up while in this position. Simple right? Yes it’s humanly possible.