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Upper Body Pulling Movement Group
(working towards your first Pull Up and beyond)
By Greg Mihovich
Upper body pulling (UBP) is an act of pulling (surprise!) the weight towards the
body or the body towards an object with the arms. UBP, just like its counterpart
Pressing, is usually further categorized into horizontal and vertical movement
The prime movers for that movement pattern are the lats, biceps and rear
deltoids (the back of the shoulders). The whole upper back, forearms and, in a
lot of cases, legs and core act as stabilizers. Once again, if you train for real the
whole body is involved.
The most prominent and productive exercise examples are, of course, Pull Ups,
Chin Ups and Rope Climbing, followed by Body Rows, Renegade Rows and T-
Bar Rows. These exercises are very functional for real life applications and
engage your whole body if done right.
For somebody who is unable to do a single one, Pull Ups seem like a daunting
task and I can certainly understand that, being able to perform my first one only at
twelve years old. The key here is just like anywhere else – practice and
Part of the problem is a lack of available pull up bars on the streets, beaches
and even at the gyms, where the usual ratio of benches to pull up bars is twenty
to one. Back in Russia there are pull up bars almost on every corner and, the
best thing is, that most of them are of the freestanding kind – the ones that allow
you to perform fun gymnastic exercises like Muscle Ups and Pull Overs. And it
shows: most of the Russian kids in high school can perform Pull Ups, Muscle
Ups and Pull Overs with no problem, while I found the majority of the American
kids struggle with even the basic movements. But they perform great when lying
on the bench!
Another part of the problem is the obsession of the society over the huge pecs,
the bench press and its numbers, instead of focusing on increasing the
athleticism, as well as the posterior chain and core development. Everything is
good in balance and moderation – if you are into huge pecs, they should be
balanced by wide and thick back, otherwise it is simply ugly. Pressing and
Pulling should go together in a fifty / fifty proportion, not only for esthetical
reasons, but for the sake of your shoulders health and vitality.
The reason number three that you do not see people cranking out Pull Ups
everywhere is that it is hard work, it requires practice and dedication. And most
of the people just want to pretend that they “work out”.
But you know better, so the road to your first Pull Up, if you cannot yet do one (not
for long!), is starting today! There are two basic ways to work up to a one and I
suggest that you use both.
The first one does not require any equipment and is called “Negatives”. You will
jump or help yourself otherwise to the chin over the bar position and than will as
slowly as possible yield yourself down – thus the name “Negatives”, as you only
perform the negative (eccentric) part of the exercise.
This method works because you are always stronger in the eccentric part of any
movement. So you are starting in your strongest position in order to work on your
Don’t worry that in the beginning you might go down really fast, with almost no
control over the movement. Eventually, you will be able to take as many as four or
five seconds on your descent. Then you need to add stops and pauses at
various points. When you are going down extremely slow with a three second
pause at the top, middle and bottom of the movement you should be ready for
your first Pull Up!
Another technique requires a few looped rubber bands of various thicknesses.
Simply loop the band over the pull up bar, put your knee (knees) or a foot (feet)
through it and you are ready to go.
For best results I recommend you to combine both methods: on one day you
would perform negatives with pauses on the other you would do full range Pull
Ups with rubber bands.
As soon as you are able to perform your first one, keep practicing it, while
maintaining a steady diet of both assisted and negative repetitions. As soon as
you are up to two or three reps on your own you are ready for special method
called “ladders” – a common knowledge in Russia.
This method is based on the fact that going up in numbers on your reps, like 1, 2,
3, 4, etc. excites the nervous system, while going down calms it down. So you
will perform a single Pull Up, rest a bit, perform two, rest a bit, three… By now
you are probably getting the picture.
Avoid muscular failure, as your goal is not to fatigue the muscle too much, but to
build a pattern of success, while reinforcing the technique and building up the
volume (overall number of reps and sets in this case), while staying as fresh as
possible. So you should leave a rep or two in the tank.
Such ladders (each rep is a step, get it?) could be performed multiple times in
one workout or throughout the day to minimize the fatigue even more. Of course,
this method could and should be applied to other exercises as well.
As for proper technique, three most common mistakes I see people do are:
A) Spreading their elbows wide instead of keeping them in
B) Pulling only with the arms and not utilizing the lats
C) Being too relaxed on the bar and not using enough muscular tension
Let me break them down one by one.
A) The strongest position for your upper body, no matter for a pull or a press is
with the elbows in. Keeping the arms close to the centerline engages the lats
and/or the triceps and aligns the body for action in the best possible way. Why
do you think wrestlers and boxers fight from that position (the good ones,
B) The lats are much bigger and stronger than the arms and should be firing
(should be engaged) on all upper body pulling motions. One way to learn that is
to perform “armless” Pull Ups utilizing the ABS Straps. Remember the filling in
the lats during that drill and learn to use them every time you do any kind of pulls
with the arms.
C) The amount of muscular tension that you generate should be corresponding
to the task at hand (selective tension). If performing a few reps on a pull up bar
is a challenge for you than it is classified as a maximum effort. The amount of
tension that you generate should reflect that and be high. Squeeze the pull up
bar, tighten up your abs, cross your feet at the ankles and tighten up the
hamstrings and glutes. Become one tight muscular unit with one goal: to pull up.
Just do not forget to release all that tension ones you are done or you will be a
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