“Pull ups?” you say. “In my dreams!”
This king of bodyweight exercises remains an unrealized fantasy for so many people. But the truth is that pull up mastery can become a reality for anyone who has the gumption to put in the work.
The thing with pull ups is that you actually have to DO them in order to improve at them.
But if you can’t even do ONE, how on earth can you possibly get better?
I’m Pull Up Queen Shawna K, and I’ve got a few tips that’ll have you cresting the bar in no time. I’ve also got a monster workout for you to try — and you can take a crack at it even if you can’t do a ton of pull ups just yet.
We’ll get to the workout in a moment. But first, I’m here to say that if I can do pull ups, you can too.
Seriously, I’m a woman who’s going to be 50 this year. So don’t tell me a half centurion can do a pull up and you can’t!
First, let’s look at what not to do.
Stay away from the assisted pull up machine. It’s difficult to get into the correct body position on those devices. They give you even support throughout the movement, including the eccentric phase, which makes it difficult for you to learn the movement or to make any strength improvements in the lowering phase. And finally, the machine will give you the illusion that you’re doing a pull up, but you couldn’t be further from the real thing on this contraption.
While the lat pull down machine is somewhat better than the assisted pull up machine, it’s not much of an option either.
Many people are surprised to discover that they fail dramatically when attempting to do bodyweight pull ups on the bar, even though they’ve been heaving the equivalent of their own body weight on the lat pull down machine.
Wanna know why that happens?
Although the movement may look the same, the pull up is an athletic and compound exercise, meaning that other muscles are involved in its execution. And this is a good thing when it comes to functional fitness. Very few things in life are as static as a movement on a machine done with your legs braced and arms pulling. And that’s exactly what you get from the lat pull down: isolation.
If you’re doing either of these two exercises to improve your pull ups, stop now. It’s a waste of time.
Step up to the pull up bar, and take a rubber band with you. You may have heard me say this before, but it’s worth repeating. Doing band-assisted pull ups is a great step towards mastering the unassisted pull up, because the band gives you help where you need it most: at the full hang position when it’s fully stretched.
You’ll use the band for set one of the monster workout at the end of this article.
Okay, when you’ve mastered that move, you’re ready to try the jump pull up. Find a bar that’s a little lower and use the power of your legs to help with the concentric — or lifting — phase of the movement. This variation works well for set 2 and 3 of the monster workout we’ll be doing in a moment.
And now for the most important thing…
Doing band assisted pull ups and jump pull ups are great ways to help you build strength so that you’ll eventually be able to perform an unassisted pull up. The key is to work the eccentric contraction, or in other words to control the descent.
By working the ‘negative’ in this way, you’ll build strength like no assisted pull up or lat pull down machine ever has.
Okay, you’ve got a few techniques to work with, no matter what your current level of ability.
Now lets’ move on to our Killer Pull Up Challenge…
I can’t take full credit for this workout. I got the idea from Men’s Fitness, and I just had to give it a try.
By the way, this workout is more of a “finisher” in that it only lasts 9 minutes. And that includes three whole minutes of rest. But believe me, when I did this workout I wanted twice that long a recover!
Okay, here we go…
Pull-Up Fitness Challenge
TEST ONE: Pull-ups
MISSION: Perform as many pull ups as you can in 2 minutes. Use the band assisted variation if you must. You’re still pulling and developing strength/endurance. Rest when as needed within the 2 minutes.
< REST 60 SECONDS >
TEST TWO: Squat-Ups
MISSION: Perform as many squat-ups as you can in 2 minutes. Use the jump assisted pull up variation if needed. Begin in a full squat position. Explode off the ground, jumping just high enough to grab onto the bar. Use your momentum to pull yourself up to the bar. Rest as needed within the 2 minutes.
< REST 60 SECONDS >
TEST THREE: Burpee-Ups
MISSION: Perform as many burpee-ups as you can in 2 minutes. Again, do the jump assisted pull up if you can’t complete regular pull ups. Begin by performing a standard burpee (minus the push up). As soon as you jump to your feet, explode off the ground and perform a pull-up. Rest as needed within the 2 minutes.
Count up your reps to get your result!
Here’s a video of own my attempt at this workout:
I did 70 pull ups in 8 minutes. I got 30 full pull ups, 23 squat ups and 17 burpee-ups. It was almost followed by a complete set of ‘throw ups’, but that’s another story…
Yeah, that was tough.
Give it a try, you’re gonna love it. And please post your results in the comments below.
Shawna Kaminski is a retired schoolteacher of 20 years who found her passion in the fitness industry. She’s been a competitive athlete all her life, and has competed nationally in 3 sports. Shawna is in her late forties, and as a mother of two teenagers she understands how busy life can be. Her workouts are short and intense, and most can be done anywhere. Shawna’s always up for a challenge, and she loves sharing her personal fitness challenges with you. She runs her own boot camps, and coaches clients in person and online — and she gets serious results.