Thursday, October 9, 2014

Building Pull-up Strength

In the next installment of Adam Cristantello's blog, he goes on to outline a strength routine to bring about some serious gains in pulling strength.  But as Adam tells us, it's all about consistency and in proper performance.

In the previous blog, I discussed the importance of progressing in the pull up by first establishing scapular control. After a couple weeks of integrating that stuff you should be able to move onto more advanced strengthening. That said, there are instances where you may need to spend more time (hyper-mobile, poor endurance, limited kinesthetic awareness, etc.) or less time (good kinesthetic awareness and baseline muscular strength/endurance) working on scapular control. Keep in mind that even if you have a few strict pull-ups this progression will help…especially if you have poor scapular positioning and control, or are a dreaded chin-reacher.

Additionally, for those that want to work on kipping, shoot for between 5 to 10 reps of perfect strict pull ups before moving on. While I don’t have any scientific literature to drive this number, it is a decent range to balance strength and endurance for most people. Once you are in this range, you can PROGRESSIVELY introduce kipping in your repertoire if wanted. 

So how do you know more precisely where you should shoot in this 5 to 10 range? First and foremost is the quality of the pull-up. This is especially important under fatigue; the state in which kipping will most likely happen. I suggest that you stick to the higher rep range of strict pull-ups if you lack endurance but have strength (i.e. you find that you are perfect at rep 5 but fall apart at rep 6).  Also, hold yourself to the higher criteria if your relative strength to body weight ratio is low (creates more momentum to control). Like I said not exactly scientific. Erring on the side of caution, and holding off a little on the kip to build strength and muscular endurance will only pay off in the long run.

In line with the above criteria, this program will focus more towards getting you in that 5 to 10 range. Is it a “magical bean” exercise program that will make everything, including your car insurance rates, better? No. But with a little Vitamin C…a little vitamin consistency that is, the simple can be profoundly powerful.

Even this relatively simple program may benefit more advanced athletes in a strength phase (may need to add load or some variations). Once you have given it a chance for 4 weeks then you can start tweaking by varying grips, and doing different row positions.

Keep in mind that you are focusing on PULLUPS. It is ok if you lose some ability in another movement for a short period of time. You will quickly make that up, and ultimately have greater fitness. In the mean time, there will always be something that wants to pull you away from your goal and success. Boredom, peer pressure, quest for instant-gratification, lack of faith in yourself, etc. Create inspiration through achievement visualization, and practicing faith in your ability…you have done some badass things in your life. Then carry on with the plan and make it a reality!

Program Directions:
  • Have 3 or 4 days in between days (and other upper body pulling movements)
  • Maintain standards of movement: if you start to lose technique, make necessary adjustments and focus on specific cues that help keep the standard. Don’t just will your way through… The purpose is to build upper body pulling strength WHILE hitting all the performance criteria. 
  • Ask a coach how to incorporate this into your training (for group training)
  • Perform for 6 to 8 weeks:
    • Track your progress: Test/re-test, training log
    • Add difficulty if it gets easy (load, elevate feet on ring rows, etc.)
    • Add a download week if you are burning out or hitting a wall
    • Add one set to “C” exercises on your 4th week or after a download
  • Tempo explanation here
  • A-B-C explanation here

Day 1:
A. Vertical Pronated Pull (Pull Up or scale with band pull down): 5 x 3 reps
  • Rest 3 to 5 minutes between sets
B. Rotating Grip Ring Rows: 4 x 6 to 8 reps @ 3101 tempo
  • Rest 2 minutes between sets
  • Progress by elevating feet, then adding weight
C1. Reverse Shrugs: 2 x 12 to 15 reps
C2. Retractions: 2 x 12 to 15 reps
  • Rest between 20 to 40 seconds between sets 

Day 2: 
A. Vertical Pull Negatives: 5 x 3 to 5 reps w/ a 3 second lowering phase
  • Rest 3 to 5 minutes
  • This should be done with little effort exerted to get up to the bar (you may need to step, jump up, or have a partner assist you to get on the bar.
  • The eccentric portion should be very difficult
  • End the set once your descent is no longer smooth and even
B. Rows (any variation): 5 x 3 to 5 reps
  • Rest 3 minutes between sets
C1. Banded Pulldown: 2 x 12 reps
C2. Retractions: 2 x 12 to 15 reps

C3. Bar hang: 2 x Submax hold (challenge yourself without going to failure and losing position)

About the author:

Adam Cristantello ATC, USAW-L1SP, CPT
Co-owner of Nova Fitness

Adam's 14 years of strength training experience, to include sports performance and a degree in Sports Medicine, has led to his prioritization of teaching a healthy perspective towards exercise and wellness. This is important because a misaligned perspective often leads to short-term results and long-term problems. His process begins by building a solid foundation based in quality movement, while analyzing the motivations for exercise (goals, current health and psychological state, life priorities, etc.).