Have you labeled yourself as “having NO upper body strength”?
Is the thought of being strong enough to do pullups intimidate or overwhelm you?
That’s ok, you’re not alone. Many of the new people I meet here at CNA are limited in their upper body strength. And even more don’t have a clue on how to make consistent and meaningful progressions in strength development. However, with a commited focus and a desire to succeed, anybody with at least 1 working arm CAN do a pullup.
Here are 5 simple steps toward achieving your FIRST legit pullup.
First, lets define a pullup:
Hanging from a bar, with your palms facing away from you, and arms outstretched, pull until your chin goes over the bar, and lower yourself back down under control. Capiche?
Whether you can already bang out 20 or getting your chin over the bar seems like climbing Mt. Everest, these juicy tidbits are sure to help you:
Get that first pullup
Clean up your form, improve efficiency, and avoid pain and over-use symptoms.
1.Develop a base of pulling.
If you’re at square one, you don’t want to just jump right in and start trying to do pullups. It is important to build some Horizontal pulling strength. These are the same muscles involved in pullups, we just adjust the angles so that we can “feel” the appropiate muscles working correctly. Horizontal pulling exercises include:
-Rows: bodyweight rows on rings, ropes, TRX, etc. (These are the best)
-Dumbbell and Barbell rows (Also fantastic)
-Cable & Machine rows ( Not my favorite, but can be very beneficial for developing body awareness. For example, learning how to use the lats. Also, can be used if you are in very poor shape/ overweight)
I made this video as a companion to the article.
2. Focus on the Negative
In exercise parlance, each exercise has a concentric & eccentric. A shortening and a lengthening. Or simply a Positive and a Negative. The Eccentric, or negative in regards to pullups simply means starting with your chin ABOVE the bar, and lowering yourself down to the bottom of the pullup. The goal is to maintain control and lower down SLLLOOOOOOOWLYYYYY.
It’s completely normal to be able to hold it a little bit and then drop like a rock. You might need to hold your chin over the bar for as long as you can first. With practice, you’ll get more control, and more control = more strength= you’re making progress.
Point to remember- the negative pullup is your guage of progress. Once you can consistently lower yourself with absolute control, it’s time to start reversing the motion.
If you want to do pullups, you need to train it often. Once a week is not enough. Calisthenics and bodyweight exercises respond very well to volume, and by that I mean doing them often. However, if you’re on this quest, that means you’re not that strong yet. Therefore, it is best to do small chunks with greater frequency. The accumulation of reps and sets over time matters more than how many you do in one workout. Do the reps, do them often, reap the rewards.
4. Lose Weight
I realize this may not apply to everyone, but if you are overweight, then this should be step 1.
If you are carrying excess body fat, you’re fighting an uphill battle. If you can’t do a pullup yet, would it make sense to add 20, 30, 40+ pounds around your waist and expect you to do weighted pullups? Of course not! Weighing less makes a HUGE difference. Some Ninja do’s and don’ts for weight loss:
-Ninjas DO drink lots of water
-Ninjas DON’T drink their calories (unless it’s a protein shake 😉
-Ninjas DO eat a healthy balance of Protein, Carbs, and Fats (super individualized)
-Ninjas DON’T eat junkfood (occasional cheats)
-Ninjas DO use a mix of resistance training, high-intensity intervals, and cardio
-Ninjas DON’T (or shouldn’t at least) beat themselves into the ground with lots of cardio.
If you need help losing weight, or you’ve hit a plateau, call us
5. Want it
The last step is the glue that holds it all together.
This is easy, but often underestimated. You’ll get sore, you might get a blister on your hands, you might have a bad day and have a crappy workout. This is simply the price of admission. I said it would be simple, I never said it would be EASY. Keep your eye on the prize, train with enthusiasm, joy, and intensity.
However, if you don’t WANT it, and want it bad, you still might get it, but it will take longer. It’s the desire to achieve it though that will keep you going when things don’t go as planned.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are myriad other ways and exercises that can build that strength. I feel that this is a great starting point for the Novice Ninja to start preparing their bodies for the rigors of obstacle training. Ultimately, the pursuit of strength is a solo mission. A coach can help you, a team can motivate you, others can inspire, but no one is going to get your chin over the bar. Enjoy the process, experiment, learn what works for YOU. Then, you can pass on what you’ve learned to those that look up to you.
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