Q&A: Building Strength for Pull-Ups


Dave Cruz

Q: I know that I will soon be called on to perform pull-ups as part of my workout. Right now I can only perform and handful of pull-ups at a time. When the Core Performance program calls on me to perform eight or more pull-ups, what should I do? – Greg, Oahu, HI

A: The most beneficial movements are often the most difficult, and pull-ups are among the hardest and best for your body. Here are a few strategies that will help you do more. 

  1. Use an assistated pull-up machine. These can be found in most gyms. As your training progresses, take away the supporting weight to continue to challenge yourself.  Remember, the goal of this method is to eventually no longer need the assistance.
  2. Inverted rows. An inverted row will help you strengthen your rear shoulders and upper back, but unlike a regular pull-up, you don’t need to pull your entire bodyweight to the bar. Position the bar at hip height and sit on the floor beneath it. Grab the bar wider than shoulder width. Keeping your legs straight and your core tight, use your back muscles to pull your chest to the bar. (Look up, not at the bar.) Then lower back down to the starting position.
  3. Rest and repeat. If you can’t do eight pull-ups in a row, divide them into sets, resting for 15 to 30 seconds between reps. So you might do a set of 3 reps followed by two more sets of 2 reps. Decrease your rest between sets each training session and you’ll soon be able to complete more pull-ups in succession without resting.
  4. Static holds. Rather than cranking out a bunch of pull-ups, try holding for 20 seconds at the top range, rest, then 20 seconds mid-range, rest, and then 20 seconds with your elbows slight bent (don’t straight your arms completely.) This will help build strength throughout the range of motion, during the hardest potions of the lift.
  5. The buddy system. If you’ve got a friend or even just a friendly stranger nearby, ask him or her to give you a slight boost when you need it. It’s not cheating. Assisted pull-ups will allow you to complete all of your reps and still challenge yourself.

Build Muscle, Upper Body Pull, Q&A

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