I have a friend who owns a successful exercise studio that features intense boot camp style workouts. Her gym model is based around large group classes that feature every type of bodyweight training imaginable - plyometrics, calisthenics, yoga, etc. The gym has no equipment per say other than some light dumbbells, bands, and some plyo boxes. One day she asked me, “if I were to incorporate one piece of equipment into my gym for classes, what should it be?” My response, without hesitation, “pull up bars!”
Whether you workout in your basement or the local gym, a pull up bar is the one piece of equipment that you absolutely can not go without. My reasoning? The “pulling” muscles, namely the lats and biceps, are very difficult to effectively work without having something to pull against. Most traditional weightlifting movements can be replicated with bodyweight movements that require no equipment. Sets of push ups can be substituted for the bench press. Squats, lunges, and calve raises are just a few of the lower body exercises that are effective with no weight. Bodyweight skull crushers and hand stand pushups are two movements that can build massive triceps and deltoids. There are countless ab and core exercises that can be done on the floor. But what about your back muscles? Your lats and rhomboids are next to impossible to work with out mimicking a pull down or row - and unless you have a pull up bar you will be out of luck.
So now that I’ve conveyed to you the importance of pull ups, I have to disclose something. Not only do I think that pull ups are one of the most crucial exercises known to man, but they may be my hands down favorite. One of the reasons I love pull ups is their versatility - there are numerous ways to change the focus and degree of difficulty just by changing your hand placement or the angle at which you are pulling. Today I’m going to teach you my 10 favorite pull up variations, ranging from simple to extreme.
Pull Up 101- everyone seems to have a different opinion about technique, but here are my three golden rules of the pull up game:
-Do Not Swing: kipping is fine if you are doing a muscle up (and maybe even on a plyo based pull up like flying pull ups or the Clap pull ups described in number 8 above), but if you are trying to build strong lats you should not be swinging what so ever. What is the best way to prevent this? Keep your legs perfectly straight, keeping your glutes flexed and your toes pointed towards the floor. It’s common default position for people to bend their feet up behind them during a set of pull ups but that will make it easier to start kipping as the reps get tough. Keep your legs locked in place and you will have to rely on strength, not momentum, to finish your set.
-Go LOW, but not quite all the way down- the other most common mistake besides kipping is not going low enough. With that being said, you want to go low but not completely to what is called an “un-packed” position. If you go all the way down to a dead hang your entire body weight is now being supported by the tiny muscles of the rotator cuff - not a good situation for anyone. Keep your lats tight at the bottom, literally an inch or so from a dead hang, and never fully relax. Your shoulders will thank you.
-Pull at the proper angle- on overhand variations, concentrate on engaging your lats and pulling your elbows back as your collar bone cruises towards the bar. The further your elbows are in front of you, the more you are relying on your biceps rather than your lats. A wide grip pull up should have the same mechanics as a wide grip pull down.
-Get your chin above the bar, but not by throwing your head back at the top- can we all just agree to stop with the “head nod” thing at the top of our pull ups. By throwing your head back at the top, you are not getting any higher and are simply tricking yourself into thinking you went all the way up. Just stop. Please. Keep your eyes focused on something straight ahead and get your chin above the bar the old fashioned way - by doing a full rep
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