Friday, November 14, 2014

How to Keep Your Pull Up Workout Effective

If your pull up routine is getting stale or not bringing continued results, we've got a few ideas to keep your training varied, interesting and effective.  It's easy to see the pull up bar as a tool with limited use.  Maybe the most variation that comes to mind is changing hand placement such as palms in or out.  And these are fantastic variants to the pull up that you should be incorporating into your training.  But we'll show you some important steps to take and new movements to include in your routine to keep gains coming.

Before we dive into some really interesting ways to use the wall mounted or ceiling mounted pull up bar we want to point out three important rules that you have to follow to see real results.  Those that don't follow these rules just won't see the success that really is possible.
  • Rule #1 - Consistency.  Of course, right?  If we aren't consistent in our training then we won't get results or they will fall short of our expectations and hopes.  Consistency is key and without it you will not see the results that you could.  To help keep consistent in your training you'll need to develop a habit.  Don't wait to work on your training when you 'feel' like it.  Our motivation ebbs and flows all the time and if you wait for the right mood to hit you, your training will be sporadic.  Instead, pick out an easy to follow schedule that you stick to no matter what.  Make it easy to commit to and if at all possible make it the same time each day.  And remember, consistency doesn't mean you need to train every single day.  Your body does need rest so take days off but make them the same day.  Research has shown that it takes about 21 days to form a new habit so plan on pushing yourself a bit extra for those first three weeks.  Before you know it, your training will be consistent.
  • Rule #2 - Variation.  To keep your body confused, your mind engaged and most importantly to keep gains coming, you've got to mix things up.  One of the most common objections to variation that comes to mind is that if the training is constantly varied, will I see improvement in any one exercise?  If I'm always changing my routine can I ever get good at anything?  The answer is yes provided that you incorporate similar movements to what you are trying to excel at.  If we're trying to increase pulling strength in the pull up, working on Deadlifts won't help us make gains there, but a movement like rope climbs will.  And changing the width and the position of your hands in the pull up, for instance, is a variation that is very important to do.  More dramatic variation such as the rope climb keeps your brain challenged even more and the training more exciting.  What to take away?  To see continued results, never perform the same pull up variation twice in the same week.  Change your grip, move your hand position or incorporate a similar pulling exercise.
  • Rule #3 - Write Down a Plan.  Failure to write down a plan and record results is the number one killer to motivation and progress.  Read that sentence again.  it is absolutely key to making progress.  Keep your plan to no more than 4 weeks long so that you have a chance to evaluate, see your progress, and change things up.  But write down what you'll do every training day for the next four weeks and no matter what, stick to the plan.  And writing down your accomplishments for each day is critical to track your gains and move through plateaus.  Make a plan, stick to it and record your results daily.
If you think outside the box, the pull up bar really can be much more of a training tool than many take it for.  And there is no reason that you can't incorporate it in every single training day.  As we've said before, variation is key.  

There are some that liken the pull up to the upper body as the squat is to the lower body.  Really?That's something to take note of.  We all know how foundational and important the squat is, but can the pull up have that same impact on the upper body?  Definitely.  We'll first need to recognize that mastering the basic pull up or chin up is only the beginning.  There are many advanced pulling progressions to work into your training after the basic strength is mastered.

Equipment Selection - Just a few quick notes on equipment selection before we get started.  A wall mounted pull up bar is a good choice provided that it's far enough away from the wall and has enough overhead clearance.  You might think that all pull up bars are created equal, but by choosing one with just a few key design characteristics, you can be prepared for many more exercises than just the basic pull up once you've mastered the basic pulling strength.  To keep the most amount of exercise options available, keep overhead clearance at 4 feet or more if possible and a bar that stands 30" away from the wall is ideal.

Get Out the Tape - To help keep your grip spacing varied, mark the bar in six locations with athletic tape.  The first pair will mark a narrow grip, the second pair a neutral grip and the third pair a wide grip.  If it helps to keep them super straight in your mind, color each set a different color.  Keeping track of and changing your grip spacing every training day is an absolutely huge part of success.  And it costs you nothing extra.  A few pieces of well placed athletic tape will pay you enormous dividends.

Basic Hand Position - There are three basic hand positions on the pull up bar to train pulling strength.  Palms facing in is the Chin Up, palms facing out is the Pull Up and we can also work on pulls with a mixed grip - one palm facing in and the other facing out.  All three of these hand positions are important to keep incorporated into your workout.  Match this with the athletic tape marks you've just added to your bar and you've already got 9 variations of the basic pulling movement.  The key to making sure that you are getting proper variation is to write down that training plan mentioned above.  Whether you've got a 3, 4 or 5 day routine, planning out now which pulling movements you will do each day is critical to keeping variation.  If you don't plan it out, you just won't remember what you've done or what is next.  Plan it out and succeed.

Bar Walks - One day a week incorporate bar walks in place of a pulling movement.  To begin, place your right hand, palm facing out in the middle of the bar and your left hand on the far left of the bar also palm out.  Imagine three points on the bar - Left, Middle, and Right.  The Left is the leftmost end of the bar and the Right is the rightmost part.  We'll abbreviate the positions as L - M - R.  Starting position is L-M. Then M-M, then M-R and R-R.  That is one repetition.  Without coming down off the bar and keeping hands at R-R, move through these positions. M-R, M-M, L-M, L-L.  That's rep number two.  Aim for three sets of 10 with one minute rest in-between each set.  If you drop off the bar, the set is over.  It sounds deceivingly simple but is super challenging.  And this type of exercise is great for developing a superior grip which will go a long way in building your raw pulling strength.

Bar Runs - A more difficult variation for building amazing grip and arm strength is what we call the bar 'run'.  Walking on the bar above can be done by sliding the hands out then together then out and together again.  Running requires even more strength and coordination.  To begin, grip the bar at one end with hands together, opposing grips.  When you hang free your body now rotates 90 degrees under the bar and that's just how we want you.  Now to run on the bar take the hand in back, release then re-grip in front.  Continue exchanging hands until you reach the opposite end of the bar.  It feels a bit like using monkey bars as a kid.  When you reach the end, turn around and come back or try moving backward to the starting position.

Sample Plan - As we've said, without a plan, you just won't see the same results.  Keep the plan to 4 weeks at a time so you can stay interested yet have a long enough time to see positive results.  Don't worry about planning out how many reps you want to go after.  That will take care of itself when it comes time to train.  Only be sure you write down how you did in each set.  Here's what one week with four days of training might look:

  • Rest
  • Day One - Hand Position - Switch Grip, Hand Location - Neutral
  • Day Two - Hand Position - Palms Out, Hand Location - Narrow
  • Rest
  • Day Three - Bar Walks
  • Day Four - Hand Position - Palms In, Hand Location - Wide
  • Rest
Test In and Out - And pick any one Hand Position and Hand Location before you start your routine and test your current strength before you begin the 4 week plan.  After working for 4 consecutive weeks, test out with the same criteria.  By following the three rules above you will see dramatic results.