Exercise question
April 20, 2006 12:24 PM   Subscribe

Need help with my Pull-ups (No not the Diapers...)

I need to be able to do 10 full arm extension 'dead weight' (meaning from a complete hanging standstill) pull ups with the palms facing me by September.

As it stands, I can accomplish 3.

My question is twofold. First, what muscles are involved in this, and what sort of exercises can I do (other than pull-ups) to get them ready for this?
Second, what sort of schedule is best suited for success in this?

I am asking because I do not intend on spending the next few months hanging from a pole grunting and kicking my legs. There must be a better way....
posted by TheFeatheredMullet to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As is so often the case, exrx has the info.

That tells you the target (and the helper muscles), and then from there you can use the site to find other exercises that work those muscles.

You're quite correct that a single set of 3 won't be particularly useful.
posted by I Love Tacos at 12:33 PM on April 20, 2006

What gives out after 3 reps? Do you feel it in your arms, sides, back, or someplace else? Underhanded, you should be using primarily your lats, with a good bit of help from your biceps. That said, you'll want to strengthen your lats, and the best way to do that, unfortunately, is to do pull-ups. You can also do pulldowns, but nothing beats some good pull-ups. Do them until you want to cry. Do one at a time if you have to. Drop from the bar, wait a few seconds, and do another. I am terrible -- awful -- at pull-ups. But the few times in my life when I've been passable at them, it's because of practice. All the pulldowns in the world, even at reasonably high weights, won't help you do a set of pull-ups.

If you lift weights three times a week, it won't hurt to do them every time (I used to end most of my workouts with pull-ups, though usually overhanded, because I find them way harder). You won't find yourself getting particularly stronger, but you will definitely, definitely get better at doing pull-ups.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:38 PM on April 20, 2006

the best way to train for pulls ups .. is pull ups : ) it wa part of military training (which it seems to be the case here too?)

do one set of 3, wait 30 seconds, attempt another, wait 60 seconds, attempt another, up to 5 attempts adding 30 seconds rest each time.

Dips also help somewhat with pull ups, as do lat work outs.

during the pull ups vary the length between your hands to help target other areas.

rest at least one day between hard exercise on a specific area.

good luck
posted by crewshell at 12:41 PM on April 20, 2006

Going from 3 to 10 in a few months really shouldn't be a problem. The thing with body-weight exercises like this is that, once your muscles have adapted to your body's weight, they really don't get much stronger because there's no progressive resistance. Doing more repititions mostly builds your muscular endurance.

The best way to get good at pull-ups is, well, to do lots of pull-ups. If you have a pull-up bar in your house, just do a set whenever you have time. For a serious workout, see how many pull-ups you can do in half an hour (give yourself a few days to recover from this).

If you have a gym, there a couple routes you can try:

A lot of gyms have pull-up machines with a foot- or knee-pad that will literally push you up with a weight you select. This lets you do more pull-ups than you can without the assistance and will be a good way to build endurance (i.e., find an assist where you can do 10, decrease the assist, keep working out until you can do 10 with the new assist, repeat).

Pull-ups mostly engage your back muscles. The best specific exercises for these are pulldowns and bent-over rows.
posted by driveler at 12:41 PM on April 20, 2006

Well there's two main approaches:

1. Use the pull-down machine in the gym and do 10 to 15 reps consistently per set, working your way up to body weight.

2. Do actual pull-ups, bumping up the number of reps when you can.

I would recommend the first approach. In either case you should do 2 or 3 sets per workout, 2 or 3 times per week. Don't do more than that -- it won't help.

Also, is there any weight you can lose?
posted by randomstriker at 12:41 PM on April 20, 2006

To work on pull ups, practice negative reps (lowering yourself in a controlled fashion from the fully pulled up position). This is easier than a full pull up, and the negative half of the rep is where much of the benefit happens anyways.

This year I'm increasing my push ups from 2 to 50. My plan is to do 1 push up every day during the first week, 2 push ups every day during the second week, etc. This has worked pretty well so far -- each new week is a bit of a stretch but within my reach. Although by the 50th week, to do 2^50 push ups in one day I will be oscillating at 1.3GHz... (not really, I am increasing arithmetically not geometrically).
posted by blue grama at 12:45 PM on April 20, 2006

I Love Tacos, that link is for an overhand grip (palms away from you). Technically, chin-up is what TheFeatheredMullet is looking for help on.
posted by inigo2 at 12:52 PM on April 20, 2006

What blue grama said about negatives.

There is another approach which I haven't tried that you may want to look into suggested by Pavel Tsatsoulinas called greasing the groove. This would require you to set up or find somewhere you can chin throughout the day. Then whenever you think about it, go and do one or two, so that you do many more than your current max over the course of the day. Supposedly over time you'll find that your max goes way up.

Lastly, are you overweight, or likely to be losing weight over the next few months? Because losing a few kilos of fat is good for an extra rep or two on its own.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:15 PM on April 20, 2006

Thirded on losing non-muscle mass.

Also - just to be sure - are you breathing correctly? Supplying oxygen to your muscles is a good thing.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 1:19 PM on April 20, 2006

im not sure this will work for you but i will tell you my experience.

i used to be terrible at pullups. used to max out at about 5.

then i decided to start taking working out seriously, right diet and using HST for the weight trainging. so within HST i never did chin ups. then one day down at the gym someone asked if i could do chin ups, i hung on the bar and was amazed i just seemed to be able to keep going and going.

so a good workout had made me so strong overall pullups are now a breeze. so i would definately recommend a good work out and the pullups should come naturally.

feel free to email me and i will send you my workout.
posted by moochoo at 2:00 PM on April 20, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far.
To answer the questions:
Yes this is military related
Yes I am planning on loosing some weight in the next couple of months (Aprox 15 lbs)
No I am not overweight (at least not obese)

So Far, I think what will work the best will be to find one of those machines, and gradually decrease the extra assist in combination with some of the negative resistance exercises mentioned above.
posted by TheFeatheredMullet at 2:40 PM on April 20, 2006

Best answer: These are chin-ups. The emphasis the Latisimus Dorsi, traps, biceps and forearms. They are easier than pull-ups (palms away from you). Regular pull-ups tend to emphasis the lats and shoulders more.

I know guys who can bench 300lbs but can hardly do 5 pull ups.

In a round about way I get your question a lot from the boxers and martial artists I train.

They ask about lifting and exercises for punching and punching power. Everybody thinks "bench press" and triceps... but they are wrong. Pull-ups and lat pulls is what you want to do get better punches.

And to be able to pull-ups (chin-ups) you need to do pull ups and strengthen your grip.

Do them in pyramids - start with what you can do now - 3. Just do one. Then rest (for two FULL minutes). Then do 2. Rest. Then do three. Rest. Then do two - if you can. Rest. Then one.

At the end of every session rotate some grip strengthening and biceps exercises in there.

Forearm dumbbell curls 3x10 one day and 3 x30 second dead hands from the pull up bar on day two.

Both days do alternating dumbbell Curls.

If you want for extra stability try doing a 5-10 dips.

Do this two days per week for three weeks.

Week Four and Five try to pyramid up to 4 and down again. Increase by one each week after that.

Once you can pyramid 6 you can do ten straight. Easy.
posted by tkchrist at 4:20 PM on April 20, 2006 [3 favorites]

The magazine Men's Health had an article called "Master the Pullup" recently. You can read it here.
posted by tommassit at 5:09 PM on April 20, 2006

I really don't think you'll get much out of the assisted machine. If you can already do them unassisted, do them unassisted. Do three. Then rest a minute, and do another three. Keep that up until you can barely do one. I've managed to go from one to four overhand pullups doing this and I am but a small woman.
The hardest part of these is going to be getting up from the dead hang. You might add, in addition to negatives, working just that first part of the movement.
posted by ch1x0r at 5:51 PM on April 20, 2006

Response by poster: tkchrist,
Thanks for the plan.
Could you please explain the sentance "Forearm dumbbell curls 3x10 one day and 3 x30 second dead hands from the pull up bar on day two. "

If I can figure that out, your way seems to be the best so far.
posted by TheFeatheredMullet at 6:03 PM on April 20, 2006

I will give you the sick, hard trainer, build muscle fast if you can stand that it's horrifically intense.

Technically, you could do negative only chins.
Warm up (min 15 min)...

Put 20lbs around your waist. Get a stool, climb above the chin bar. Hold there. Lower for 10 seconds.

If you can do ten 10 second lowering phase (or negative only) exercise, add 10 lbs. Don't cheat in your count either..

And climb back above the bar.

Exercise requires overload (intense stress) and rest (sleep, layoff from exercise). Recovery form this is 3-6 days, because of it's own intesity.

You'll be able to do 10 reps in no time.
posted by filmgeek at 6:26 PM on April 20, 2006

If you want to try something that isn't just hanging from a bar and hauling yourself up, and is actually fun too, you could take up rock climbing. That works most of the muscles in your arms, back, and shoulders, not to mention core and legs. Plus, it builds the small muscles that help stabilize you.
posted by number9dream at 6:34 PM on April 20, 2006

If this is for the military, I would advise somehow forgetting that you need to do 10 pullups. You need to be able to do 12-15 good pullups. Never train for the minimum.

Don't worry; you still have plenty of time to get there if you follow the advice from folks like tkchrist or filmgeek (and many others). I just don't want you to wilt when some hyperobservant NCO tells you to "do one more because it doesn't look like your arms locked out at the bottom of that last rep."
posted by viewofdelft at 7:46 PM on April 20, 2006

Even if you're not fat, you can do what I dubbed "fat-man pullups". Attach a bar to your rafters to pull from. Attach a loop of strap about 6-8 feet horizontally from the bar to those same rafters. Make the strap hang low enough so that you can put it under your belly. Now walk yourself over to the bar and do pullups at a 45 degree angle. You'll be pulling yourself along the strap's swing, so your weight is effectively reduced quite a bit. If you can do three real pullups, you can probably do 15 fat-man pullups (a 300lb friend could do eight). As you get stronger, move the strap closer so that you're more vertical.

I used this trick on a double-t shaped swingset as a kid - I was the fat kid, but could do more pullups than any of the jocks.

If you need a picture or more explanation, my email's in my profile.
posted by notsnot at 10:43 PM on April 20, 2006

I second working biceps (curls) and doing some dips, in addition to pull-ups / chin-ups.

For an alternate pull-up routine, you might try mine, which makes use of a combination of assisted and non-assisted pull-ups. You need to start out with a bar (or even better, a thick door-frame or other flat edge - will help strengthen your forearms and grip more than a round bar). The "bar" should be low enough that your feet can touch the ground while you hold it.

You're going to do sets of ten here. At the start of each set, grab the bar, then lift your feet off the ground by bending your knees. Cross your legs at the ankles. Do as many reps as you can like this (and I mean push yourself to get that last rep), then finish the balance of 10 reps using your feet to push off the ground lightly - lower yourself slowly and regularly on every rep.

I do 9 sets like this - 3 with palms out, narrow grip; 3 with palms out, wide grip; and three with palms in, shoulder-width grip. I started this routine some weeks ago and have gone from a max of three unassisted to a max of 10 unassisted pull-ups and chin-ups. I'm still working on it. I'd like to be able to do all 90 unassisted. We'll see how long that takes - I'm guessing another couple of months.

Over a period of 3 months, I went from doing 50 push-ups per tricep/chest workout to 300 (12 sets of 25) and a max of well over 50. I figure similar gains are to be had in pull-ups.
posted by syzygy at 1:27 AM on April 21, 2006

The thing with body-weight exercises like this is that, once your muscles have adapted to your body's weight, they really don't get much stronger because there's no progressive resistance.

However, the good thing about body-weight exercises is how easy they are to adjust and adapt. One obvious way of increasing the difficulty of pull-ups would be to do them one-handed. That's a little hardcore though, so you may want to try other things, like extending your legs out straight in front of you (or if you're flexible and strong enough try getting your feet up level with your head). Of course you could also just hang weights from a belt to increase the weight you're lifting.
posted by ajp at 2:11 AM on April 21, 2006

Best answer: I posed this question to my trainer Giles, and he had some good comments (below). I'll have to get him hooked up on Meta


Improving chins - there seems to be some good advice and some not so good advice coming through in this forum. Let me throw in my 2 cents worth, based on my 14 years of experience as strength and conditioning coach with a focus on own body-weight exercises.
I'm a big believer in Pavel's theory of greasing the groove. If you want to get good at chin-ups then practise chin-ups numerous times a day. Trying to identify the different muscles involved and working them individually is a recipe for failure. Remember, the body is designed to work as one harmonious unit not an odd jumbled collection of parts.
However, this is the important distinction - don't train like a bodybuilder for numerous sets at a time and don't ever train to failure! If you can only do one rep well - then just do one rep really well and then come back at numerous points in the day and perform one rep again. Test your max number once very few weeks.
Also, technique is crucial to chin-ups. In order to fully activate the strong back muscles you want to grip the bar really hard (think 'crush the grip'), concentrate on tightening your grip from the pinky (this is a martial arts technique). As you pull on the bar actively try to twist the hands outwards (as though you're pulling the pinky towards the chest and the thumb away from the chest), imagine you're trying to break the bar in half.
You'll find that where you look affects where the alignment of your body and with chins you want to keep the chest lifted. So, keep looking upwards towards the ceiling as you pull and clench your butt cheeks hard for extra power.
One final piece of advice - we normally use only about 30% of our muscles true capacity for generating force in daily life. In times of extreme stress we can start to access some of the remaining 70% of potential force (the stories of mothers lifting cars off of babies are possible). So, as you perform your chin-up visualise that you're hanging off a cliff, with nothing below you, and you absolutely have to get up there!
Think of your training as practise rather then just working-out and good luck with the test.
Giles Wiley
posted by madmanz123 at 9:21 PM on April 21, 2006 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Could you please explain the sentence "Forearm dumbbell curls 3x10 one day and 3 x30 second dead hands from the pull up bar on day two. "

Augment your pullups with grip training. Do one grip exercise right after pullups one day, and for variety and to avoid over training do another type of grip exercise on your second day. (Forearm curls are simply wrist curling a fairly heavy dumbbell.)

Also doing 2 sets of biceps hammer curls and dips will condition your arms and help stabilize you. But don't do them to fatigue.

Also the Pavel method mentioned works real well. Arguably better than pyramiding sets just two days a week. (I really like Pavel. Especially his ideas on NOT going to fatigue and using deadlift as you base core lift. ) That said it's hard to do pull ups all day long if you got a job during the day. Simply impractical for most people.

Remember - Featheredmullet is looking to just get ten chin-ups. Even somebody with long skinny arms can get there fast by pyramiding sets.

PS - Featheredmullet get some really good lifting gloves (like Harbinger gloves) so you won't get blisters or broken calluses. You can get a serious set back if your hands hurt. I know. The purists consider gloves cheating as bare hands will build grip strength faster - but carrying around and applying chalk is a drag. And once you get blisters they takes weeks to go away.
posted by tkchrist at 5:30 PM on April 24, 2006

Also somebody else said that you should target to be able to do 15 reps or more. That's fine. But get to ten comfortably first.

If your doing a PT test for the military you will be stressed. Sometimes that gives you an adrenaline boost and may pull out 20 reps, sometimes it causes performance anxiety and you drop after 6.

Shooting for better than minimum while you train will give you confidence during the event and mitigate performance anxiety.

good luck, your giong to do great.
posted by tkchrist at 5:41 PM on April 24, 2006

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