T Nation

I Can't Improve My Pull-Ups

T-Nation,
Any suggestions on improving this movement? I know, this is a vague/ lame kinda question. But as strong as some of my other lifts are, I was always poor with this movement.

I’m pretty strong doing other back movements (w/ good form):

T-bar Row 400+

Db Row 120’s x 12 reps (that’s the heaviest Db’s my gym has and I do the exercise last so I am a little tired)

I do have bad shoulders (problems w/ bicep tendonitis)

Any suggestions would be great!

Pavel’s Ladders, 'nuff said.

I went from 12 pullups max in a row to 21 in a short period of time.

http://www.cbass.com/Pavel’sLadders.htm

dont feel bad I cant even do pull ups. I try just cant do it.

I didn’t mention that I can do 8 reps at this time. I do weigh 240, but that’s no excuse!

I’ve found that if you’re not great at doing pull ups then do low reps but high sets eg 10x3. The aim of this would be not to feel any fatigue on any of the sets. Any with each set change the width eg start very wide and work inwards.

After a couple of weeks your pulls will start to feel a little easier and less of a struggle. From there i usually try to start building up the reps again not working to failure.

Avoiding failure but keeping rest periods to about 1min, seemed to have worked well for me. Give it go.

KFK

ps for people not great at pull ups, the only way to make any progress is to do pull ups - what i mean is don’t avoid the bar and try to build up with lat pulldowns.

Thanks for all the responses. I am open to all info and greatly appreciate all suggestions.

Pavel’s ladder link won’t come up. Any exp. on the exercise?

As I understand it: Do 1, rest minimally, Do 2, rest minimally, Do 3, etc until you feel as if you are 1 or 2 away from failure then start over with 1 and repeat. I have also had great success with weighted pullups. For the longest time I was stuck at 5-7 reps for a max (6’4" 290 deosn’t help) so I switched to 10 sets of 3 with a weight vest and 30 sec rest. after a few weeks went back and ripped off 11 reps at bw. I was happy my light in the ass training partner couldn’t talk smack (until we hit the field to run, but that’s another story) Good luck.

Where the hell is ZEB?

I thought this would be like the bat signal for the old guy. Fear not, young man, he’s probably just suiting up in his X-Vest and doing walking lunges to the ZEB-Mobile, which strangely enough is a giant replica of George Bush’s head with a 500-hp hemi.

Ladders:

Do 1 rep. Rests the time it takes you to do that rep. Do 2 reps. Rest the time it takes you to do 2 reps. Continue until you can’t hit the next-highest rep number - but don’t actually go to failure, stop one rep short. Then start over again, after the appropriate rest period, at 1 rep. Repeat as desired.

Sample Ladder workout:

1 rep, rest 1, 2, rest 2…6, rest 6, 6 (7 wasn’t going to happen, didn’t try it), rest 6, 1, rest 1…

It works up to a point, but I’m surprised that ZEB hasn’t chimed in yet to say that you need to do high-rep sets. It’s true; after you develop a certain level of pull-up strength, limiting factors like grip endurance become so much of a factor that you have to do higher-rep sets, and more of 'em. But until you hit at least 15, ladders are great.

I definitely agree with using Pavel’s ladder. How I do it is by adding a 5 second rest per rep that you do. So after completing 5 reps you would rest 25 seconds. It has helped out my max pull-ups a lot, gone from 15 to 24 but I also have gone from 240lbs to 220lbs so that has helped. Also performing them more often will help, the T-bar row is on a different plane being a horizontal pull so it won’t necessarily translate to a good pull-up. I’m sure ZEB will post soon enough, I have read all of his posts on pull-ups and they have helped.

I wrote this a while back…
[i]
Well anyway it worked for a few of my buddies (IE, guinea pigs). Lets say you can do about 10 chins/pullups, for oh, i dunno, 3 sets.

Perfect. Wonderful.

Then go do pavel’s grease the groove, or ladder thing a ma bobber if you have access to a pull up bar at weird intervals during teh day. Well I don’t. So here’s a solution.

Question- How long do you rest between these sets?

60 seconds you say?

Splendid!

Take one week, and do that for your “back workout”, just 3*10 of pullups. Now here is the kicker.

The next week, reduce your rest period by 5-10 seconds and continue to crunch sets until you have no break between them.

It would be nice if everything was this easy, but obviously you’re going to get caught in a hole somewhere along the way. Most of the time it’s just muscular endurance, which you just have to perservere through.

Most people, their grip will fail before their back muscles. For that, instead of pulling yourself up, just hang there and you’ll increase your grip strength(they do that with young gymnasts who can’t do pullups yet). There are other methods for increasing grip strength which I’m not exactly an authority on. So I’ll continue

Othertimes, it may be your absolute strength if that is obviously so. Take a week off and instead of 3 sets of 10, add some weight and do 10 sets of 3 reps, no more than 60s rest in between sets at 80-90% of 1 rep max.

Another possibility is your pressing power. So in addition pullups, maybe subsitute (or throw it in some other time during the week) do 3 sets of 10 (or whatever you can do) of handstand pushups against a wall. The antagonist muscles have something to do with it… I dunno…I don’t have a CSCS (yet).

If are able to crunch the first two sets, (20reps), but have to rest more than 20-30 seconds for the last set, thats ok… try one of the above alternate methods, but mostly that’s just a question of perservance your body will adapt to the given stimulus. One ‘client’ of mine had a problem adapting because of core strength (go figure) turns out that he would get cramps in his lower back (so i think pullups do activate the lower backs function as a stabilizer)- that was an issue.

If you want to achieve more than thirty…add more sets of 10, or 5, no less than 5 though any less than that and you better add some serious frickin weight.

Hell if you can do 5*10 with 60s rest, I’m convinced you can do about 20-30 on your own anyway, its really just mental.

Good Luck, Good Training, Good Poontang :-P,

-Xen
[/i]

[quote]DarkHelmet wrote:
T-Nation,
Any suggestions on improving this movement? I know, this is a vague/ lame kinda question. But as strong as some of my other lifts are, I was always poor with this movement.

I’m pretty strong doing other back movements (w/ good form):

T-bar Row 400+

Db Row 120’s x 12 reps (that’s the heaviest Db’s my gym has and I do the exercise last so I am a little tired)

I do have bad shoulders (problems w/ bicep tendonitis)

Any suggestions would be great!
[/quote]

IMPROVING CHIN-UP PERFORMANCE

by Charles Poliquin

Chin-ups involve the sternal portion of the pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, teres major, posterior deltoid, the rhomboids, the middle and lower portions of the trapezius, and the elbow flexors. A wide variety of sports require strength in these muscles, particularly sports that require powerful upper body pulling action such as judo and wrestling. Fireman

A chin-up specialization program will not only build impressive width and thickness to your back but will also pack solid inches on your arms by promoting growth on your biceps, brachialis, brachio-radialis and pronator teres. You only have to look at the arm development of Olympic gold medalists in gymnastics Andreas Wecker (GER) and Yurij (ITA) to be convinced. These individuals are not known for their volume of training on the Scott bench, but more for their countless volume of pull-ups and chin-ups on the various gymnastics apparatus.

I already can hear the people say, “I will just substitute pulldowns instead of chins”. Sure go ahead but you will not get the same results, and you will still have the lat spread of a cigarette. The neuro-physiological reasons why chin-ups are superior to pulldowns are beyond the scope of this article. But to put it briefly: a classic example of the difference between chin-ups and pulldowns is the fact that a chin-up is a close-chin exercise (body moves towards resistance) and a lat pulldown is an open chain exercise (resistance moves towards the body). These two types of exercise (open vs close chain) require completely different recruitment patterns although the exercises may look similar visually. But the fact that is clear, a great back is built much faster through chins than through pulldowns. Very much the same way that squats and deadlifts cannot be matched for lower body development.

Chin-ups vs pull-ups, what is the difference?

In kinesiologese, and throughout this article, pull-ups are chin-ups done with a pronated grip (palms down grip) and chin-up are done with either a semi-supinated (palms facing each other) or with a supinated grip (palms facing you grip).

What is the best grip for chins?

There is no such thing as a best grip for performing chins. Empirically speaking, the people I know with the best upper back development use a myriad of grips to recruit as many back muscles as possible. You just have to look at the upper back development of the gymnasts who medalled recently in the still rings event at the Atlanta Olympic Summer Games.

How to perform chin-ups properly:

Your most basic chin-up is the supinated chin-up. This type of chin-up have the greatest range of movements from all chin-ups for both the lats and upper arms. The starting position begins with a bar grasp in a supinated or palms up position. The hands should be held at shoulder width or slightly narrower. The arms should be straightened in a fully extended position with the torso in line with the upper arms. To begin the ascent, the relatively strong upper back and elbow flexor muscles will be used, as the elbows are drawn down and back. The ascent should continue until the chin clears the bar. It’s important to remember that before initiating the ascent, the athlete should inhale. During the ascent, the pulling action and leaning back action must be done simultaneously. Upon descent, exhaling begins and the trunk should come back to an upright position. As the descent is completed, the arms should be fully extended and the shoulder blade should be elevated.(THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT) To complete the range of motion, the upper arms and scapulae adductors must be stretched on every repetition. The legs should stay in line with the torso as much as possible. There should be no flexion of the hips, as this will lower the quality of the exercise.

Wrist straps can be used by trainees who have weak forearm strength and risk losing their grip, or for trainees who find that their forearm muscles are fatiguing before the upper back. However, I prefer if the trainee does not use straps, as in the real sporting (i.e. judo match) you will need to use your lats without the help of the crutches that straps are.

Progressions of chin-ups

Undoubtedly, the chin-up requires a certain amount of strength. For novice trainees, starting a strength program, using a series of progressions will help build up the strength level.

The first progression starts with the athlete hanging from the chin-up bar. The knees should be bent. Then a spotter should support the athlete at the ankles during the ascent. If extra assistance is required during this phase, the athlete can extend the legs against the spotter’s base of support.

Once able to perform 12 repetitions in this style with minimal assistance, the athlete is ready to move on to the next progression.

In this progression, the same position is used, but this time only one ankle should be in the spotter’s hands. The extra weight of the free leg will increase the overload on the muscles, providing you are overcompensating with the other leg. That is the reason a good spotter who gives you just enough help at the waist is a much better alternative.

When 12 repetitions can be performed with minimal assistance, the athlete can move on.

Here the position is the same, but this time the spotter will hold the waist. As the athlete strengthens, he or she will require assistance only in certain parts of the range of motion.

During this portion of the movement, the spotter should offer only enough assistance to help in clearing the bar.

Once to this point, the athlete will be able to perform the full range of movement without any assistance.

The athlete is now ready to use additional loads. An increase in overload is accomplished by one of the following:

Placing a dumbbell between the ankles

Wearing a power hook attached to a weightlifting belt.

Wearing a chin/dip belts with weights attached to it.

VARIATIONS OF THE CHIN-UPS AND PULL-UPS

As gymnasts, wrestler, and judokas have shown throughout the years, there are many effective variations of this exercise that can be used to boost your level of back mass and strength.

Narrow Parallel Grip Chin-ups

For instance, to provide a greater overload for the shoulder extensors, use a narrow parallel grip. Many gyms are equipped with V-handles chin-up stations, which are set 6 to 8 inches apart. Focus on bringing your lower chest to the handles as you pull yourself up. This variation is for the more advanced bodybuilder.

Narrow Supinated Grip Chin-ups

In this variation the grip is supinated but you will leave only 4 to 6 inches between the little fingers, this will increase the overload for the elbow flexors. In fact, it becomes an exercise where the load is shared almost by the torso and the upper arms. Which makes it a great arm exercise for those of you who have a Milwaukee tumor hanging off your torso. Medium Parallel Grip Chin-ups

Arthur Jones, of Nautilus fame, was a strong proponent of this variation of the chin-up exercise. In this variation the handles are 22 to 24 inches apart, In fact, you can have access to this exact grip on all Nautilus multi-station machines. In this variation, the hands are semi-supinated (palms facing each other., also known as neutral grip). At this grip you have the best leverage, as both the elbow flexors and the shoulder extensors are in their most effective line of pull. You will find that this grip has the least amount of stress on your wrists, elbows and shoulders. It is the form of chins where you are most likely to be able to use additional loads.

Sternum chin-ups

This variation popularized by Vince Gironda, involves keeping the torso leaning back throughout the entire movement. In this variation, the lower portion of the chest should touch the high bar. You can use either a supinated or a pronated grip. The grip varies from narrow to shoulder width. The latter being more indicated for the stronger trainee. As you pull yourself to the bar, have your head lean back as far away from the bar as possible, and arch your spine throughout the movement. Towards the end point of the movement, your hips and legs will be at about a 45 degree angle to the floor. You should keep pulling until your collarbones pass the bar and you make contact with the bar with your lower sternum. By the time you have completed the concentric portion of the movement, your head will be parallel to the floor.

I would consider the king of compound movements for the upper back, because it works more than the lats, it creates a great overload on the scapulae retractors. The beginning of the movement is more like a classical chin, the mid-range resembles the effect of the pullover motion, and the end position duplicates the finishing motion of a rowing movement. If you are an advanced trainee, and you are pressed for time, I would make the sternum chin-up a staple of your back routine.

Narrow Pronated Pull-ups

Use narrow pronated grip where the spacing between both hands is roughly 4 to 6 inches. This grip increases the amount of overload on the brachialis and brachio-radialis muscles because in this anatomical position, the biceps brachii have a rather ineffective line of pull. For many individuals this grip is easier on their wrists than the supinated grip. It is another very effective upper arm builder, particularly if your brachialis muscles are under-developped.

Warning: At the bottom of the range of motion, the hanging position, if you are experiencing shoulder discomfort it is a warning sign that you may have less than optimal shoulder mechanics. You may want to consult a shoulder specialist that can evaluate and correct your shoulder mechanics).

Mixed Grip Chin-ups I

In this variation the trainee uses a mixed grip: one hand pronated, one hand supinated, for example on your first set, with the left hand use a supinated grip and with the right hand use a pronated grip. With this variation, a greater portion of the load is on the trainee’s left arm because the brain will shift the arm to the more mechanically efficient arm. The stronger the trainee the wider the grip. Make sure to equal sets and reps by reversing the grip on each alternating set.

Mixed Grip chin-ups II

The last variation is an even more advanced version of the mixed grip chin-up. This has the support hand placed on the working arm’s wrist. The stronger the athlete, the lower the hand is placed on the working arm.

The Subscapularis Pull-up

Probably what Professor Mengele would prescribe if in charge of a gymnast’s training. In this variation, you assume the starting position of the wide grip pull-up, and pull yourself to the bar until the upper pecs make contact with the chin-up bar. The nuance being that at the top of the movement, you push yourself away from the bar, and lower yourself under control. Believe me, your subscapularis muscles will curse you the next 3 days, as they are strongly activated to control the descent.

The Gymnast’s Extended Set Back routine

This routine is for the advanced trainee only, it is inspired by the routines that Olympic gymnasts do to condition their enormous backs. You must be able to do 12 strict form shoulder width supinated chins, to do this routine.

Wide grip Pull-ups , as many reps as possible

10 seconds rest pause

Medium grip Pull-ups , as many reps as possible

10 seconds rest pause

Medium grip Chin-ups , as many reps as possible

10 seconds rest pause

Narrow grip Chin-ups

Rest 3 minutes

Repeat steps 1 to 8 twice, cry and curse me.

Andr? the Flying Squirrel Routine

This routine is named after Andr? Benoit, holder of the fastest in Luge double at the Lillehammer Olympics, who could do wide grip pull-ups with a 120 lbs dumbbell for a set of 3 reps on a 401 tempo. It is reserved for people who can chin-up with at least 33% of additional load for 8 reps (supinated grip shoulder width grip.)

Sternum Chin-ups 5 x 4-6 on a 601 tempo, rest 4 minutes between sets.

Subscapularis Pull-ups 3 x max reps on a 501 tempo, rest 3 minutes between sets.

Negative Close Grip Chins 3 x 4-6 rest 3 minutes between sets, use additional loads if possible, lower the body for a 6-8 seconds count on every rep.

I think Ian King had written a couple good articles on this. try 12 to super strength or bring on the pain.
Have you tried to work biceps before your workout? Try foor a few weeks and then go back to training your back before your bis. You should be able to improve quickly with this method.

best of luck!

[quote]RIT Jared wrote:
Where the hell is ZEB?

I thought this would be like the bat signal for the old guy. Fear not, young man, he’s probably just suiting up in his X-Vest and doing walking lunges to the ZEB-Mobile, which strangely enough is a giant replica of George Bush’s head with a 500-hp hemi. [/quote]

I just laughed so hard picturing someone driving GW’s head around.

Alphaboy, great article, I printed it out for future reference.

How about density training:

Pick a goal, say you want to do 20 pullups. Double it. Start cranking em out in the following way:

Every minute on the minute 1 pullup. 40 minutes to get it done.

When you can do this, go to 2 pullups every minute on the minute. 20 minutes to get 40 in.

When you reach 9 or 10 pullups every minute on the minute, you may need to take a complete minute of rest between sets, which is okay. Test your max # of pullups periodically to check progress. I did this twice a week only and have had good success, going from a weak 4 pullups to a strong 15, 16, 17 on a good day.

So many good posts.

Just thought I’d add my personal experience. Sub maximal reps, do as many sets as possible or to a goal number. Then practice often but try for more reps in the first few sets and decrease set numbers so total reps are the same. I’ve topped out at 35 sub-max reps doing this before I got bored.

Great suggestions! Thanks for posts!

[quote]Rainmaker wrote:
Alphaboy, great article, I printed it out for future reference.

How about density training:

Pick a goal, say you want to do 20 pullups. Double it. Start cranking em out in the following way:

Every minute on the minute 1 pullup. 40 minutes to get it done.

When you can do this, go to 2 pullups every minute on the minute. 20 minutes to get 40 in.

When you reach 9 or 10 pullups every minute on the minute, you may need to take a complete minute of rest between sets, which is okay. Test your max # of pullups periodically to check progress. I did this twice a week only and have had good success, going from a weak 4 pullups to a strong 15, 16, 17 on a good day.
[/quote]

Well i dont know much about Density training. But it sounds like it may work!

You may find doing high sets with low reps for 3 weeks, then switching to higher reps with low to moderate sets for the next 3 weeks.

If you hold the last rep of each set of Chins in the top position for 5-10 seconds that would help hypertrophy
those fibers. I’m doing that at the moment for all my back exercises.

It’s a funny thing high reps on chins, I find with myself i can do maxiumum of 15 supinated chins, but can do 50 plus pounds around my waist for 8 reps.

Anyway Good luck!

Ok, just a suggestion. Take a look at my latest thread…upper or lower chest in the physique and performance photos. Take a look at the development in my back…and guess what? I didn’t do a single pull up. So thus my advice is to switch over to lower rep chins…Hell just start doing the Waterbury Method. IMO it’s the best program on this site (I’d couple it with an ab program too)
Lord Proteinpowda

Here’s my very, very simple suggestion: Do pullups every day. When I needed to increase my reps a couple of years ago, all I did was go downstairs and do one rep each morning, without emphasizing the eccentric too much. I left pullups in my regular routine, using eccentrics to fill in the blanks. Then I tried doing two a day, etc, until I was up to 10.