Thursday, February 3, 2011

Perfect your pull-up. And maybe your chin-up, too.

Do you see what I see?

If you see a sad little chin-up bar tucked away in a closet full of miscellaneous items, then yes—you see what I see. And no, I won't tell you how long it's been there. Needless to say, I've since moved it. To here, actually:

I've made it my mission to perfect my pull-ups. I hope to get better at chin-ups, too. I've never had much success with either, despite training on the parallel bars in my younger years. Despite the fact that I continuously work to strengthen my upper body. Right now, I'm good for two chin-ups and one pull-up. Unassisted, of course. I'm thinking this means a more focused training regime is in order. Practice makes perfect, right? Let the perfection begin.

But first—let's define the difference between a pull-up and a chin-up. In both cases, your chin comes up and over the bar. (Well, in theory at least.) So what gives? Hand placement. When performing a pull-up, your hands grip the bar above you so that your palms face away from you. Your lats (big muscle in your back) help bring your chin up and over the bar. And when performing a pull-up, your hands grip the bar above you so that your palms face toward you. This shifts the effort to your biceps—and it's an action that's quite different from a bicep curl. Hence, the focused training regime.

If you want to get better, get stronger at a particular action, you have to mimic the action as best you can while gradually progressing to the actual action. (Ever see a runner lightly jog before a race? That's what I mean.) That said, here's how I plan to tackle my newfound goals of perfecting my pull-up and chin-up regime. Perhaps it can work for you, too.

1) LAT PULLDOWNS: We have a machine at my gym built specifically for this, but I much prefer to
    use the cable version. You know, the one with the wide bar. I feel as though it forces me to work
    harder. And it also allows me to get the grip-width I want, one that won't hurt my shoulders. And    
    speaking of grip, I can mimic pull-ups and chin-ups effectively in terms of hand placement (palms
    facing either toward or away from me).

2) INCLINE ROWS ON A SMITH MACHINE: So good! Although they
    work best with a pull-up grip, which is fine. I always start with the bar
    at chest height, then I hang beneath it so that my rear is almost on the floor.
    This seems to catch my lats in just the right place. And, no—the bar won't
    fall on you. (At least it shouldn't if your Smith machine is in good
    condition.) One thing I never thought to do: raise the bar when the going 
    gets easy. I recently read this tip in Oxygen. They say it helps you progress
    to the point where you're no longer even on the ground. Translation: It
    helps you progress to a real chin-up. Needless to say, I think I'm ready to
    take it up a notch.

3) NEGATIVES: I must confess that I don't normally do these, and I think that's why I haven't yet
    mastered the pull-up or the chin-up! Joke's on me, for sure. To perform a negative, you have to start
    with your chin up and over the bar, using either grip. Slowly lower yourself down to what would
    typically be the starting position. Don't just fall—the goal is to force your arms to control your
    body weight. This motion is, after all, half of an actual pull-up or chin-up! Feel free to use a bench
    or plyo box to get yourself up to the bar. I, for sure, will need one.

4) ASSISTED PULL-UPS AND CHIN-UPS: Various ways to do this! First, check and see if your gym
    has a machine for this purpose. They all look different, otherwise I'd show you a picture. In our
    gym, you stand on a platform adjusted according to your weight, after which you can perform both
    pull-ups and chin-ups. (You can also do dips, typically.) I like this machine, although I haven't really
    done it with the chin-up grip because the handles feel a bit too wide for me. No such machine at
    your gym? Working from home with an over-the-door system or jungle gym? Loop an exercise band
    around the bar to achieve the same effect.

I'm sure—actually, I know—there are more ways to train for pull-ups and chin-ups. These'll be the four I employ for a bit. And I might just leave my over-the-door system up for a while and pop one or two reps out here and there. Who knows, it might turn into three or four reps. God willing, five or six! Dare I hope to get up to ten in a row at some point?

Why, yes—I do dare.
Wish me luck.

Question: How many chin-ups can you do in a row? Pull-ups?


Madman said...

No Planks for you today, still can't believe that but if must have been all those extra pull-ups and chin-ups you did that kept you from joining us on our 11 minute version with 50 push-ups thrown in for good measure so I will cut you some slack!

TARA said...

For some reason, I was really stressed about time today...can't believe I missed such a good set of planks! You'll have to repeat it next time I join in. I'll be ready. Hopefully.

Cheri Lesauskis said...

I can do about 4-6 unassisted chin-ups and about 2-3 unassisted pull-ups, depending on the day. I have been practicing for awhile though.

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