THE most difficult movement to succeed in functional training (and the most ignored) is without a doubt the pull up (read traction in French). As humans are a machine that moves forward and pushes most of the day, it is normal that we are more comfortable in all exercises that require us to push rather than pull. Doing a pull up is not like learning to ride a bike and being able to do it again 4 years later in the same way. A pull up will always be difficult, especially if you stop training it.
While the squat is the chief of the lower extremity exercises, you must realize that the pull up is the upper extremity. In fact, only if your goal is to achieve an optimal level of fitness. In physical preparation, the pull up is one of the most important exercises to prevent injuries and achieve an incomparable level of functional strength.
Biomechanics of the pull up
In order to pull up successfully, the work your muscles have to do is quite high. This is based on your mass (your body weight) and the distance you have to travel to bring your chin over the bar (so let’s say the distance of your arms, between the bar and your shoulders). A simple equation tells you that the higher your mass and the greater the distance you must reach, the more difficult it will be for you to accomplish the required work.
For example, a man with very very high muscle mass will most likely have more difficulty in gaining mass. On the other hand, think of someone who is the same weight as you, but who has shorter arms. It will be much easier for that person to do the required work. Logically, lighter people with shorter segments (shoulder-to-hand distance) will always have an advantage.
In the supine and over pronation pull up, the dorsals and biceps are the agonist muscles. Note that in the supine one, the biceps shorten at the elbow while the short portion of the biceps lengthens at the shoulder. The latter therefore has a stabilizing role, preventing the anterior sliding of the head of the humerus. In the overhand pull up, it is rather the long head of the biceps that takes on this stabilizing role as the grip is wider and the hands are positioned more body-width apart.
Most importantly, one of the two is easier to perform. In the supine pull up, the lever arm (the distance between the shoulder and the hand) is closer to the center of gravity at the top of the stroke (when your chin is over the bar). In addition, it allows the biceps brachialis to pull in a better mechanical position compared to the overhand pull up, or it is rather the brachioradialis that will benefit more than the brachialis.
TRACK OF SOLUTIONS
- If you have a high weight: I will not tell you lies, the decrease in your weight will certainly allow you to achieve more pull ups. I see it easily in professional boxers: at the beginning of the training cycle towards a fight where they regain their “healthy” weight, they are able to do much less pull ups than when they are approaching their fight, where they must approach their fight weight.
- If you have a high leverage: unfortunately you cannot shorten this. However, we will need to increase your volume because you will only be able to achieve the same draw volume as someone with shorter segments.
- You’ve never done traditional weight training: pulling up is like trying to do a top corner wrist throw in hockey. There are quite a few skills to learn first, like holding on to your skates without falling. Strength training is exactly that, it is the foundation of the foundation of your foundation. There are variations of exercises to master before you jump on the bar. A good traditional bodybuilding program will forever be the solution to achieve your goal and that means resorting to exercises as traditional as the bicep curl (YES SIR!)
- You are a woman: excuse me for not being “woke” on this one, my goal is to tell you the truth, men have a physiological advantage, that is to have a higher muscle mass of the upper limbs. Girls, the secret in your training is simple, it increases your strength level starting with SLIGHTLY increasing your lean mass. Immediately you have to tell yourself that I just contradicted myself, but in fact, here I am talking about having lean mass to allow you to do pull ups and not maximum lean mass.
- Here is an example of a workout schedule that we would give to someone who would like to do their first pull ups. Our approach is based on the following points:
- At a minimum, you should train your draw at the high bar, twice a week
- You need to achieve a good volume of pull-up, meaning you can only limit yourself to a portion of your workout, or place your pull-up sequence, at the end of your workout. The classic approach in functional fitness would be that you would do a first part based on your upper body strength, and then move on to metabolic conditioning. While you will definitely see results, they will not be optimal if your goal is to achieve your pull ups, quickly. Make this a priority, either at the start of your workout or as a specific workout!
- One day emphasizes rather eccentric contractions while another focuses on concentric and isometric contractions. Working out each type of contraction will increase the level of recruitment of your muscle fibers and their frequency of discharge.
- Prepare well: don’t spare the warm-ups, they are excellent neuromuscular activation that will allow you to activate more fibers during each contraction. Suddenly, you will also feel a “potentiation” effect due to the load used for the “weighted” portion and for the time under tension on the bar.
- Prioritize a time under tension rather than a number of repetitions in the concentric day. This will allow you to accumulate a higher volume than a workout focused on the number of repetitions.
- Maximize hypertrophy by ending the session with uni-articular and bicep isolation exercises. This will allow you to increase its relative contribution.
Week # 1 @ 4 – Beginner (I do zero pull ups)
Day # 1 – Eccentric day
Warm up “scap endurance”
1: Scap pull ups x10
2: Top of bar dip hold – 30sec
3: Ring scap pull ups x10
A1.Eccentric pull up supinated or pronated
Week 1: 3 x3-5 (down 4-5 sec), rest 30s
Week 2: 4 x4-6 (down 4-5 sec), rest 30s
Week 3: 5 x4-6 (down 4-5 sec), rest 30s
Week 4: 2x 5-7 (down 4-5sec), rest30s
A2.DB bench press neutral grip
Week 1: 3 x5-6 (down 4-5 sec), rest 90s
Week 2: 4 x5-6 (down 4-5 sec), rest 90s
Week 3: 5 x5-6 (down 4-5 sec), rest 90s
Week 4: 2x 5-6 (down 4-5sec), rest 90s
B1.Incline bench db bent over row
Week 1: 3 x12 T3030, rest 30s
Week 2: 3 x12 T3030, rest 30s
Week 3: 4×10-12 T3030, rest 30s
Week 4: 2×8-10 T3030, rest 30s
B2.Back to wall barbell / Db curl
Week 1: 3 x12 T3130, rest 30s
Week 2: 3 x12 T3130, rest 30s
Week 3: 4×10-12 T3130, rest 30s
Week 4: 2×8-10 T3130, rest 30s
B3.DB supine triceps extension
Week 1: 3 x12 T3130, rest 90s
Week 2: 3 x12 T3130, rest 90s
Week 3: 4×10-12 T3130, rest 90s
Week 4: 2×8-10 T3130, rest 90s
C.Db rev fly 3×15 TX030
Day # 2 – Concentric & Isometric day
Warm up “weighted”
1: Weighted active hang – hold 30sec
2: Weighted top of bar dip hold 30sec
3: Weighted ring plank 30sec
EMOM # 1
A.Every 30s or 45sec
Opt1: Banded supinated pull up
Opt2: Banded pronated pull up
Week 1: For 6min x1-2 TX120
Week 2: For 9min x1-3 TX120
Week 3: For 9min x2-3
Week 4: For 6min x2-3
EMOM # 2
B.EMOM #MIN (6-8-10-8)
1: Top of pull up hold
2: Incline db bench press
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