Pullin’ It Up

So, today I’ll be spending the better part of the morning in the dentist chair… so fun right? Anyway, in an effort to NOT disappoint the faithful SAPT readers, I posted an old blog post of mine from Strong Girls Win. I wrote this last year around this time. Apparently there was an article in the Washington Post recently about how women can’t do pull ups… to that I say, “Poop on you.” Clearly, they’ve never been to SAPT or come to a Buttkamp class.

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**Before delving into the wonderful pull up let’s make sure we’re clear: chin up is when your palms face you and a pull up is when your palms are away.**

Pull ups! The nemesis of so many women but, hopefully, this post will help you get a hang of them and perhaps, even like them. I’ve grown to adore pull ups, mainly because I stopped thinking negatively about them (“I’ll never be able to do them!” … Stop it. Stop that thinking right now.) and approach them as a challenge I can, and will, conquer.

Don’t let pull ups intimidate you.

Here is a quick overview of the muscles involved:

Latissimus Dorsi- aka, the Lats, yes I capitalize them because they are awesome enough to earn a capital “L.” These are your money makers when it comes to pull ups. The Lats’ are powerful shoulder adductors and extensors which is the exact movement the humerus (upper arm) goes through in a pull up. Adducting and extending the humerus =  pulling your elbows to your rib cage.

Biceps Brachii- aka, your “guns,” flex the elbow (like when you do curls).

Rear Deltoids- their role is more stabilization so I’m going to leave it at that.

Unfortunately, and I include myself in this category, we tend to focus on the biceps doing all the work as we try to “curl” ourselves up to the bar.  Instead, we should be focusing on firing the lats, shoving our shoulder blades into our back pockets and pulling our elbows to our rib cage.  The lats are by FAR a more powerful muscle and can generate enough force to pull our chins over (yes, over) the bar. If we rely on the biceps we look like Demi Moore in GI Jane (before she figured out how to fire her lats):

look familiar, minus the shaved head?

So how do we go about unleashing the Pull Upping Power buried deep inside? Here’s a couple methods I’ve tried and found them to be quite effective:

1. Banded pull ups- we do them here at SAPT.Find a band tension that will allow you to do 2-3 sets of 6 reps. Gradually decrease the tension as you get stronger.

2. Negatives- jump up and slowly lower yourself down in 5-6 seconds.  2-3 sets of 4-6 reps should be plenty.

3. Iso-holds – using a band or jumping up hold the top of the pull up (chin OVER the bar) hold for 4-6 seconds for 2-3 sets of 3 reps.

Choose one of these methods and stick with it for 4 weeks then try another for 4 weeks.  I recommend working on pull ups at least twice a week but no more than four times. Though if you’re doing pull ups more than twice/week, choose 2 methods and alternate between the two.  I’ve found that females tend to respond well to higher frequency and volume when training the upper body.

Few quick pointers before wrapping it up:

In the above methods, really focus on pulling your elbow to your rib cage. Try to pull yourself through the bar.

Pavel Tsatsouline talks about “greasing the groove.” Essentially, practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. Therefore, practice perfectly. The more you train the movement, the more efficient your body becomes at producing that movement.

Don’t grind your reps. Steve wrote an excellent post on this. Grinding only fries your nervous system and teaches you bad habits. Learn from my mistake!

DON’T GIVE UP!!! Strength gains take a while so be patient with yourself.

Go forth and CONQUER!!