Exercise Spotlight: Pull up progression or what it’s like to be stuck at the bottom

Have you ever felt like you were stuck at the bottom of a pit, thinking how am I going to do this? How will I get myself up and out? If you have never achieved a pull up, or not done one in a long time, you can probably relate to this feeling.

Straight up, I coach movements, not body part training. I learned the importance of functional movement training long ago from a coach named Dan John.  He’s a no BS type of a coach, and he has it right when it comes to helping people get stronger. Big biceps or a curvy figure might be attractive, but, most likely, neither will help you much if you have to jump out of the way of a skateboarder.  So, I stick to training movements.

Specifically, I train movements that:

  • push
  • pull
  • squat
  • hinge at the hips
  • carry a load
  • rotate
  • counter-rotate
  • and then I’ll add sprint/run/walk fast and jump.

And the movements are multi-directional:

  • up
  • down
  • forward
  • backward
  • lateral left and right.

This month’s movement focus is. . . yes, PULL UPS!

Pull ups are hard. In fact, pull ups are probably the hardest exercise, and we simply do not do enough of them. Go ahead, try to pull yourself up. Grab that bar, and hang there. Now try to pull up, and, well  . . . just hang there. . . Uh-huh, it takes progressive practice to get stronger, and work your way up to a full pull up.

Trying to do a strong pull up is like a lot of other struggles in life. While volunteering on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation – the poorest county in the U.S.– and also at a local transitional housing facility, I’ve worked with people that were truly down and pretty close to out. For them, seeing themselves rise up into an independent life felt  like trying to do a pull up for the first time. The task may have looked insurmountable, but with some help from a spotter and determination, there was a chance at making it happen!

Pull ups do require some kind of special equipment, along with a strong desire to achieve them. Some equipment needed, for example, may be a home pull up bar, racked barbell, a strong tree limb, or TRX/Jungle Gym suspension system. Use a person, or piece of equipment to spot you, until you grow stronger, and could manage them on your own.

Because Nerdfitness has an excellent article that describes different pull up progressions as I would do them, I will feature this article as a guest blog. The article not only discusses the equipment that you can use (i.e. dumbbells, barbell, bodyweight ) to execute the pull up, but also provides descriptions of movements and videos that show how to spot a pull up.  If you want to train to do pull ups, I strongly recommend that you read this article or, for personal coaching, make an appointment with me for training!