“We believe the tactical pull-up to have the most carryover strength to other skills. A tactical pull-up is performed with a thumbless overhand grip while maintaining a hollow body position. When you train your pull-ups in this manner, you will begin to notice a stronger core, increased grip, and amazing lat development.” – Strong First (Karen Smith)
“The thumbless overhand grip makes it easier to recruit the lats and apply the corkscrew” – Pavel Tsatsouline
Step 1: The Hollow Position
In the tactical pull-up, our goal is to maintain a hollow body. Therefore, the hollow hold on the ground is the best place to start building your solid foundation. Watch the video for a demonstration of the hollow body position on the ground, as well as instruction on regressions and more advanced versions:
As in any skill set, it is best to perfect a solid static position and maintain tension before adding movement in the position. We begin with the hollow hold as you see in the video above. After you have mastered this position and can maintain contact between your low back and the floor, then you can progress to adding resistance.
Once you are ready to advance to moving your hollow body as one unit, add hollow rockers into your training as demonstrated in the video below. I recommend building up to 3 sets of 20 reps performed two to three times per week at a minimum. Watch the video for a demonstration of hollow rockers and also common mistakes to look for.
Step 2: The Hang Position
Next, you are ready to add load to your hollow body by hanging for time. If you haven’t tried hanging for time before, it may not seem like you’ll be doing much, but it’s actually a great way to train your stabilizing strength.
- Hollow Hangs: The hollow hang is a straight-arm hang while maintaining the hollow body position. You should contract your lats and keep your shoulders connected for the duration of the hang. The hollow hangs will be performed in a shoulder-width overhand thumbless grip.
- Flexed Arm Hangs: The flexed arm hang is a bent-arm hang with your chin and neck above the bar while maintaining the hollow body position. As with the hollow hangs, you will contract your lats and connect your shoulder, but the flex hang is done in a narrow underhand grip as this position is more shoulder friendly.
One you have built up some solid training time with the hollow hangs and flexed arm hangs you can advance to weighted hangs for even greater strength gain.
- Weighted Hangs: Hangs can be weighted in several ways, but it is most important to train smart and not progress too heavy too quickly as this could easily aggravate your elbows.
Ways you can weight your hangs:
- Weighted vest
- Kettlebell placed on your foot
- Kettlebell or plate attached to a weight belt
Weighting your hangs is a great way to gain strength, whether you are working toward your first pull-up or training to increase your current rep max. When you return to training bodyweight pull-ups, your body will feel lighter. Try testing your max reps of pull-ups after doing weighted hangs for a while and see what I mean.
Training to increase your hang time on the bar will add to your pulling strength also. After running many case studies, I have found the following averages:
- Building up to a 45-60 second hold will allow you to own one chin-up
- Building up to 3 chin-ups will allow you to own one pull-up
Step 3: The Tactical Pull-up
Here’s what you’re aiming to achieve and the form you should strive for in your tactical pull-up. This is good for you to keep in mind even as you’re working your way up through the progressions and working toward your first pull-up. Watch for an explanation and example.
- Stand under the bar at a height that you can dead hang without your feet dragging on the floor
- Without looking at the bar, grip the bar at about shoulder width with a thumbless overhand grip
- Contract your lats and pull your shoulders into their sockets
- Squeeze your legs and feet together to produce the irradiation effect
- Posterior tilt your pelvis to “point your belly button toward your sternum”
- Tense your glutes
- Pause momentarily in a hollow hang
- Inhale as you initiate the pull
- Keep your gaze forward during the duration of your rep—do not look at the bar
- As the bar begins to pass your face, exhale with a tension breath and forcefully drive your elbows down and back to get higher over the bar
- Pause momentarily in the top position with the bar touching your neck or chest
- Slowly lower in an active negative back to the dead hang position
Charles Poliquin’s Guidlines:
Do More Curls To Do More Chin-Ups
One of the most important principles in program design for the fastest results is: “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Strengthen the weakest link and the whole chain gets stronger…”
Especially in women the weakest link and therefore the limiting factor in training chin-ups, is the bottom quarter of the range – the initiation of the chin-up from a fully extended elbow position. In this case the limiting factor is the strength of the elbow flexors.
There are 4 main elbow flexors – biceps brachii, brachialis, brachioradialis and the pronator teres (not shown in picture).
The brachioradialis and the pronator teres are statistically the weakest and therefore the most limiting elbow flexors.
Is your brachioradialis and pronator teres too weak? The simplest indicator is the ratio between your chin-ups with a supinated, shoulder width grip and your reverse EZ bar Scott curls with a shoulder width grip. The optimal ratio is 1:0.37. This means if you want to do a chin-up with 60kg bodyweight, you have to be able to reverse curl 22kg with an EZ bar at a shoulder width grip. If you curl less than that your limiting factor is your elbow flexor strength in training chin-ups. The same ratio applies if you can do more reps on chin-ups or you are able to use additional weight. Calculate and optimise the ratio of your supinated, shoulder width Chin Ups to your reverse EZ bar Scott curls with a shoulder width grip for more chin up power.
Here´s a sample progression for curls over 12 weeks – to strengthen the elbow flexors:
6 workouts/3 weeks
EZ bar curls, standing, shoulder width grip, 4×6-8, 4010, 120s
6 workouts/3 weeks
45° DB Incline hammer curls, 4×4-6, 4010, 150s
6 workouts/3 weeks
65° DB incline curls, supinated grip, 4×5-7, 4010, 120s
6 workouts/3 weeks
Reverse EZ Bar curls, shoulder width grip, 5×4-6, 40×0, 150s
Every rep starts and ends with a fully extended elbow.
It is crucial to increase the weight and/or reps at every workout. The progression of the weight is critical to increase the strength of the elbow flexors.
Perform every exercise 2 times per week for 3 weeks as the first exercise of your upper body routine and after the 3 weeks change to the next phase.
For these 4 phases do eccentric chin-ups as the second exercise of your upper body workout with the goal of lowering yourself for 30 seconds. After these 4 phases do chin-ups as the first exercise of your upper body routine.
Joe Defranco’s Guidlines:
The the most challenging grip for the majority is the wide pronated grip (pullups) that engages the back. But you or the person your training may not able to even 1 chinup.
Most people will be strongest with a neutral or underhand supinated grip (below), thus its a great starting point. Pick whichever you find stronger with.
1. Flexed Iso-Metric Arm Hang
If you can’t do a chinup you may be able to at least hold your chin over the bar, even if it’s for only 5 seconds.
Put a chair/bench underneath so they’re chin is already at the chinup bar level.
Grab the bar and let them bend their knees and test how long they can hold their chin over the bar.
If they can do at least 5 seconds you have a foundation to work with. If not, I’d stick with other basic upper body weight exercises to build a foundational level of basic strength and try deadhangs for extended periods of time. Note that you want to pull your shoulders down as shown in this photo. Aim for a 1 minute goal and keep attempting iso-metric holds in between the weeks to see how you progress.
Program it like any other exercises: 5 sets of 5 seconds or whatever combination works for you.
Progression Marker: Once you can hold yourself for 20 seconds each set for 3 sets with 1-2 min rest that’s a pretty good indicator to move onto the next progression.
2. Negative / Eccentric ChinUps
Starting with your chin over the bar and slowly lower yourself counting down from a set number of seconds. Video demonstration
E.G. Lowering for 10 seconds = 1 rep. So 3 reps totaling 30 seconds could be 1 set of eccentric chinups.
Progression Marker: Generally when they can get a solid 15-20 seconds for 2-3 sets of 2-3 reps they you can progress to assisted chinups.
3. Assisted Chinups
You could use a band and put your knee/foot through it which doesn’t require another person.
The trainee bends their knees and you hold their feet/ankles. As they push back into your hand you assist them by loading some of their body weight into your hands.
But let them lower themselves mostly on that eccentric movement (lowering phase) under their own strength and power. Focus on assisting them on the concentric movement as they are lifting themselves up which is going to be much more challenging.
Progression Marker: Once you get to the point where you’re holding less and less of their weight and they’re able to do more.
3.5. Assisted Chin-Ups
Same as above except grab one ankle and let their other leg dangle down so they have the added resistance of their free leg.
Progression Marker: Simple again, it’s a individual feel thing – once you notice your not helping much they may be able to get their first chin-up at this point.
By now you should be at the point where you can do 1 chinup. Maybe you can only get one full chinup but only half way up on the 2nd/3rd rep.
So on those 2nd/3rd reps your partner/trainer will give a little push on the lower back. They get their chin over the bar and they lower themselves on their own.
THIS DOES WORK.
World class trainer Joe Defranco has used this on many many athletes and individuals with great success. But it isn’t a fast process to get from 0 chinups to 8-10 full reps with perfect form.
Each progression is going to take a number of weeks to achieve, depending on the current strength level it could take 1-3 months. This isn’t something you do for 1-2 sessions and move onto the next and suddenly your doing chinups. Going from 0 – the first chinup has to be slow cooked but it’s a very satisfying and accomplishment once you get it and a great measure of relative strength.
Ideas Inspired By Joe Defranco Podcast #19
Strong First Guidlines:
Your First Pull-Up: A How-To For Aged Women
The only expiration date on your ability to get stronger day in and day out is your own expiration date. So even if that fateful day were tomorrow, you’ve still got the rest of today to build up enough strength.
And not only does your age not stop you from getting strong, neither does your gender.
I know, I know, countless women’s magazines and legions of weak, fearful men have long told you strength training will make you bulky and overly muscular, and thus unattractive. Neither is qualified to tell you how to live your life. Ignore them both.
So if we put these two things together, it should go without saying: if you’re an older woman, you can still get strong. Very strong. And in my humble opinion, one of the best ways to both demonstrate and build your strength is by learning to do a pull-up—especially if you’ve never tried it before.
WHY A SENIOR WOMAN SHOULD AIM FOR HER FIRST PULL-UP
Your shoulders are made to help you brachiate—that is, hang from stuff. The ability to hang from objects overhead is, in many cases, enough for many people to start to alleviate aches, stiffness, and discomfort in shoulders that haven’t been used the way they were made in quite some time. Don’t jump into hanging if you’re de-conditioned, but know this is one of the benefits waiting during your pull-up journey.
Grip strength is a common indicator of overall longevity (even better than your blood pressure, according to a study of over 140,000 people published out of McMaster University in Ontario), and is remarkably easy to train if you have someplace safe to hang and do pull-ups.
As we age, certain muscle groups shorten and tighten and others weaken and lengthen, including the rhomboid muscles in between your shoulder blades. Weak rhomboids give you a slouched over, hunchback look. Pull-ups will go a long way in helping to strengthen many of the muscles of the back and to straighten posture.
A stronger midsection can work wonders when it comes to taking the load off your poor, overworked lower back. Nearly one in ten people worldwide suffer from low back issues on a regular basis, and it is the cause of more disability than any other malady. Moreover, I guarantee you that anyone who can bang out strict, dead-hang pull-ups with confidence and control also sports a strong, crafted-from-granite stomach that 10,000 crunches and side planks couldn’t even begin to hope to sculpt. A lofty promise, but one I have yet to see proven wrong.
If you say you don’t want stronger, more muscular arms, you’re lying—plain and simple.
First and foremost, hire a quality SFB instructor. Contrary to popular belief, reading one article will not prepare you for the depth and attention-to-detail necessary in your training to take you from point A to point B. Investing your money in a good instructor will pay out dividends in your strength, health, and all-around awesomeness.
Second, realize that consistency over time (no matter how much time) will take you the distance, not an unbridled iron will for physical punishment in the name of gains. Take your time, do things right, and listen to your teacher.
Finally, follow this set of progressions. Accompanying them are a series of benchmarks that would be helpful to achieve before charging forward full bore into the next progression.
1. The hollow position. This posture is key for a strong pull-up as it teaches you how to turn it into a full-body movement, connecting your glutes, legs, abs, back, and arms to the effort so you can attack the pull-up with everything you’ve got.
2. Pattern the movement. This can be done with a simple broom stick, while still holding your hollow position.
3. Bodyweight rows. These will help you build up beginning pulling strength as well as prepare your hands to grip your full bodyweight and condition your shoulders to support you while hanging.
4. Active hangs. These will not only build up your grip strength, but will go a long way in making you more familiar with the bottom of the movement, where the pull-up starts.
5. Flexed arm hangs. This will build strength in the back, grip, arms, and midsection, as well as some true grit to back it all up. You’re now at the cusp of something great and there’s no turning back.
6. Active negatives. Done right, these will do wonders for your strength. Six-time Mr. Olympia Dorian Yates is fond of pointing out that skipping the negative portion of an exercise is the same as skipping half the rep. Do not overlook these. They will build up an incredible amount of strength. If you can’t do a good negative, you will not be able to do a pull-up either.
7. Assisted reps. In these, your trainer will give you some light assistance (just enough to allow you to work hard and complete the rep) by pushing into your low back to reduce some of your weight and allow you to build some familiarity and confidence with the act of pulling yourself back up.
PULL-UP TRAINING BENCHMARKS
Below are a few benchmarks to aim for before working on your pull-up training from the bar. Work your way through them, and don’t try to skip ahead—you can’t outperform a lack of preparation.
5 sets of 30 seconds hollow position holds
If you think this is a lot, gymnastics coach Christopher Sommer makes his athletes work up to 5 sets of 1-minute holds while rocking back and forth and maintaining the hollow position, with just enough rest in between sets to do some mobility work. You’ll live.
5×5 bodyweight row
at a moderately steep (for you) elevation.
1-minute active hang from a bar
This means keeping your shoulders pulled into their sockets. This is important because it’s going to prepare all the muscles of your shoulder girdle that will later help you pull yourself up while strengthening your grip.
20 second flexed-arm hang.
For the holds, sets of between 5-30 seconds will get you to your goal. Stick to sets of 3-5 for the rows and lower the elevation over time.
SAMPLE PROGRAM FOR BUILDING TO YOUR FIRST PULL-UP
Once you have met these standards, it’s time to set your eyes on the home stretch. Below is a sample program of how I recommend building up to your first pull-up. Keep in mind your current ability level will determine how quickly you proceed, so the below should be taken as a template, not a set-in-stone guide.
All the reps are to be performed as follows:
Brief dead hang -> assisted rep -> brief flexed arm hang -> negative.
Rest plenty between sets.
Day 1 – 7 sets of one rep
Day 2 – 5 sets of one rep
Day 3 – 10 sets of one rep
Day 1 – 1, 2, 1, 2, 1
Day 2 – 1, 2, 1, 1
Day 3 – 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1
Day 1 – 2, 2, 2, 1
Day 2 – 2, 2, 1
Day 3 – 2, 2, 2, 2, 2
Week 4: Back off week. Repeat week 2
Day 1 – 2, 3, 2
Day 2 – 2, 3
Day 3 – 2, 3, 2, 3
Day 1 – 3, 3, 3
Day 2 – 3, 3
Day 3 – 3, 3, 3, 3
Day 1 – 3, 3, 3, 3
Day 2 – 3, 3, 3
Day 3 – 3, 3, 3, 3, 3
Week 8: Back off week. Repeat week 5.
Week 9: Warm up and test pull-up!
This is only a sample program. The above set and rep schemes can be seen as benchmarks within themselves, and you may need to work at a slower pace to work up to achieving them. It may take you a month or less like it did Sara-Rivka, or it might take you three, six, nine months, or maybe longer, depending on where you are in your physical journey. But you’re planning on getting a few months older anyway, right? So what’s the rush?
The lessons to take from this are to gradually increase the volume over time (and according to your ability to recover), to take a few steps forward and one step back, and to be patient.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor will your strength be. But your patience and diligence will be rewarded with more than just a chiseled, resilient back, rock-hard abs, and a grip that never quits. You will also be rewarded with greater confidence, day-to-day usable strength to keep up with your kids and grandkids, and bragging rights among your friends still spinning their wheels with “7 New Ways To Tighten Your Tummy” (not to mention all of their unbridled jealousy).
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