Monday, 22 April 2013

Mastering your body weight - the pull up

The pull up is one of the defining marks of upper body strength. It is crucial for building a good power to weight ratio, and is the first step for everything from bodybuilding to gymnastics. Its hard to overstate the importance of this movement because it's so integral for physical strength and fitness - and here's a shocker, its not just for boys. 

Some of the greatest gymnasts in the world are women, and are perfectly capable of managing their bodyweight to the same degree as men. Women actually have the advantage with bodyweight manoeuvres, as the average female has a smaller frame and shorter arms than most men, allowing them greater control over their own weight. The problem is the build up. Many aspiring athletes (men and women) attempt to jump right into pull ups, thinking that they should 'definitely manage at least one', then become demoralised when they don't live up to their expectations. This becomes a belief that 'I'm just no good at pull ups', when in fact, they just haven't given themselves the chance. 

The only way to get good at anything is repetition, and having a pull up bar in the home to practise with is a great way to build up strength. I recommend buying a pull up bar that stays up from tension, such as this one, so you don't have to go drilling holes into the walls of your house. Every time you pass the bar, make yourself jump up and try a few pull ups. If you do struggle to manage one, don't give up hope, there a range of ways to build yourself up to a full pull up.

Negatives: There are two parts to any exercise, the lifting, and the lowering. The lifting is the part that most people focus on, and it recruits a variety of muscle fibres, especially the fast twitch muscle fibres responsible for explosive power. However, the often neglected lowering phase, is just as important. If you find you can't lift your own body weight, you can practise for it, by a series of lowerings or 'negatives'. If you focus on just jumping up to the pull up bar, and then lowering yourself as slowly as you can for a series of reps, this will build up the strength of your lats, and bring you closer to a full pull up.

Band assisted: If you have resistance bands, these can be a great way to help aid your pull ups. Attach your resistance band to your pull up bar by looping it round the middle. Put your knee or foot through the loop and allow it to partially support your weight as you hang from the bar. Now try and do a pull up. You should find this easier. This can be a good way to help build up a portion of the movement that you struggle with. So if you can't quite get your chin over the bar, practise with bands, focusing on a full range of motion, until you can.  You can buy all different sizes of bands from

Inverted rows: This is a great exercise, and can be done almost anywhere. Take an overhand grip, either on a set of rings set at around chest height, or a Olympic bar racked around waist height. Put your feet out so that your body is parallel to the ground. Then, pulling back with your elbows., and with your core tight, row yourself up to the bar/rings. This is a great way to build up to pull ups, as its the same motion, just with less of your bodyweight to lift. It can also be done at home. If you have sturdy table, lie under it and practise rowing yourself up to the edge.

So as you can see, there's plenty of room for walking before you can run. Don't be daunted, get stuck in, and you'll find it isn't so hard as you thought!

Images courtesy of Claire Watson photography

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