Hey guys! It’s been a little over a month since I really started working on my pull-ups (well…my lack of pull-ups). Here are some of my thoughts so far.
1. It’s not just about strength- Ok, obviously upper body strength is a hugely important part of being able to do a pull-up. That’s why it seems to be easier for guys… in many cases, they are just naturally built with proportionally stronger upper bodies. BUT, ladies, we can compensate by really getting in touch with the movement pattern. No matter how many rows and back building things I do, nothing has helped as much as these three exercises:
- Eccentric Pull-ups- ARE THE KEY!!!!! To do an eccentric pull-up- you start at the top of the pull-up motion with your chin above the bar and lower yourself down as slow as you possibly can. If you’ve never done it, it might not sound hard, but try it. You will be SORE the next day. If you aren’t sore, you didn’t go slow enough. It’s pretty simple. The fun part is trying to go slower each time. If it becomes really easy to control yourself, try pausing at different spots (particularly closer to the bottom where it gets extra tough). What I love about this movement is that over the weeks I’ve actually felt myself improve at controlling my descent. Part of it is strength building, but more importantly, this movement forces your muscles to FEEL how they should be working at every step of the way. Rob can blab about the science behind why eccentric movements are effective, but I don’t need science to convince me that the more of these I do, the closer I’ll be to my goal.
- Hangs– Does anyone else remember doing “flex-arm hangs” in elementary school gym class? I do! All you have to do is hold yourself for as long as you can in the top of the pull up motion with your chin above the bar. This one for me is all about comfort. The more I hang up there, the more comfortable I feel with the muscles that need to be engaged towards the top of a pull-up motion. That said, I think the best part about doing hangs is you can easily have someone time you to measure progress. For those of us who can’t get a pull-up yet, this is a really tangible way to see if you are improving. Also- this one is can be a grip killer in all the good ways. See below!
- Band-assisted pull-ups-Band assisted pull-ups are the easiest way to practice the entire motion of a pull-up when your strength isn’t there yet. When I do them I feel super excited, because it FEELS LIKE I’M ACTUALLY DOING A PULL-UP! It’s also really easy to progress as it gets easier and easier by swapping out bands. That said, the problem with band-assisted pull ups is that they help you the most at the bottom where women are typically the weakest. As far as I’ve seen, no matter how many of these you do, you will need a lot of other work as well in order to overcome the initial bottom part of the pull-up without a band.
2. Grip- Rob wrote an entire post on grip that really speaks for itself. But I can’t stress it enough. Because grip is crucial to being able to do a pull-up, it has become very obvious to me that it can really hold me back. In the last month I’ve really focused on being able to connect with my upper back muscles. (Which has involved Rob standing behind me during every upper body movement poking me between my shoulder blades to make sure those muscles are engaged. Good coaching, but SO ANNOYING. Thanks hubs!) I can now do a respectable pull-up hold and I’ve improved the upper portion of my eccentric pull-ups. And as such, it has gotten to the point where my grip now gives out before my back muscles do. So, while it isn’t glamorous to walk around the gym doing plate pinches and squeezing lacrosse balls, throwing in grip work wherever I can has been and will continue to be a focus.
3. Weight- UGH. As much as I don’t want to talk about this one, I have to. A pull-up is a body weight movement after all. This means that the heavier you are, the more weight you have to pull. I know, DUH. But think about what it really means, especially for women. For me, it’s more tangible to think in terms of weight on a bar. The difference between banging out 10 reps of a strict press and failing at 2 reps can be 5-10lbs, especially as you get closer to your max, and especially when you are new to a movement. And since my max right now is zero pull-ups, it follows that part of my work needs to be focusing on my diet and met-con work so that I’m not eating my way further and further away from my goal.
Overall, month one has taught me a lot, but I still have so far to go. Month two will be about focusing on consistency. Now that I’ve build up some base strength and mechanics, I’ll be trying to incorporate pull-up work into EVERY work out!