T Nation

Jarvan: Pull-up Centered Calisthenics Routine?


#1

'Decided to make this thread after I stumbled across Jarvan's post in this thread:

http://tnation.T-Nation.com/free_online_forum/sports_body_training_performance_bodybuilding_beginner/what_is_a_good_calisthenics_workout_i_can_do_at_home

I currently train at home, and I'm limited to a suspension trainer, an irongym pull-up bar, and a walker I use for dips. I just finished the Armstrong pull-up program and came out with the following max reps:

Neutral pull-ups: 11
Chin-ups: 12
Pull-ups, shoulder-width: 8
Pull-ups, wide-grip: 5
Pull-ups on rotating handles: 5

I also casually tested my maxes for the upper body pushing exercises:
Dips: 10
Push-up, regular: 20
Push-up, diamond/close-grip: 10

My goals post-armstrong are to hit a consistent 12 reps on each of the pull-up variations I have listed above. You say that you work at a relatively low rep-range for pull-ups (1-6) 4x/week, and that you utilize different training techniques such as static holds, pulses, etc. Do you mind if you went into more detail on the programming aspect of your routine? How have your maxes improved since you implemented your routine, and how long did you train this way before you moved onto weighted work (as you had mentioned in your post)?


#2

I’m kind of flattered you’d ask me this since there are quite of other few knowledgeable posters on this forum, but it’s understandable since I do tend to preach calisthenics a lot.

First and foremost, establish the perfect rep.
Now, this can take a week, or it can take a month+. It really depends on your current shoulder mobility and overall proprioception. In other words, are you aware of how hard your rectus abdominus is activated, if at all? Where are your feet? Are your ankles in dorsi/plantar-flexion? Are you comfortable activating the appropriate stabilizer muscles at a dead hang, prior to pulling? Are your elbows pointing behind you? Can you reach the bar with your clavicle? etc. All of this seemingly asinine attention to a ‘simple’ pull up is what, I believe, gives me the benefits that it does. So in essence, the perfect rep, to me, has very much to do with understanding the movement at a deeper level. Even if you have to spend months at it, it’s well worth it.

One perfect rep trumps a thousand shitty ones.

And that is where everything starts, my friend. Once you have the perfect rep established, you won’t need a program. The perfect rep IS the program. In pursuing the perfect rep, you will have addressed any and all weaknesses throughout the spectrum in the movement. And this is where the fun stuff can begin… From here you can incorporate tempo changes, weighted pulls, static holds, AMRAP, muscle ups, levers, etc.

It’s important to note that I carry this onto every single one of my other lifts, namely my squats and dips/push ups.
One amazing technique I will share with you is a simple sun salutation called Chaturanga Dandasana. You start in a solid push up plank position ( I highly prefer the butt tucked in ) and you slowly lower yourself until your chest hits the floor. You can opt to push back up in to the plank, or raise up in to a downward dog. For you enthusiasts, this is my personal rendition.

During the eccentric phase, if you pay enough attention and go slow enough ( 4 - 8 second descent ) you will become attune to all the weak spots in the ROM… Think of ‘the pocket’ or ‘the lockout’ on squats. In the weak ranges of your ROM, you will either feel more strain, shake, descend quicker, or all of the above. One of the many benefits of BW training is the capability to address these weak points without much risk of injury. And as you progress further, you can start to incorporate mindful breathing, and not just your everyday anatomical/biomechanical breathing, which, of course, can also be considered ‘mindful’ breathing.

So start with chaturangas with all your big movements (pull up, push up, squat) to address weaknesses. I highly recommend a nice gradual warm-up beforehand.

My strength is not so much geared towards the iron so much, as it is towards martial arts. I was stuck in a limbo between PR’s and MMA a couple years back, but I get much more satisfaction hitting an armbar or choking someone out than I do hitting a PR. Hence, I have come to train in this manner. But this does not mean that my strength in the gym has dwindled to a non lifter. Here is a comparison of when I was ‘bulking’ to my current self.

@155lbs BW
Bench 245lbs x 3
Deadlift 415lbs w/straps
Squat 365lbs no wraps or belt

@140lbs BW
Bench ??? 225lbs???
Deadlift 335lbs no straps or belt
Squat 305lbs no wraps or belt

Unsurprisingly, my lifts have all lowered, but still decent in my opinion. People work for months or years to establish a double bodyweight DL or squat, but I’m able to maintain those numbers, simply by working on my perfect rep.

And with that said, your numbers elude me…

Neutral pull-ups: 11
Chin-ups: 12
Pull-ups, shoulder-width: 8
Pull-ups, wide-grip: 5
Pull-ups on rotating handles: 5

I also casually tested my maxes for the upper body pushing exercises:
Dips: 10
Push-up, regular: 20
Push-up, diamond/close-grip: 10

The numbers you posted suggest to me that your technique is most likely shit. There is a glaring discrepancy with your pull up/dip numbers… It is absolutely possible, but in my experience, someone who can only handle 10 dips can not do 11 pull ups… satisfactory pull ups that is. I could be wrong, but are you doing those pull ups from a dead hang to chest to bar? Or are your arms always bent in someway and you only get your chin over? My guess would be the latter.


#3

Jarvan,

I appreciate the reply. I believe I should have been more specific with some parts of my post.

This is how I currently approach the pull-up and variations with regards to form and technique:

-Clench butt cheeks
-Stiff legs, squeeze quads
-Lightly brace abs
-Head looking straight ahead
-Arms fully extended/elbows locked at the bottom position
-From a “loose deadhang” position (i.e scapula fully elevated or “shoulders to ears”), I lightly retract and depress my scapula (i.e. scapula to “backpocket”) such that my chest is slightly puffed out. This is how I assume my bottom position.
-I initiate the pull by thinking, “bend the bar”, “hands are hooks”, and “elbows down”. I say “bend the bar” because I’ve found that my arms tend to rotate inward whenever I pull with an overhand grip.
-I hold the bar with a thumbless grip whenever I perform overhand pull-ups
-In order to achieve full ROM, I pull until my clavicles are in-line with the bar. Other external cues I’ve applied to ensure that I achieve full ROM include 1) pull until you can’t flex your arms anymore, 2) pull until your hands are by your delts
-I hold the top position for about 1-3 seconds
-I lower myself with control, but I’ve never been particular about how long I should do the eccentric phase.
-I lower until my arms are fully extended. I do not reset into a loose dead hang or “shoulder to ears” position.

(I’ve recently been introduced to Ido Portal’s material, and he actually recommends fully resetting into a loose dead hang in between repetitions. He also emphasizes active scapular retraction and depression to engage the upper back more–his version almost looks like a mini front lever of sorts. Are you aware of his approach to the pull-up, and have you ever applied it in your training?)

With regards to the large discrepancy between my pull-up and dip numbers:
I knew someone was going to bring this up sooner or later, and I appreciate that you pointed this out. I actually approached Armstrong differently in terms of pushing exercises. At week 1 I was adamant about completing 3 sets to failure every morning, but after going through Mike Robertson, Eric Cressey, and Ryan Hurst’s (Gold Medal Bodies) material, I realized that I hadn’t been performing a proper push-up. So I spent the remainder of the program doing casual sets of 10, making sure to 1) clench my buttcheeks to posteriorly rotate my pelvis, and 2) active protract my scapula at the top position. To be honest, I didn’t look to improve my push-up/dip strength these last few weeks. I persisted with regular push-ups for the sake of complementing the amount of pulls I was doing on a daily basis and more importantly for practice. I think this explains why pushing numbers don’t look particularly impressive in relation to my pull numbers.

To that end, I feel like I’ve been practicing the Chaturanga Dandasana to some degree, and I also thank you for making this pose aware to me.

I’ve been also slowly developing the habit of doing some form of shoulder/upper back mobility drills everyday. Right now I live on a diet of band pull-aparts, shoulder dislocates with a dowel, and dead-hangs for time.

I hope this post cleared up some of the questions you had about my pull-up numbers. What did a typical training day look like?


#4

That’s some well written and insightful stuff, Jarvan.


#5

[quote]nchann2 wrote:
Jarvan,

I appreciate the reply. I believe I should have been more specific with some parts of my post.

This is how I currently approach the pull-up and variations with regards to form and technique:

-Clench butt cheeks
-Stiff legs, squeeze quads
-Lightly brace abs
-Head looking straight ahead
-Arms fully extended/elbows locked at the bottom position
-From a “loose deadhang” position (i.e scapula fully elevated or “shoulders to ears”), I lightly retract and depress my scapula (i.e. scapula to “backpocket”) such that my chest is slightly puffed out. This is how I assume my bottom position.
-I initiate the pull by thinking, “bend the bar”, “hands are hooks”, and “elbows down”. I say “bend the bar” because I’ve found that my arms tend to rotate inward whenever I pull with an overhand grip.
-I hold the bar with a thumbless grip whenever I perform overhand pull-ups
-In order to achieve full ROM, I pull until my clavicles are in-line with the bar. Other external cues I’ve applied to ensure that I achieve full ROM include 1) pull until you can’t flex your arms anymore, 2) pull until your hands are by your delts
-I hold the top position for about 1-3 seconds
-I lower myself with control, but I’ve never been particular about how long I should do the eccentric phase.
-I lower until my arms are fully extended. I do not reset into a loose dead hang or “shoulder to ears” position.

(I’ve recently been introduced to Ido Portal’s material, and he actually recommends fully resetting into a loose dead hang in between repetitions. He also emphasizes active scapular retraction and depression to engage the upper back more–his version almost looks like a mini front lever of sorts. Are you aware of his approach to the pull-up, and have you ever applied it in your training?)

With regards to the large discrepancy between my pull-up and dip numbers:
I knew someone was going to bring this up sooner or later, and I appreciate that you pointed this out. I actually approached Armstrong differently in terms of pushing exercises. At week 1 I was adamant about completing 3 sets to failure every morning, but after going through Mike Robertson, Eric Cressey, and Ryan Hurst’s (Gold Medal Bodies) material, I realized that I hadn’t been performing a proper push-up. So I spent the remainder of the program doing casual sets of 10, making sure to 1) clench my buttcheeks to posteriorly rotate my pelvis, and 2) active protract my scapula at the top position. To be honest, I didn’t look to improve my push-up/dip strength these last few weeks. I persisted with regular push-ups for the sake of complementing the amount of pulls I was doing on a daily basis and more importantly for practice. I think this explains why pushing numbers don’t look particularly impressive in relation to my pull numbers.

To that end, I feel like I’ve been practicing the Chaturanga Dandasana to some degree, and I also thank you for making this pose aware to me.

I’ve been also slowly developing the habit of doing some form of shoulder/upper back mobility drills everyday. Right now I live on a diet of band pull-aparts, shoulder dislocates with a dowel, and dead-hangs for time.

I hope this post cleared up some of the questions you had about my pull-up numbers. What did a typical training day look like?

[/quote]

God bless you brotha, it’s very apparent that you have done your research.
And thank you for mentioning Ido Portal! I just did a google search and I am glad to know there are others who share a similar training mentality. To be quite honest, I sometimes even felt self conscious being the only person around me to use 90% calisthenics to achieve my goals. For this, I’ve been accused of being on gear (because that’s the only way he could be strong, they thought).

I still find it hard to believe that your pull up number is greater than your dip. But as I’ve mentioned, it’s possible; e.g. you. For me personally I’ve found that an improvement in my pull ups assisted in improving my dips as well, and are strongly correlated with each other. Perhaps it’s because we are at different training levels.

I enjoyed reading your post very much because of your attention to detail. However, I am wondering do you always do pull ups with glutes engaged? Or is that only for certain sets? Also, another contrast is that a good portion of my attention is geared towards my abs. And this is because I believe the lats are so integrated to work with the abs, at all times. Thinking about it now, I always, always pay massive attention to my abs for any movement.

My Routine

warmup

pulldowns - 30lbs 2 x 25
behind neck pulldowns - 1 x 25
dead hang, however long I feel, however many sets I need (until I feel my body waking up, activating. I also do these sporadically throughout my entire workout)
lateral and front raises - 5lbs 2 x 6
overhead presses - 5lbs 1 x 10
pull ups - cluster sets 3 x 1 (I focus on contraction, activation)
single arm pull ups - cluster sets 3 x 1

*sometimes I’ll perform two+ warm up sets, rarely in order. I adapt to what my body needs that day. It’s a workout in itself

Working Sets

I stick to 6 basic exercises with some fun fill ins.

MAIN MOVEMENTS
Pull up
Push up
Dip
Squat
Single Arm Bent Over Row (SABOR)
Lunges

POTPOURRI
Power clean
Back/Front squat
Curls
Extensions
Deadlifts
One hand pull ups

MY USUAL CIRCUIT
Pull ups —> Standing skull crushers[[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZ3Io5FpuSY]] just not as shitty —> Elevated push ups —> SABOR —> Dips —> Squats

Reps range usually range from 3 - 6.

Pull ups. Sometimes I’ll neutral grip, wide, V, overhand, underhand. Sometimes I’ll explode, sometimes I’ll do one rep and hold top position for 10+ seconds. Sometimes I’ll do some leg raises into levers. Sometimes muscle ups. ETC It’s whatever is possible with my hands on the bar.

Skull crushers, I’ll almost always get as low as possible and hold bottom position. It’s a suspended plank essentially.

SABOR, I’ll go for heavy singles or triples with anything between 100lbs - 120lbs. No straps of course. Again, interchanging from exploding and controlled tempos

Dips, start with holding top position (my idea of resting), lower myself to limit and hold that for awhile, then I’ll pump out 6 - 10 controlled reps.

Squats, very similar to Ido! [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbozu0DPcYI]]
I also love static holds in the pocket and pulses. A pulse is when I pick a difficult range of motion and ‘pulse’ up and down. Kind of like Ronnie Coleman squats with a shorter range of motion.

I repeat the above for about 45mins, only to take 30 to 60 second breaks to chug some water. No idea how many total reps or sets that is.


#6

[quote]dt79 wrote:
That’s some well written and insightful stuff, Jarvan.[/quote]

Thanks brotha, I appreciate it.


#7

[quote]Jarvan wrote:

[quote]nchann2 wrote:
Jarvan,

I appreciate the reply. I believe I should have been more specific with some parts of my post.

This is how I currently approach the pull-up and variations with regards to form and technique:

-Clench butt cheeks
-Stiff legs, squeeze quads
-Lightly brace abs
-Head looking straight ahead
-Arms fully extended/elbows locked at the bottom position
-From a “loose deadhang” position (i.e scapula fully elevated or “shoulders to ears”), I lightly retract and depress my scapula (i.e. scapula to “backpocket”) such that my chest is slightly puffed out. This is how I assume my bottom position.
-I initiate the pull by thinking, “bend the bar”, “hands are hooks”, and “elbows down”. I say “bend the bar” because I’ve found that my arms tend to rotate inward whenever I pull with an overhand grip.
-I hold the bar with a thumbless grip whenever I perform overhand pull-ups
-In order to achieve full ROM, I pull until my clavicles are in-line with the bar. Other external cues I’ve applied to ensure that I achieve full ROM include 1) pull until you can’t flex your arms anymore, 2) pull until your hands are by your delts
-I hold the top position for about 1-3 seconds
-I lower myself with control, but I’ve never been particular about how long I should do the eccentric phase.
-I lower until my arms are fully extended. I do not reset into a loose dead hang or “shoulder to ears” position.

(I’ve recently been introduced to Ido Portal’s material, and he actually recommends fully resetting into a loose dead hang in between repetitions. He also emphasizes active scapular retraction and depression to engage the upper back more–his version almost looks like a mini front lever of sorts. Are you aware of his approach to the pull-up, and have you ever applied it in your training?)

With regards to the large discrepancy between my pull-up and dip numbers:
I knew someone was going to bring this up sooner or later, and I appreciate that you pointed this out. I actually approached Armstrong differently in terms of pushing exercises. At week 1 I was adamant about completing 3 sets to failure every morning, but after going through Mike Robertson, Eric Cressey, and Ryan Hurst’s (Gold Medal Bodies) material, I realized that I hadn’t been performing a proper push-up. So I spent the remainder of the program doing casual sets of 10, making sure to 1) clench my buttcheeks to posteriorly rotate my pelvis, and 2) active protract my scapula at the top position. To be honest, I didn’t look to improve my push-up/dip strength these last few weeks. I persisted with regular push-ups for the sake of complementing the amount of pulls I was doing on a daily basis and more importantly for practice. I think this explains why pushing numbers don’t look particularly impressive in relation to my pull numbers.

To that end, I feel like I’ve been practicing the Chaturanga Dandasana to some degree, and I also thank you for making this pose aware to me.

I’ve been also slowly developing the habit of doing some form of shoulder/upper back mobility drills everyday. Right now I live on a diet of band pull-aparts, shoulder dislocates with a dowel, and dead-hangs for time.

I hope this post cleared up some of the questions you had about my pull-up numbers. What did a typical training day look like?

[/quote]

God bless you brotha, it’s very apparent that you have done your research.
And thank you for mentioning Ido Portal! I just did a google search and I am glad to know there are others who share a similar training mentality. To be quite honest, I sometimes even felt self conscious being the only person around me to use 90% calisthenics to achieve my goals. For this, I’ve been accused of being on gear (because that’s the only way he could be strong, they thought).

I still find it hard to believe that your pull up number is greater than your dip. But as I’ve mentioned, it’s possible; e.g. you. For me personally I’ve found that an improvement in my pull ups assisted in improving my dips as well, and are strongly correlated with each other. Perhaps it’s because we are at different training levels.

I enjoyed reading your post very much because of your attention to detail. However, I am wondering do you always do pull ups with glutes engaged? Or is that only for certain sets? Also, another contrast is that a good portion of my attention is geared towards my abs. And this is because I believe the lats are so integrated to work with the abs, at all times. Thinking about it now, I always, always pay massive attention to my abs for any movement.

My Routine

warmup

pulldowns - 30lbs 2 x 25
behind neck pulldowns - 1 x 25
dead hang, however long I feel, however many sets I need (until I feel my body waking up, activating. I also do these sporadically throughout my entire workout)
lateral and front raises - 5lbs 2 x 6
overhead presses - 5lbs 1 x 10
pull ups - cluster sets 3 x 1 (I focus on contraction, activation)
single arm pull ups - cluster sets 3 x 1

*sometimes I’ll perform two+ warm up sets, rarely in order. I adapt to what my body needs that day. It’s a workout in itself

Working Sets

I stick to 6 basic exercises with some fun fill ins.

MAIN MOVEMENTS
Pull up
Push up
Dip
Squat
Single Arm Bent Over Row (SABOR)
Lunges

POTPOURRI
Power clean
Back/Front squat
Curls
Extensions
Deadlifts
One hand pull ups

MY USUAL CIRCUIT
Pull ups —> Standing skull crushers[[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZ3Io5FpuSY]] just not as shitty —> Elevated push ups —> SABOR —> Dips —> Squats

Reps range usually range from 3 - 6.

Pull ups. Sometimes I’ll neutral grip, wide, V, overhand, underhand. Sometimes I’ll explode, sometimes I’ll do one rep and hold top position for 10+ seconds. Sometimes I’ll do some leg raises into levers. Sometimes muscle ups. ETC It’s whatever is possible with my hands on the bar.

Skull crushers, I’ll almost always get as low as possible and hold bottom position. It’s a suspended plank essentially.

SABOR, I’ll go for heavy singles or triples with anything between 100lbs - 120lbs. No straps of course. Again, interchanging from exploding and controlled tempos

Dips, start with holding top position (my idea of resting), lower myself to limit and hold that for awhile, then I’ll pump out 6 - 10 controlled reps.

Squats, very similar to Ido! [[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbozu0DPcYI]]
I also love static holds in the pocket and pulses. A pulse is when I pick a difficult range of motion and ‘pulse’ up and down. Kind of like Ronnie Coleman squats with a shorter range of motion.

I repeat the above for about 45mins, only to take 30 to 60 second breaks to chug some water. No idea how many total reps or sets that is. [/quote]

Your circuit looks interesting! Honestly, I wasn’t satisfied with the way I completed the armstrong program; I know that my technique is still far from perfect (that is, in my own standards at least). What the armstrong program has taught me, though, is that the pull-up is a skill just as much as it is a strength move – it needs constant practice and refinement. Right now, I’m thinking of going with an at least 4x/week schedule, and your idea of sticking to the 3-6 rep range makes a lot of sense for this kind of plan. I might do something like weighted pulls one day, technique work another (low reps with BW), and maybe even volume work with just my BW. I’ll probably work on my horizontal rowing this time too, and I should also probably start working on my vertical/horizontal pushing strength.

About squeezing the glutes: I try to keep them tensed throughout the duration of a set. It’s easy to “forget” about your lower body while doing pull-ups, and I will occasionally pause in between reps just so I could “reset” my butt and pelvis. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this too, but I can feel my abs tense whenever I make a conscious effort to posteriorly tilt my pelvis (by clenching my butt).

The more I dwell on this thread, the more I consider experimenting with low rep ranges for pull-ups. I’d always equated BW exercises with high reps. I appreciate the responses so far.


#8

A punch thrown is a punch thrown. But a punch thrown from an amateur, differs from a punch thrown from Mayweather. To me the pull up is absolutely a skill. And a skill can always be refined, but never perfected. There’s always room for error, so there’s always room for improvement.

Most people, and in forums like this, don’t recognize the importance of treating movements as such… Hence, you often times see other struggling to gain weight, lose weight, get stronger, prevent injury, etc. People claim to ‘squat’ or do ‘pull ups’, but we’ve all seen what some squats and pull ups look like. With that said, it is absolutely imperative to me that my skills are always tuned.

If you decide to lean towards the lower rep range, you’re going to find that you are rarely sore… And this is what enables me to train 4 - 7 days a week if I want. Chad Waterbury’s frequency principle was a huge catalyst for me training this way. I don’t tally numbers, or even track my PR’s often. What I do do is attend to the whole body and adapt my program according to how I feel that day. Of course, this is something a beginner might not be able to get a grasp of immediately, but that’s what my idea of achieving the perfect rep is all about. Pursuing the perfect rep graduates you from beginner status.

And just an idea, why don’t you do it all or a lot of it on the same day? What I mean is, why don’t you work on exploding, isometrics, weighted pulls/dips, all on the same day? I wouldn’t go down the entire list… But what I like to do, for example, is if I’m in a gym with a weight belt, I almost always start with it. I started using the belt a month ago, and it’s a good way to apply Thib’s principle of the force curve (Contracting as fast as you can, and so forth). You don’t need the additional weight, but there’s very few things that feel better than doing pull ups with 100lbs+ attached to you! Afterwards, I work on isometrics with/without the additional weight, and so on.

The glutes: I think the glutes and abs work more interdependently with each other when you have at least one foot on the ground. When you’re solely rooted with your hands (hanging), the lats take over. I can’t think of a pull up variation that would require a strong hip extension, as it would a strong hip flexion. In fact, it would be quite dangerous to do so. Of course, the glutes are involved as synergists… but it probably isn’t something that needs too much focus. If you want something to focus on, pay attention to the amount of involvement in the relationship between your lats and abs during a front lever. If you’re not quite at the lever yet, try what I call a L-sit.

Hang with your elbows 90 degrees, hips 90 degrees, shoulders 90 degrees. Plantarflex your toes and point them straight ahead. If that is too difficult, simply achieve 90 degrees with your knees as well. Hold this position, with your hips in a slight posterior pelvic tilt, and “listen”. See what your body says to you.