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The Year of the Pull-up

I have been writing a lot about pull-ups lately, but that is because pull-ups are one of the best strength movements that any man or woman can train to do. Regular pull-up training incorporated into one’s strength training program, no matter what one’s specific goal may be, help to make a well rounded strength training program, for anyone, desk jockey, athlete, man or woman.

As I mentioned in my post “How women can train to do pull-ups WELL.” I first started to incorporate pull-ups into my own personal strength-training program about five years ago. At the time I did not have a specific goal for pull-ups but I knew that generally pull-ups help for anyone to have a well-balanced strength-training program and the strength gained from training pull-ups translates into other areas. Subsequently, not only do I train pull-ups myself for my own personal strength training, but I have the majority of my clients train pull-ups as well.

On Friday 12/21/12, what marks a “change in cycle” according to the Mayans, a “fresh start” if you will, two Iron Body Studios’ clients, Sharon S. and Melinda R. achieved their goal of a dead-hang pull-up; actually 5 pull-ups each because they are that amazing. Which, on this day, what is supposed to represent a “change in cycle”, a “fresh start”, in my opinion, was quite fitting. This truly marked a new STRENGTH beginning for both of them.

This goal did not happen overnight. They both practiced correct technique and had a strong dedication to consistency with their training AND they had patience. As Bruce Lee used to say, “Patience is not passive, on the contrary it is concentrated strength.” It is this concentrated strength that helped them to achieve their goal of a dead-hang pull-up.

In this post I will briefly outline each of their stories and explain certain things that helped them to get past their sticking points and to achieve this goal.

Melinda R.

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Melinda has been a client of mine going on three years now. We became serious about her pull-up training this past January 2012. In January she was doing three sets of three pull-up repetitions with a heavy super band. We trained band-assisted pull-ups from January until May when she could complete three sets of five pull-up repetitions with the heavy super band. After I returned from my RKC Level II Certification in May 2012, I eliminated the super band during our training sessions together, and gave her my own personal assist to get over the bar, by giving her a little push on her mid-back. She continued to use the super band when she trained on her own.

Also upon returning from my RKC Level II in May 2012, I taught Melinda the hollow position. Melody Schoenfeld explains what this is in her post “The Proof is in the Pull-up: 10 Tools for Getting Better at Pull-ups”.  Melinda started to use the hollow position technique to do her assisted pull-ups and we also started to incorporate flexed arm hangs and eccentric pull-ups – both things that she could easily practice on her own outside of her training sessions with me.

Finally, over the past four weeks I started to incorporate Hanging Leg Raises (HLR) to her training program. Melinda was not unable to a full HLR, ankles to the bar, but she could do one to an L sit, so we trained L sits. In addition, Melinda could do one underhand grip chin-up on her own, so when she trained on her own, she would start out her sets of pull-ups with a chin up, and then go on to do band assisted pull-ups with a lighter band than the original heavy super band that we used when we started back in January.

This past week during our training session on 12/19/12 I watched her as she began her set of pull-ups and I saw that she leaked tension; in that before she started her pull-up, she was rushing into the pull and not taking a second to hang from the bar and make sure that she had a strong hollow position with her shoulders packed and the tension controlled from the toes up. So, for her second set I coached her to take a second before she started her pull-up, find a solid, tight hollow position from the shoulders to the toes, then brace her abdominals and pull up. With this she pulled herself up farther than she has ever reached before and we both thought that she was almost going to complete the pull-up. She managed to get her chin to be level with the bar for three single repetitions. It was a HUGE accomplishment. I should also note, that on this day we started her session out with two sets each of leg lowering and half kneel chop and lift. If you do not know what these two drills are, then I recommend that you seek out your local CK-FMS certified instructor and have them teach you what these drills are and why they are done in certain instances. For Melinda, since she is recovering from abdominal diastatsis, it was to help her core to fire properly for the exercises that I had planned for her training session; particularly with the pull-up in mind as the pull-up requires tremendous abdominal strength.

Then, two days later, she achieved her first dead-hang pull-up.

I believe it was the hollow position and learning how to control the tension that got her past her sticking point to achieve success.

Congratulations Melinda!

Summary of What Worked for Melinda to Achieve her Goal of a Pull-up

Band assisted pull-ups (heavy band assistance to start; progress to a lighter tension band)

  • Partner assisted pull-ups
  • Eccentric pull-ups
  • Flex arm hangs
  • Hanging Leg Raises (HLR) to L-sit
  • Applying the Hollow Position technique
  • Controlling tension from head to toe
  • Training unassisted bodyweight supine (underhand grip) chin-ups for as many as she could do even if it was three sets of one repetition

For more detail about some of these training techniques see the post “Pull-up Tips for Women”.

Below is a video taken of Melinda completing number 4 and 5 of her first ever pull-ups. I did not start recording video until after she had done 3 pull-ups, so I will take another video of a “fresh” set the next time I see her and I will update this post with a new video.

Sharon S.

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Sharon is a fellow RKC instructor. She received her RKC Level I Certification in Downingtown, PA this past September 2012. Upon returning from her RKC Level I Certification she began to do the Easy Strength training program. Therefore, she has a significant basis of skill and strength. At this time, Sharon could also do one single unassisted body weight chin up on her own.

About three weeks ago, during the last week of November 2012 Sharon came to me and asked me to help her to achieve her goal of doing a pull-up. Her goal was to do one dead-hang pull-up by March 2013.

So, I started out by teaching her the hollow position. I then took her to the pull-up bar and asked her to show me her Hanging Leg Raise (HLR). Like Melinda, Sharon was not unable to a full HLR, ankles to the bar, but she could do one to an L sit.

I coached Sharon to train HLRs to the L sit, eccentric pull-ups and flexed arm hangs on her own. I also coached her to do whatever chin-ups she could do, even if it was three sets of single repetitions, every time she trained pull-ups.

Another important note here is that both Melinda and Sharon were training pull-ups and pull-up techniques at least three to four times per week.

About one week later, I had an “aha” moment about my own success with pull-ups. Pull-ups take tremendous core strength. When I first went to do a Hanging Leg Raise at my RKC Level II Certification it was very easy for me. The reason for this is because in my kung fu training we have to do v-ups. V-ups are essentially a hanging leg raise on the floor. I had to complete 100 consecutive v-ups in less than two minutes for my black belt test. I believe that this skill translated to my ability to do hanging leg raises and to have a strong hollow position and in turn for me to be successful at pull-ups.

So the next time that I saw Sharon I explained this to her, checked her v-up form, which was perfect by the way, and coached her to add v-ups to her training program.

(Note: If you cannot do a v-up, as they are very challenging and it’s important to keep a straight spine, then you can start out by doing a full sit up reaching one arm to the opposite foot. Both arm and leg must be very straight and you must maintain a straight spine while sitting up to reach your opposite foot. This will help you to progress to a v-up.)

Over these past three weeks Sharon’s ability to do a single body weight chin up went to an ability to do three consecutive body weight chin ups. Then, unexpectedly on 12/21/12, she went to start her first dead-hang pull-up of the day, with a perfect hollow position, and completed that sucker with ease, chest to bar.

Congratulations Sharon! You achieved your goal well before March 2013!

Summary of What Worked for Sharon to Achieve her Goal of a Pull-up

  • Training unassisted bodyweight supine (underhand grip) chin-ups for as many as she could do even if it was three sets of one repetition
  • Partner assisted pull-ups
  • Eccentric pull-ups
  • Jump pull-ups
  • Flex arm hangs
  • Hanging Leg Raises (HLR) to L-sit
  • Applying the Hollow Position technique
  • Controlling tension from head to toe
  • V-ups

For more detail about some of these training techniques see the post “Pull-up Tips for Women”.

Below is a video taken of Sharon completing number 4 and 5 of her first ever pull-ups. I did not start recording video until after she had done 3 pull-ups, so I will take another video of a “fresh” set the next time I see her and I will update this post with a new video.

As a business owner, instructor, and personal trainer, Sharon & Melinda’s successes on this day are why I do what I do for a living. I help people to not only achieve their strength and fitness goals, but I help to inspire them to believe that if you have the will and train properly, then ANYTHING is possible.

Aspire to Inspire, THAT is the Iron Body By Artemis motto.

Oh, and I promised that I would do one-arm cartwheels across the studio once they reached their goal of doing a pull-up, below is a video of these celebratory cartwheels ;)…