Pull-Up Strength Training

by Adam benshea on July 12, 2016


Finding ways to build functional fitness can lead the aspiring strength enthusiast down any number of paths that range from garage gyms to fitness gurus.  Ironically, sometime the most direct route is a side trip to your local playground where you can follow the lead of the Brooklyn based ‘Bar-Barians’ who get their ‘swoll on’ through multiple pull-up variations.  In a similar example of attaining a high level of strength through pull-ups, the exercise is a central part of former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre’s workout plan and current featherweight champion Conor McGregor’s  wide-ranging training regimen.


Along with school yard legends and elite cage fighters, among the denizens of any correctional institution you will find the some of the biggest and brawniest cons building doorframe-busting shoulders with pull-up work.  In California’s steel cages from Pelican Bay to Old Folsom, dedicated prisoners build massive back, shoulder, and arm strength without traditional weightlifting by banging out pull-ups (in many traditional and non-traditional variations).



The advantages of pull-ups are wide ranging and far reaching.  For the grappler, pull-ups increase back and forearm strength which is crucial for holding positions more tightly and for pulling out stronger submissions.  For the striker, stronger lats translate into stronger rotation in the delivery of punches.  And, for the more casual fitness proponent, a broader back and wider shoulders generates more attention when filling out a business suit for an industry convention and longer stares at summer season pool parties.


An additional benefit of pull-ups is that they can be completed in a number of ways, with each having a distinct benefit and all offering a means to stave off mental fatigue.  The chin-up variation (palms facing toward you) offer t-shirt popping bicep training.  Throwing a jiu-jitsu gi over each side of the bar offers a grip building method.  Opposite grip pull-ups (one palm facing away and one palm facing toward you) mimic the hand position most commonly found in grappling or wrestling.  While travelling, a towel under an open door serves to produce a stable base for wrapping fingers your around the top of door and getting in some pull-ups (a tip from former Full Contact Karate champion Bill “Superfoot Wallace”).


Perhaps the most readily accessible routine for pull-ups is the pyramid program.  This program was used by former Spetsnaz (Soviet Special Forces) trainer Pavel Tsatsouline to quickly increase pull-up repetition capabilities.  Start at 1 rep, progress to 2, then 3, and continue until your reach 10 and you descend back down the pyramid to 1.  The completion of this pyramid means 100 pull-ups.  If this is too audacious for you, start at a pyramid of 4 or 5 reps, but start today.


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