Back to the Basics: The Pull-up
Back to the Basics: The Pull-up
Step away from the lat pulldown machine, and report to the pull-up bar. Your upper back will thank you.
People love to throw out hypothetical situations all the time. One that strength and conditioning coaches do quite often is ask the question, “If you could only perform one exercise what would it be?” Mine without hesitation is the pull-up as it’s far and away the best upper body strength exercise available, period.
So now I ask you, why do so few people actually do them? And of those that do, why do so few actually do them right? The answer to those questions is simple. Because they’re hard! It used to be part of the physical fitness test to perform a certain number of pull-ups, but now you can get away with just holding on the bar for a specific amount of time. It’s a joke. There is no easy way out with the pull-up, so if you really want to push yourself and get better you have to go from a dead hang and get yourself to the bar.
This is a great test of relative body strength. So great that some coaches actually state that the more pull-ups you can do the higher you can jump and the faster you’ll be. I repeat, doing more pull-ups has been said to improve your athleticism. How? The ability to do more pull-ups is based on improvements in relative strength and body composition (there is some technical work needed for jumping and sprinting too but you get the point).
Ok, I’ll stop ranting and start talking about this exercise. First thing I’m going to throw out there is how some people will make a big deal about your hand position. I would prefer you to do it with a double over hand grip (a true pull-up) but some will say to do chin up exclusively (palms facing you). Honestly I’m not going to get into a huge fight about this. Do it whichever way you choose, just be sure to do them.
Now let’s go over step by step how to perform a pull-up.
Hands: Depending on the grip you choose you will grab the bar at about a shoulder width grip (underhand will be slightly closer than over hand). Once you grab the bar, grab it and squeeze it as hard as possible to bring the irradiation effect we’ve talked about in the past. Squeeze hard and the muscles connecting all the way up will fire harder.
Shoulder Blades: Like any pulling movement, pull your shoulder blades down and back to initiate the movement. This will help protect your shoulders and fire all the muscles in your back. While performing each rep, you need to keep pulling and pinching them back the whole time. Don’t shrug your shoulders up when you get towards the top.
Elbows: As with the inverted row, as you pull I want you to try to pinch your elbows to your ribs (or slightly behind). As stated before you’re going to be thinking shoulder blades and elbows the whole time.
Finish the Rep: Now this is where I’m going to ask you to push it a little further than normal. Chin over the bar is great, but let’s make your back do the work it’s supposed to. I want you to pull your chest to the bar. You read that right, I said pull your chest all the way to the bar. Once you get there lower yourself under control and get back up. Make sure you finish with your elbows straight and your biceps are touching your ears. This type of legitimate pull-up will force the muscles in your back to work even harder which mean, more strength and more size.
The pull-up is far and away the best, but most difficult upper body exercise you will ever perform…when performed correctly. However there are many easy ways out of the exercise. When you do your pull ups, start every rep from a dead hang, eliminate kicking or “kipping” that you’ll see some people do, and get your chest to the bar. Bottom line is this exercise is a must for your program, and therefore it’s a must to do it right.
So the next time you walk in the gym have a nice little talk with the lat pull down machine. Tell it how much you appreciate it’s time, but that you’re going to have to break up. Once you’re over the break up, go find a bar and start pulling. You won’t miss the pulley for long, because you’ve now found a better way to get real world strong.
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About the Author
Jay DeMayo has been the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Men’s and Women’s Basketball at the University of Richmond since October 2005. Jay is a graduate of the State University of New York College at Cortland where he was a two year starter on the Men’s Soccer team. Prior to taking over the responsibilities of Men’s and Women’s Basketball at UR Jay worked with every team on campus as the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach working. During his tenure at Richmond, Coach DeMayo has worked with five All-Americans, and 10 Atlantic 10 championship teams. Presently Jay is also responsible for the dry land training for NOVA Aquatics LLC, one of the top youth swim clubs on the eastern seaboard where he has coached over twenty athlete’s whom have qualified for Olympic Trials. Coach DeMayo’s constant effort to better himself as a coach has brought him numerous certifications. Coach DeMayo has his Level I coaching certification from USA Track and Field, is certified as an American Kettlebell Club Coach, United States Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
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