By Brandon Richey
The pull-up exercise is one of the toughest bodyweight exercises that exist for any of us to perform..let alone master. The ability to build strength for the pull-up requires discipline, consistency, and rock solid technique.
There is a very good reason as to why the military, fight gyms, and top notch strength and conditioning programs all over the world lean on the almighty pull-up exercise for developing a serious level of functional fitness, back, and upper body strength.
Today I want to talk about 3 unique ways you can really build up your pull-up strength and supercharge your performance with this movement.
1) CYCLE IN MORE SINGLE ARM ROWS
Yes, pull-ups demand a consistent amount of effort and frequency in order for you to get better at doing them.
One thing that happens with working on pull-ups is that you’re putting a lot of stress on a particular set of muscles repeatedly. This can lead to injury—and injury means setbacks. Factoring in more heavy single arm rows using either dumbbells or kettlebells helps to offset the stress.
Single arm rows give your body a break from always having your shoulders in the flexed position (arms overhead) from doing pull-ups. By pulling the heavy dumbbell (or kettlebell) from a horizontal position you are bringing your girdle into a more neutral position.
In addition to this, you’re able to to handle a bit of a different transference of load by performing a pulling movement with an open kinetic chain exercise.
An open kinetic chain means that your hand or foot performing the movement is free to move. So in this case it would be open because the dumbbell is free, whereas the pull-up bar would be the opposite which is known as a closed kinetic chain movement.
By performing the single arm rows you’re also putting yourself into a position to allow for an optimal range of motion (ROM) with the movement. While in the horizontal rowing position it’s going to be easier for you to fully lengthen the lifting arm for that ROM in order to give your lats a big stretch.
Stretching the lats under tension will absolutely transfer to giving you a stronger and more powerful pull-up.
2) BUILD UP YOUR GRIP STRENGTH
I know what I’m about to say may seem somewhat obvious, but it’s probably not as obvious as you might be thinking. If you work like hell to build your grip strength up I guarantee you that your pull-ups will drastically improve!
In fact, if you develop a powerful grip not only will your pull-ups improve, but other bigger lifts will improve as well especially in areas you might have never thought about before. Some good examples here would even involve such areas of your training as your bench press and barbell back squats!
That’s right—by developing the strength of your grip you’re putting in play an interesting concept known as the irradiation principle. The mechanism of muscular irradiation states that one muscle group performing an action can actually be assisted for better by the contractions of surrounding muscles.
So, in the case of developing a bone crushing grip, you need to build the firing potential of your lats, biceps, and shoulders when performing your pull-ups. Additionally this strong powerful grip will also assist you in movements that you might not generally think about such as your back squat.
This is the case because the grip you use on the bar on your shoulders, also causes you to fire your upper back and shoulder muscles and you’ll immediately be able to tell that the weight for the back squat will become lighter.
So if you want to dominate your pull-ups make sure to train for a strong grip!
3) SLOW YOUR DESCENT
When it comes to your muscular function keep in mind that there are three types of muscular contractions. These include the following:
Concentric contraction: Shortening of your muscle
Eccentric contraction: Lengthening of your muscle
Isometric contraction: Muscle length remains the same
When you’re performing a pulling relating movement such as your pull-ups, you have to control the lowering away from the bar portion of your pull-up (unless you’re kipping) in order to get back into position to perform another pull up repetition.
During this descent away from the bar you’re in the eccentric portion of your muscular contraction involving the pull-up exercise. When performing a different pulling movement such as a single arm row the eccentric portion would involve lowering the weight as you extend your arm.
Either way, the key thing to note here is that you’re completing the repetition by activating the eccentric portion of the muscular contraction in this portion of the exercise.
Since the eccentric portion of the muscle’s contraction involves the lengthening, this is the part of the muscular contraction that involves the most force production. There is a greater amount of tension produced in the muscle during this part of the contraction so when lowering yourself from the bar in the descent of the pull-up this would be an ideal time to slow your descent.
This slowing of the eccentric contraction will make your pull ups significantly more challenging. Remember that the definition of strength is your muscles’ ability to produce tension and force for a given movement or task. With the slowing of the eccentric portion of the contraction you are tapping into the muscle’s ability to produce some serious tension and force for some big strength gains.
At the end of the day, if you’re looking to build a seriously strong back and ramp up your pull ups then you can do so by applying this three step plan that I’ve outlined for you right here. These unique strategies will significantly boost your pull up strength and transform the way you view your strength and conditioning program approach forever.
Are you currently implementing any of these strategies to enhance your own pull-up training?
How many days a week are you training your pull ups?
Let us know in the comments!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
SEALgrinderPT coach Brandon Richey is a certified strength and conditioning coach, author, and founder of Brandon Richey Fitness.
He has worked with thousands of athletes over his 17 years of experience, developing fitness training programs for beginners to professional and D-1 level collegiate athletes at the University of Georgia.
He also trains MMA and Muay Thai athletes, both professional and amateur.
QUESTION: I’m getting stronger with pullups in my arms and shoulders, but my hands get tired fast. How can I fix this?
ANSWER: Check out this article—10 Tips to Increase Grip Strength.
QUESTION: So I’ve been working real hard on myself this year after a health scare last fall (heart attack and I’m only 27) and I’ve made a lot of real good progress. But lately I’m having trouble staying on track because I feel like I’m hitting walls everywhere and my progress has stopped. Can you help?
ANSWER: Good to hear you’re all right! Hitting a plateau after a lot of progress is frustrating but it’s normal. Make sure you’re doing something every day to improve 1%. Also check out this article: 10 Tips to Break Through Training Plateaus.