The month of the pull up.
How many of us have ever set a goal relating to the pull up? This can be a polarizing movement for many of the people that walk into the studio and spy chalk buckets out and bands hanging on the bar. Some feel an overwhelming sense of fear, intimidation, or difficulty. Others walk in and are pumped to swing through kipping pulls ups or test their true strength on the bar. Well, we have some information we want to share with you no matter where you fall on the spectrum!
The nitty gritty details.
The pull up is a strength metric that we use on a regular basis because it is the truest expression of a person’s relative strength, meaning how strong you are compared against your bodyweight. The formula is the same across the board for every person that hops up to the bar. In order to master the movement it requires our ability to integrate different muscular systems together. It all starts with being able to hang on the bar under tension beginning with the stability of the hand through our grip. That connection integrates the arm into the core through the scapula (the winging bone on our upper back). Once you are in that initial stable position then we can get the lats (just under our armpits) to work in unison with the arm as we begin to pull.
The coaches often talk about creating external rotation at the shoulder. When we are hanging from the bar it means pulling our scapula down and wrapping around the body, which will hold us in a good position throughout the movement. Once we are there then we can integrate what the arm is doing with the rest of the body. Our ability to do this is what will keep us safe and functional throughout the entirety of a pull up. Our brain craves a sense of stability and if we don’t engage the appropriate musculature right away it will hold stability somewhere else that is far less functional like the neck.
The real step one.
As previously mentioned, the real first step to a pull up is being able to actively engage. Hanging from the bar under tension requires having control over the scapula, which is initiated by our grip. Most people skip this first part of the pull up because it’s really difficult. The reason it is hard is because we don’t effectively transfer the stability created in step one to the muscles that are necessary to begin the pull. Once you can engage the scapula the other muscular systems are far more capable of a pull up than we realize.
How to create variability to get better.
We can create variability in the pull up by changing out grip. When you supinate the grip (palms facing your body) you bring in more bicep and lower lat. When we pronate the group, which is the traditional variation, we recruit more rhomboid, upper lats, and triceps. We can create variability simply by switching our grip. We can also increase strength and add variability by doing a completely different activity. The push up and pull up are perfect opposites. The muscles that stabilize in a push up include the lats, upper back and a little bicep, which are the primary movers in a pull up. The primary movers in a push up are the tricep, chest, and serratus, which are the stabilizers in a pull up. This means that these two movements go hand in hand.
Want a strict pull up?
If you want to get better at a pull up you have to be on the bar no matter how many bands you use. Being on the bar is inherently different than TRX so don’t automatically default to to a scaled option even it means doing half the reps on the bar and half on TRX. Take the time to do it. It is essential to learn how to be under tension at rest while on the bar. First practice hanging from the bar completely relaxed. Then practice getting under tension by pulling down through your scapula and holding the neck in a good position. This is the seemingly simple first step that is often missed. The final tip is to master the strict push up first. You have to be able to do a perfect strict push up from top to bottom. Being able to engage the glutes, core, and scapular control throughout a push up will get you that much closer to a strict pull up. The bottom of the push up is the exact same archetype as the top of the pull up. So get the strict push up mastered and then practice the same concept as you move to the pull up.