The Proper Path to Pull Ups

 Sure, they ruined my bracket....but how can you not love these guys?

Sure, they ruined my bracket....but how can you not love these guys?

Florida Gulf Coast.  If you watched your share of college basketball this past weekend, then you know how that school completely ruined my March Madness bracket, along with many, many others.  However, I couldn't be happier for that team as they played both games like they were on a Nerf hoop, and they produced a hilarious/terrible, highlight/rap video.

So, while this weekend went on to prove that I know absolutely nothing when it comes to sports prognostication, it made me think that just like March Madness, not everything in the strength and conditioning world always goes according to plan.  Most notably, how most people try (and fail) to do a proper pull up.

Besides push ups, pull ups are pretty much the bane of most people's existence (at least, in the gym).  Now, you can make the case that pull ups are tough (they are), and that a pull up is scientifically/biomechanically harder to do for a woman than a man (it is). But, I'm tired of excuses, so how does one go about, you know, actually doing them?

Logically, one might assume that the lat pulldown machine is a great start, since the motion looks pretty similar to an actual pull up.  Yet, looks are deceiving, because there is no carryover from lat pulldowns to an actual pull up.  Let me repeat that: there is no carryover from lat pulldowns to an actual pull up.

 The lat pulldown machine - taking up precious gym floor space for far too long.

The lat pulldown machine - taking up precious gym floor space for far too long.

Why?

Well, let's look at the two movements.  First off, the pull up is what's called a "closed-chain" movement, and all that means is what you're pulling is fixed and not moving.  Conversely, the lat pulldown is an "open-chain" movement meaning that what you're moving, the bar, is not fixed to anything and is moving according to how you see fit.

Ok, so why's that important?  It's the same reason that performing leg extensions will not help you barbell squat any additional weight.  You're not truly performing the movement, so you're not challenging your stabilizers and you're not learning all the subtleties of performing a pull up.  Your body only remembers movements....not muscle contractions.

Next, the weight performed on a lat pull down machine is going to be significantly less than you would perform on a pull up.  Thus, when it comes to actually doing the movement, someone who only performs lat pulldowns is going to find themselves woefully unprepared when it comes to handling their own bodyweight.

 A great progression for those unable to do a pull up. Oh, and nice shoes brah!

A great progression for those unable to do a pull up. Oh, and nice shoes brah!

So, what's the best course of action to get better a pull ups?  To do pull ups!  Of course, it's not always that simple, since many people may need to start with simply jumping up to the bar, holding themselves there, and lowering back down.  Once you have that mastered, you can use a super band and attach it to the pull ups, which will assist you in getting all the way up.  You can continually play with tempos, the amount of weight you actually pull, just make sure you're doing them on pull up bars.

Pull ups are a king of a upper body movements, and while they're incredibly difficult, they're extremely important.  I've always fought hard to keep a 1:1 ratio between my bench press and my pull ups, and I've never had any shoulder issues.  Granted, I might just be lucky, but striving for true balance in your workouts will help you stay injury free.