Get your first Pull Up – Introduction
The Pull Up
The pull up is one of the most sought-after bodyweight exercises. A lot of people when they start training assume that because they are unable to achieve one that they are of a low level of fitness. The reality is that the ability to perform strict pull up is rare amongst the general population. My estimate would be that if you took 100 men and 100 women between the age of 25-50 off the street maybe 3 men could perform a strict dead hang pull up and 1 woman. Obviously amongst the gym going population that would be slightly higher and in a CrossFit gym a little higher still. However still most likely to be fewer than 1 in 10 people.
In this series of videos I am going to help you progress to the point where you can perform a strict dead hang pull up. For those who already have pull ups all the exercises I will go over are also great accessory movements to help build pull up endurance. I perform every one of these on a regular basis myself and with clients.
Following the first series I will provide additional content for those wanting to get to a chest to bar pull up, ring muscle up and how to add kipping and butterfly pull ups to your repertoire.
Strict Before Kipping
Before I start, I just want to clarify one misconception. You must train strict pull ups before considering adding a gymnastic kip. A strict pull up is a pure strength exercise whereas a kipping pull up is a variation that allows you to increase your volume and intensity during a workout. At CrossFit we work both. When a workout has an intended stimulus of being hard and fast then kipping or butterfly variations are often used to allow us to keep moving fast throughout and complete large unbroken sets of work. These gymnastic variations should not be used as a short cut to your first pull up. The danger of someone having an amazing kipping action but without the strength to control the descent is an increased risk injury to the shoulder. Build to a set of 3-5 strict pull ups before moving on to the full kipping variations. We can still learn the kipping action but just not at a load that we cannot control. Banded or toe assisted kipping practice is a good option for those wanting to scale workouts and add the skill element of the kip.
Set your expectations
It is important to set realistic expectations prior to starting your pull up training programme. Remember that a pull up can take anything from minutes to years to achieve. But just because the journey is long it is still worth it. Along the way you will gain strength that will progress most other exercises you perform in the gym.
Consider the following factors when managing your expectations.
Where are you starting from?
Where are you right now? As you go through our series you will work through a series of progressions. The first set of exercises will be achievable for all athletes, as you go through it will work as what we call the bus stop method. You will get off at the point you can still achieve quality reps. This will give you a good benchmark as to your current level and how far away you are. If you are more advanced do not skip ahead though as every exercise has a direct benefit to your progress.
The simplest measure you can have for pull ups will be covered in the first video. Here we will test your grip, core and pulling strength. These are the three basic requirements.
Remember genetics help!
Some people can get disheartened when they see other achieve pull ups before them. You must remember there are some anthropometric (Body dimension) factors that can affect the ease or difficulty of a pull up.
· Short people carry less weight: The same as bench pressing 50kg is easier than 60kg if you are shorter then you have less weight. This makes life far easier. A 120kg athlete is not able to become twice as strong as a 60kg athlete with the same body composition. A simple check of the deadlift world records shows that the 59kg Men’s world record is 275kg and the 120kg record 372kg. Across lifts there is about a 25-30% increase for someone double bodyweight. This means for pull ups being lighter is a big advantage.
· Limb length is crucial: Shorter limbed athletes have another large advantage. Firstly shorter limbs mean a shorter distance to travel for each rep. Work = Force x Distance, therefore shorter distances required less work. In addition short limbs require less force to move due to the shorter distance from the point of rotation. For pull ups the length of the humerus also makes a difference, shorter being advantageous.
Therefore comparison with others is not beneficial. The optimal body type for pull ups would be someone short, lean with a long body, short limbs and a shorter than usual humerus bone. If you have some of, or all these attributes you are at a big advantage.
Improving Body Composition is always the best start
As stated earlier being lighter makes a huge difference. The lower your body fat the less excess weight you are carrying for the pull up. It is often far faster to take 5kg of weight off than gain 5kg of pulling strength. Ensure your nutrition is on point to make pull ups much easier.
Consider the time it would take to get your desired body fat percentage when setting your expectations. Losing around 1% bodyfat per month is a realistic timeframe. It sounds slow but when you think that would mean someone of average bodyfat could get defined abs in a year it is fast!
Time to start
I know how amazing it is for an adult to achieve their first pull up. Especially for those who thought it was beyond their capabilities and I am excited to help you along the way. Put in the work, be consistent and remember that training sessions are not always going to be perfect sessions with fantastic results. For most of us out of 10 sessions 3-4 will be below average, 3-4 mediocre, 1 or 2 good sessions and maybe 1 great session. It does not matter, what matters is that you keep coming back!
See you the next episode!