I tend to try a lot of gadgets. I like to try just about anything “revolutionary” in the fitness industry, and any tool that will help a client is a must have.
Pull ups are by far the one of the most important exercises to do and master. When I joined the Navy, i came out of high school and right to boot camp. I was scheduled to go to A school and then BUD/S right after, but before I “qualified” I had to take the basic SEAL fitness test:
max push ups in 2:00
max sit ups in 2:00
10 dead hang pull ups
500 yard swim and 1.5 mile run in combat boots.
The first time i took the test, i failed on the pull ups. The instructors were very tough on us candidates, and they made us go on their count. We would hang for what seemed like minutes in between pull ups, and I quickly found out that I lacked the most important factor of upper body strength.
I was devastated, and I made a promise to myself that I would master the pull up by the next test, if I was so lucky to get one.
I did, and the rest is history.I got injured in BUDS but the physical improvements I had took me to finish first in my SAR School. But I digress….
I took it upon myself to get better at pull ups because they would become throughout my military career a competition between peers, and the basis of being able to move your body in and out of helicopters, small boats and cargo nets. I “pulled” that knowledge into what I do today, and the pull up is an exercise you HAVE TO DO.
Most people when they start off in fitness cannot perform one dead hang pull up. That is to grab the bar, hang all the way so that the shoulder complex loosens and the scapula is not retracted. Initiate enough force to get your body out of the bottom position, pull your chin over the bar, and go back down and rest.
It is almost a given that 90% of people in the US cannot do a single pull up. They would rather go to a pull down machine and do multiple reps at a weight and bio pattern that does not increase the ability to do a pull up. Why? Lets look at the science behind the pull down.
Using a standard pull down machine, you sit in a chair or stool with your knees tucked under a bar or pads, locking your lower body from moving. You then grab the bar the weight is attached to and most often than not it is not a full reach for some. You then do 1 of 3 things: Lean back and pull the bar diagonally down to your chest, stay straight and pull down under your chin or pull behind the neck.
Since we finally squared away the fact that pulling down behind the neck sets your shoulder up for repetitive injury by increasing the ROM to a point that the supporting structures of the shoulder no longer hold the head of the humerus where it is supposed to be, at the same time stretching out tendons and ligaments. So lets get back to the first 2.
When you lean back, you already pull tension from the weight, at which this point is nowhere near body-weight, and start a pull from 3/4 ROM. This does not activate the proper chains of command your brain needs to replicate in the pull up. There is always going to be arguments about it hitting the muscle differently or put more pressure on the lat, but that is not true. While it does use the lats, it does not recruit the other muscles in the back in a proper chain of movement that has direct relevancy to the mechanics of the pull up. Sure you can make the back muscles stronger, but strength is not the only factor of completing pull ups. You also need power.
If you pull down while staying straight upright you tend to bend the arms more and put more stress on the biceps because of the sharper angle at the elbow joint. Not saying isolating, because there is no such thing as isolation, and principles like “The all or nothing principle of muscle fiber recruitment” say that you activate the entire muscle, just not parts of it. By doing the pull down this way you do not properly retract the scapula in the way it moves during a pull up.
Each of these factors can help a person that is extremely weak or overweight get stronger in the pull, but until you master power to body-weight ratio you will never get better at pull ups. This means you have to replicate the movement of your body-weight as applied to the kinetic chain of movement seen in the multi joint pull up. Not using the chain as intended, you create a “groove” the starts where it should not: meaning the biomechanics of the pull down poorly transfer over to the pull up.
In starting to teach someone to pull up, you first have to overcome the brain block most people have by already coming to the pull up bar defeated upstairs. With that mentality you cannot accomplish anything. Its like telling you to dig me a hole in steel with a shovel. You cant do it and thats what you believe, so it manifests itself in mental failure.
Once you get over that hurdle, it is now time to teach proper form for attacking the pull up bar. I tend to tell people not to think about pulling their body up to the bar, but instead pull the bar down to them. This creates a relation in the brain to a pull down and for some reason it works.
Now once you get someone on the bar, let them get a feel for how the hang is, but do not let them hang for to long. Hanging for extended periods of time drains the blood out of the arms thus decreasing the amount of energy they can get for the exercise. Hang times should be no longer than 5 seconds in my book.
Once that is addressed, now its time to work on the primary pull. This is contracting of the arms and lats and upper back muscles simultaneously to create a powered chain. When you get these aligned, its time to test the power of the body during the first phase of the pull. If someone can get halfway up, we know that there is weakness in the back, and if they cannot execute the pull out of the bottom, most likely the arms are not strong enough to transfer power to the back. These are what we call limiting factors and can be addressed in a few ways:
1. The athlete needs to lose body-weight
2. The athlete needs to increase explosiveness out of the bottom
3. The athlete needs to have enough strength through the upper rear chain to support their weight
4. The athletes abs and lower back are not strong enough to support the rest of the stability factors.
Introducing the Pull-Up Revolution by Life Line. Jon Hinds has made a superior product, one that can be tailored for anyone’s size and weight. This nifty little device hooks onto the bar and suspends a series of bands connected to a foot strap. By placing the rubber bands in the system you can set the assistance level to where you need it. 3 bands for the most assist, 1 for the least.
By stepping into the strap, you have one point of contact with 1 foot, or with 2 feet placed on top of each other. There is a nifty little video here.
I have been able to use this on several athletes with much success. By training with this tool, you create the proper groove one needs to learn in the pull up, thus activating the chain properly and efficiently.
This tool works best when you do not have a spotter or an assist pull up machine, and to tell the truth it beats the assist machine because the machine replicates the non-swinging body motion that you get from the pull down machine. They do have a use to some extent, but training with a spotter on pull ups is still the best way to go.
That being said, if you do not have a spotter that can apply help in your trouble areas of the lift, (more help at the bottom, a little push at the top) the Pull Up Revolution is the best choice for the on the go athlete as it is super transportable and easily stored in a gym bag.
You may even want to buy a few and sell them when people see you using them at the gym. Trust me, if I had extras at the times this happened, I’d be sponsored by Lifeline.
Now here is a little workout that you can do with your new PUR.
Almost every other day you can train pull ups, not just on back days. As long as you have 24-36 hours of rest in between workouts you can recover enough to train pull ups again. Heck, you may even notice that you get stronger at your pressing exercises, because as Steve Maxwell has pointed out, lat involvement in the push up is key to increasing pushing power and proper form. There are reasons why military folks do push ups and pull ups EVERYDAY.
All of these will need adequate warm up to loosen the muscle and get the joint ready for work.
day 1 testing day. Attempt to get as many dead hang pull ups as necessary. If you have less than 1 proceed to A. If you have a problem in the middle of the movement go to B. If you can kick and sceream and get 1 properly, go to C.
A. day 1,3,5 start with the attempt while fresh to complete 1 pull up. repeat 5x, Then climb into the PUR and do 3 sets of 5 with proper form. rest 1-2 minutes in between sets. Log everything! For the first 2 weeks, repeat until you can get 1 pull up and then all 5 reps in the sets of 3. Move to B.
B: Day 1,3,5 Start with the attempt of 2 pull ups perfect form. repeat 5x and log. Then climb into the PUR and do 3 sets of 6-7 reps, with just the right amount of resistance but not too much. We do not want the bands to do all the work. The last few reps should be difficult. Repeat for 2 more weeks until you get 2 perfect unassisted pull ups and 6-7 pull ups on the set of 3. Go to C.
C: Getting there. Start with an attempt of max pull ups for 2 sets. If you can do more than 5, you are at a stage to increase rest time to allow adequate recovery. On day 1 and 5 repeat. On Day 3 do not do any max pull ups, just work 4-8 sets of pull ups above 7.
Once you master the above workout on top of other training, you should notice a HUGE difference in upper body strength. Not only will pull ups make you stronger, but they also add to aesthetics, broad back and bigger arms.
I hope I was able to show how effective this little piece of equipment truly is, and when used properly it can garner great results for those that have to train other facets of performance that neglect the pull up.
Places to purchase: