Problem: I want to do more pull ups!
I was sitting in a public area the other day and overheard a young woman asking a guy who, sounded like a fitness enthusiast “ I am very strong and slim, but for some reason I can’t do a pull up, what do you think I should do?”. His answer was pretty straight forward “it’s a back exercise so you must have a weak back. Just increase your strength by doing rows and pull downs. That should do the trick”. Now though it is true that the major muscle involved in the exercise, if done properly, are the muscles of the back. However, your body must work in unison as well as begin processing the movement. The kinetic chain, in the body, is a cycle between the muscular, skeletal and neurological systems. If all three systems are unable to do their jobs, no matter how strong you are, you will not be able to complete the exercise. The body does not move one muscle at a time. There are a number of muscles firing with any motion performed, especially during a pull up.
Now the follow up to the approach “just keep trying” is.. “so I should just hang there?” Yes… & no! As you hang there for as long as your grip allows, try to pull yourself up as much as you can (anything is better than nothing). Hang and pump! Activate the muscles that should be pulling you up, this way your body gets a taste of what is to come. There are also modified exercises which must be done to accompany hanging there. Begin doing a “control down” or eccentric pull up. Begin at the top of the pull up, your arms at 90 degrees or chin to bar (use a step, plyo box, or just jump up into the pull up position.) Then control the motion from the top down as slow as possible. To add another exercise into it, you can also use an assisted pull up machine. Make sure to challenge yourself when performing assisted pull-ups. If you can do more than 4 reps, decrease the assisted weight until you are doing them on your own.
If you can do a pull up. Do as many as you can and then perform the exercises mentioned in the previous paragraph. This will increase your total pull up reps as well as overall strength!
For other tips, questions or comments feel free to email!
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