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From No-Ups to Pull-Ups

Mandi doing pull-ups; I truly would have LOLed if I ever even thought that I’d be capable of doing pull-ups, let alone 6 in a row (my current PR). I remember being so embarrassed trying to do them for the first time in the gym—so I basically gave up, thinking that I’d never get there so why even try to regress the exercise? I made up the excuse that I was just “too big” and my body was “too heavy” as a 5’8” 155-pound woman. I remember hanging from a bar with a pronated grip pulling with everything I had and got nowhere.

Then my training style changed. I started to focus on strength and getting good at specific lifts. These lifts included the bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press, rows, and hip thrusts. As I got stronger in these lifts, I felt more athletic and challenged myself to FINALLY work on pull-ups, because I feel like this is such a badass exercise and I want nothing more than to be able to crank out reps.

Practice Daily. Every. Single. Day. Get a pull-up bar for your home. Every time you walk by it, do a set. Literally do 1 pull-up 10 times a day. Watch what happens.

Eccentrics. Extend the time under tension on your way down. Either jump up to the top of the movement or pull yourself up, and slowly lower yourself back down to a hanging position. Challenge yourself to slower and slower reps as you get stronger.

Leg-Assisted Pull-Ups. Set the bar up like you’re going to do an inverted row. I like to practice these with a very wide grip, as I find my lats most activated. Use your legs to help pull your chest up to the bar.

Banded Pull-Ups. Use bands instead of the assisted pull-up machine; it requires more stabilization and simulates an actual pull-up much more.

Grip Width. The wider the grip, the more gravity you have to overcome to produce movement. Because of this, the closer the grip, the easier the pull-up. Your grip shouldn’t be any closer than hip-width.

Hand Position. Neutral grip, supinated grip, and pronated grip require different target muscles. Practice all grips. There will likely be one that you find easiest, but practice all of them!

Heavy Deadlifts. Pull a couple heavy deadlifts, and then try a pull-up – you may find your bodyweight feels light and you’ll fly up.

Train Core Stabilization. Do a 1-minute plank every single day. Pull-ups require a good amount of core strength.

It is insane what you’re capable of when you practice a movement daily, especially when you consider it just that – a practice. Work on your technique and recruiting the right muscles. Remember that training pull-ups likely won’t be like a typical set of 4x12 bicep curls—you can only do 1? That is great. Do that one over and over until you’re able to pull for 2. I BELIEVE IN YOU!

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