People often live for those memorable moments when they hit new personal best on big lifts or even when the can look back at old photos see positive progress has occurred. Nonetheless people also get that same euphoric feeling the instant they are able to bust out sets of bodyweight pull-ups for the first time.
Being able to achieve your first body weight pull up is not as far away as you think it might be. When having conversations with people about their failed attempts to get better at pull ups there have been three consistent overlaps.
A Crappy Mindset
You can’t expect to have great success your first attempt trying something new or having an on and off relationship with it. When I was growing up my father got me my first Bow and Arrow set for my birthday. I went outside immediately shot and missed all 12 of my carbon fiber arrows. I was the saddest thirteen year old on the planet. I immediately started blaming my failure on my dad saying things like
“The bow you got me is broken”
“Why in the world would you get this for me”
“These arrows don’t even fly straight”
A few hours later I saw my dad grab his bow and arrows to start his daily ritual of target shooting. He saw me looking and said “You done whining?” I shook my head yes and he said “Good, grab your bow and lets start practicing” I practiced every day for hour, shooting hundreds and hundreds of arrows. A few years later I won back-to-back state titles through NASP (National Archery in the Schools).
So what does all of this mean?
You have to change your negative relationship with pull-ups. Be honest with yourself and start with variations that are suitable for your skill level. Don’t worry about being judged in the gym for using helpful variations such as bands, eccentrics (slow lowering), etc ]. Stay focused on yourself and keep the goal the goal.
Smart Sally Weekly Pull-Ups
Low Frequency and Volume
Pulling your body up is a motor skill, which makes frequency (how often) King and total volume Queen. Volume is simply the total number of pull-ups you do each day over the course of a week. Your goal should always be to increase this number each week no matter what variation you choose from above. For example lets look at some sample programs:
Smart Sally’s Program
MWF: "At the end of each training session I am going to see how many pull-ups I can get in 8mins with a ladder rep scheme. Perform 1 PU, rest 10sec, Perform 2 PU, rest 10sec, Perform 3 Pu, rest 10sec, Perform 1 PU …..repeat until 8mins is over."
Tu, Th: Be sure to complete 10 pull-ups before I start training
Naughty Nancy's Weekly Pull-Ups
Her total = 140/week
Naughty Nancy’s Program
MWF: Perform 3x5 “because this is as many as I can do at once”
Tu, Th: are lower body days soooo I don’t do pull-ups
Nancy's Total: 45/week
As you can see smart sally performed almost 100 more pull-ups in a week than Nancy did. Over a month Sally will have performed nearly 560 pull-ups smashing Nancy’s monthly total of 180/month.
Additionally other ways to increase training volume can be to set a pull-up number and each week try to beat the time it takes you to complete x number of pull-ups.
If you want to get better at pull-ups you need to progressively increase your total volume over each week. Track the number of pull-ups each day get your total at the end of the week. I would suggesting trying to beat that number by 10 pull-ups each week. If you are timid on how to get started please feel free to shoot me an email or reach out to a strength coach near you.
Building a large base of pulling strength is a must. It will help you develop the ability to contract your back muscles and develop a stronger more resilient back. Here are some of my favorite variations.
DB Seal Rows
Is an excellent exercise that hammers the upper back and forces one to focus in on solid technique.
Inverted Rows – Pronated Grip
Another great exercise that requires minimal set up and attacks the back, biceps and challenges grip strength.
1-arm DB Rows
For beginners start by adding a 3 second squeeze at the top of each rep to really feel your upper back light up.
Just around the corner
Performing your very first pull-up is right around the corner. You just have to take the first step and keep on moving forward. By being positive, increasing your frequency and volume over time, and crushing your back you will be well on your way to busting out pull-ups.