I'm Speaking(!) and Rethinking the Pull-Up

Did you hear that rustling? Don't worry, it's just my inner introvert hyperventilating into a paper bag.

Why?  Because I'll be speaking (yikes!) this Saturday, July 25th at the first TR Symposium.  While I'm still finishing my slides, it's going to be a great day of learning and information at The Training Room.  Having previously worked at one of the "top gyms in America" - as labeled by Men's Health - I can say with confidence that our staff at the TR is in the top 1% of the industry.  Plus, not only are we knowledgeable, we're also easy to look at. ;)

The topics are: Building a Stronger Runner, The TGU: Benefits and Breakdown, and Train Like an Athlete.  My topic?  Defeat and Dominate Your Deadlift.  With the help of Justin Bieber and Rich Uncle Pennybags (the real name for the Monopoly guy), I'll explain what transformed my deadlift over the last two years.  After all, I might know a thing or two about deadlifting:

Yes, that's "Bittersweet Symphony" playing in the background.  And yes, I'm wearing my lucky deadlift shirt - thanks for noticing!

OK, that's enough ego stroking.  Onto the other stuff.

Pull-ups are a goal for almost all of my clients, and they're most likely a goal for you too.  But pull-ups are tough as it's a true test of upper body strength and there's no middle ground - you can do them or you can't.  If you're like me and have an advanced pull-up goal (the Beast Tamer Challenge to be exact), you MUST do pull-ups.  The law of specificity is king, and the only way to do a pull-up with an extra 106 pounds is by doing pull-ups.  

That's a BIG bell..

That's a BIG bell..

But what if you're waiting to do your first pull-up?  How can (and should) you train for it?  Is the answer to do modified version of the pull-up?  I don't think so.

Earlier in my career I thought pull-ups needed to be trained in order to do them.  Now?  I've realized that being able to do your first pull-up is a byproduct of good training and progress.  And if you're not ready for them, pull-up variations won't help you reach your goal.

When a client couldn't quite do a full pull-up, I used to recommend holds at the top of pull-up, pull-ups with bands, and even slow eccentrics (lowerings).  The problem was the tendency to cheat on these movements is high, as it's an exercise being trained at a very high intensity.  I'd see shoulders start to creep up towards someone's ears, legs tend to start kick in desperation, as well as the occasional swinging from side to side.  When this happens we're no longer DOING pull-ups - we're surviving them.  We have the wrong muscles pulling the wrong joints, and we're giving up long term success for short term gain.

We would never think of cheating like that on a squat or deadlift, so why do pull-ups get a free pass?  Instead of cranking on our shoulders to do a pull-up we're not ready for, we can train for pull-ups without actually doing them.   

To be successful at pull-ups you need A) upper body strength, B) scapular stability, C) core stability, D) grip strength and E) confidence.  In any well-designed training program, we'll be getting all of the above from deadlifts, rows, Turkish Get-Ups, dead bugs, squats, etc.  Perfecting all of those other exercises provides a large carryover to pull-ups from both a physical and mental perspective.  Then, when you're close to being able to do a pull-up - let's say you need just a bit of a push from the ground - you'll have much more confidence and will likely have the right muscles doing the bulk of the movement.

I've seen numerous men and women perform a successful pull-up even though they never "trained" for it.  It IS possible.  But you need to be strong and confident.

And that's easier said than done.