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I always program pull-ups the same way. We start with straight-arm hangs and scapular control drills. We work the ISOMETRIC hold at the top of the bar. And we ECCENTRIC, or slowly lower down, as Etta demonstrates in the video below.
But sometimes the program - the goal - calls for some actual pulling, which is the CONCENTRIC part of the lift. Perhaps you are in the middle of a body-building block where sets of 8-12 reps are not uncommon. Maybe you have achieved your first pull-up, but it's not repeatable for enough sets in a max strength session.
Do not fear! We just have to bring in some outside help so that you can successfully fulfill the requirements of your program. I am a pretty strong girl. I can do a pull-up with a 53-lb kettle bell strapped to my waist. And I can bang out ten chin-ups if I absolutely need to. But all of the luck in the world won't allow me to repeat that for set two. But what if that's what the workout demands?
Bands Are OK BUT...
Bands are the typical go-to in this situation. And they are just fine. Band assisted pull-ups are a totally valid way to train for hypertrophy. Just like calling up your ex when you're in a bind is totally justifiable. But I would argue that if you are training for absolute strength, there's a better man for the job.
Before we talk about that guy, let me explain that my beef with bands isn't all that serious. We actually work together a lot. But bands reverse the difficulties of a pull-up, making them easier to start (from dead-hang) and exponentially tougher to complete as your body moves closer to the bar.
This scrambling of forces is the exact opposite of what a pull-up or chin-up (which I like better) is really like. The pull is always toughest at the initiation and easiest at the top of the bar as the elbow angle closes. You can see this truth in action at your neighborhood gym. On your next visit, peep how many bros skip the dead hang and keep their elbows significantly bent for the entirety of the set. They shorten the range of motion to avoid the struggle.
I want my clients to be prepared for the actualities of the lift. They need to practice the skill of initiating the pull under scaleable difficulty. Something that reflects what they will actually face. So I need a tool that's going to help them train as specifically as possible.
Enter Chuck Norris
You have definitely stayed up late watching Housewives and fallen asleep, only to be awoken by the sound of Christy Brinkley trying to convince you that purchasing a Total Gym will absolutely change your life. You have, right?
On the surface, the Total Gym seems about as necessary and useful as a NordicTrack or a waist trainer thing. But in reality, this infomercial classic starring the one and only Walker, Texas Ranger is the BEST way to train that concentric aspect of the pull-up.
The Total Gym is to pull-ups what the Smith Machine is to push-ups.
It allows you to keep everything about the lift EXACTLY the same while displacing some of your weight to make the exercise more manageable. And unlike that archaic huge traditional Pull-Up Machine, you can even keep a solid hollow position without getting launched into the air and jamming your joints up.
And as we already discussed, keeping the requirements of the lift the same helps to elevate the impact of your progress on that real-deal, unassisted pull-up.
How To Total Gym Pull
Simply set your chest in line with the top of the pad. Hollow your body by tucking your pelvis and shortening your chest. Root shoulders down your back and squeeze your butt...and BAM you've got a perfect pull-up (way better than the Perfect Push-Up!). You can easily progress the difficulty of the exercise as you get stronger by adjusting the height of the pad. Which is way easier than sorting and matching bands with fluctuating body weight in order to guess and check.
The Total Gym Rocks
How AMAZING do I think the Total Gym is? To give you an idea, my mentor and previous boss Eric D'Agati always had one at ONE Human Performance in NJ where we trained NFL guys and Olympic sprinters. And when we moved facilities to a bigger space, the Total Gym got a place of honor on the gym floor, never to be conveniently folded and hidden as Mr. Norris thoughtfully suggests.
I did a little bit of research on the Total Gym website and found that you can acquire one of these babies for under $200. Although I've been advised by those in the know that it's worth springing for the under $400 model if you've got the funds. I'm going to guess however that delirious insomniacs across the country are selling barely used pieces on Craigslist at any given time. They just don't know.
There are a multitude of other uses for the Total Gym to merit some space in your garage or a corner of your studio. We can talk about those at another time if you have the interest (HINT: ask away!). But you definitely do not need to settle for the go-to guy and you absolutely do not need to settle for just ok pull-up training. Remember this: You deserve the metaphorical Chuck or Christy always. #betterthanok #sophisticatedstrength