Thursday, August 14, 2014

Developing pull-ups for novice trainers

By Gillian Ward

Days per week – 2

What you will need:
·       A pull-up bar
·       A step stool (if necessary)
·       Various resistance bands
o   Rogue Fitness Resistance Bands

This program will yield the best results when executed in tandem with a barbell based strength training program. While pull-ups are a demonstration of upper body strength, they are not a complete strength training program.  Barbell training will lay the necessary foundation for upper body strengthening.

Pull-ups are a skill and are therefore developed and improved upon by practice.   We get better at pull-ups by doing pull-ups.  Pull-ups will never be fully developed by the use of heavy lat pull-downs.

This program is designed to be a 2x per week program and should be given priority in a workout if the primary goal of the trainee is to achieve pull-ups.  When the goal has been achieved, the pull-ups should move to the end of the workout after strength training.  The pull-ups should be done on the same day as the strength training to allow for maximum recovery.

We recommend practicing both supinated and pronated grips.  A supinated grip will be easier for most untrained novices.  Additionally, the placement of thumbs around the bar is safer and engages more muscle.

Trainees should stand high enough to grab the bar rather than jump for it to ensure proper hand placement as well as reduce the risk of unnecessary skin tears.

Grip placement:

·       Grip placement in the case of pull-ups (pronated grip) should slightly wider than shoulder width.  This will maximize the range of motion and muscle mass used.  If you stand naturally and place your arms overhead, that is the width of the grip that you should take.

·       A chin-up (supinated grip) should be slightly narrower.  A wider hand position will feel uncomfortable on the wrists and forearms.

Day 1 - Volume Day + Assistance Work

A trainee new to pull-ups needs to become accustomed to time under tension (ie: the amount of time spent hanging on the bar required to do a set of pull-ups).   The hands must adapt to the stress.  This will also improve grip strength and endurance.

Week 1 – 3 x 6

·       The trainee should perform 3 sets of 6 pull-ups with bands calibrated to enough tension that all of the reps should be completed to full range of motion.  Band “help” should be adjusted by using several mini-bands if necessary so that adding or removing bands will enable the trainee to make small calibrations.  The completion of the reps should be challenging but not impossible.
·       Rest 3 minutes between sets.
Week 2 – 3 x 8
·       Progress to 3 sets of 8 reps with the same band tension as the previous week.
Week 3 – 3 x 10
·       Progress to 3 sets of 8 reps with the same band tension as the previous week.
Week 4 – Max Effort
·       Trainee should complete 2 sets of max repetition with the band tension used in the first three weeks.
·       Rest 3 minutes between sets.
Week 5 – 3 x 6
·       Reduce band tension and complete 3 sets of 6
Week 6 – 3 x 8
·       Complete 3 sets of 8 with the same band tension as the previous week
Week 7 – 3 x 6
·       Reduce band tension and complete 3 sets of 6
Week 8 – Max Effort
·       Do two sets of max repetitions with the band tension from the previous week.
·       Rest 3 minutes between sets.

Pull-ups in this phase will precede barbell work in training order.  After the barbell work is completed for the day the trainee should complete the following assistance exercises:

  3 sets of 10-15 push-ups
  3 sets of 10 barbell or dumbbell rows
  2-3 sets of 10 biceps curls

The direct upper body resistance work with a hypertrophy rep scheme will help build the necessary muscle as well as reduce the incidence of tendonitis.  Additionally, bodyweight exercises complement each other.  Learning to engage the musculature of the trunk will prevail through all bodyweight exercises and there will be transference from one to the other.

Day 2 – Intensity Day

This day is best accomplished with the use of a partner.  The limitation is that the help from a partner is impossible to quantify.

A partner should help the trainee accomplish a full pull-up by spotting the concentric phase (there are several techniques, see below).  The trainee will complete the negative/eccentric phase without the partner’s help.  It is important that rep speed mimic that of a normal repetition.  The trainee should not drop from the bar nor perform a super slow repetition.  Both of these lead to potential injury and are not as effective as maintaining normal cadence.

The trainee should strive to accomplish 2 to 4 reps at a time depending on the ability to hold on to the bar and the skill of the spotter.  The spotter is there to give the minimum help necessary to complete the full range of motion.

Increase the total number of reps completed each week.  The quantity in each set is not as relevant as that has already been addressed in the training completed on Day 1.

Four to five weeks into training, the trainee will be able to do part of the concentric phase on their own.  The spotter will be most active on the initial “elbow” break portion of the pull as well as the last few inches of clearing the bar.  The spotter should allow the trainee to complete the middle of the range as unassisted as possible.

If there is no partner, the trainee can self-assist with the use of a jump to help propel the chin over the bar, followed by a regular speed negative.  As the trainee gets stronger the jump should become less significant.

Week 1 – 8 total repetitions assisted
Week 2 – 10 total repetitions assisted
Week 3 – 12 total repetitions assisted
Week 4 – 14 total repetitions assisted
Week 5 – 16 total repetition assisted
Week 6 – 18 total repetitions assisted
Week 7 – 20 total repetitions assisted
Week 8 – 3 sets of max reps unassisted (this might be 3 singles)

Spotting techniques:

The most efficient spotting technique is to have the trainee hang with knees bent, cross-legged and have the spotter cradle and assist from the ankles. The spotter may want to allow the trainee to prop the feet on his/her knee and have the trainee push off as needed. It is imperative that the spotter keeps his eyes on the grip of the trainee. If the trainee appears to be losing grip the spotter must release the legs for a safe dismount.

Also efficient but far more personal are hands placed on the mid back with thumbs vertically aligned to the sides of the spine and fingers fanned out outward and upward. Pressure should be exerted through the palms vice squeezing with the fingertips. This requires the spotter to work more than the prior method but allows for more minor calibrations.

If no spotter is available, trainee can spot themselves by placing a box or chair high enough that they can prop their feet on it and push off as needed.  This can also be done in a power rack or smith machine by setting the bar low enough that the trainee can bend their knees and push off from the floor.

Exercises that can be done at the beginning of each session:

  Straight Arm Bar Hangs. Hang from the bar for :15 to :20 to develop grip strength. Do this 2x (once with each grip)
  “Elbow Breaks” – practice initiating a pull-up by hanging from the bar and engaging the lats and biceps causing the elbows to bend 10 to 15 degrees. Complete 5 total repetitions. *Some trainees will not be able to do this for a few weeks. This drill brings awareness to the work of the abdominals in a pull-up.
  “Monkey Bars” – hang from the bar and move hands side to side, “walking” across the bar.
  Switch Grips – hang from the bar and alternate switching each hand between pronated and supinated.  When this becomes easier, incorporate this switch grip into the monkey bar walks.

“Pass and Attempt” – During the acquirement phase of pull-ups I recommend that trainees mount a bar each time they pass it for the day and attempt one single pull-up even if nothing happens. Soon it will. Anything goes on these attempts – jumping, kicking, swinging, chicken neck pecking are all okay. These are easy to clean up after.

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