Pull-Ups Part II: Behind Bars and Beyond

by Adam benshea on August 25, 2016

In a recent video from internet sensation Kali Muscle, the viewer receives insight on how cons in San Quentin, Pelican Bay, and similar institutions train back.  The preferred method?  Pull-ups.  Behind bars, prisoners use pull-ups to broaden their back and to build the slabs of functional muscle that will serve them in jailhouse riots.


In consideration of how pull-ups build lean muscle and operational power, pulls-ups bridge the gap often dividing fitness fashion from serviceable strength.  Incidentally, both can benefit the felon on the inside and the weekend warrior on the outside.

On one hand, in jail, signs of strength can keep predators at bay.  In the free world, t-shirt popping muscle mass can mean more attention at the local singles bar.

On the other hand, violence in prison can go off at any moment and a convict needs to know his strength routine will serve to keep him alive.  Similarly, a coquettish glance from the blonde at the night club can quickly shift into an ugly encounter with her surly ex-boyfriend.  In such a situation, you need to know that a physical regiment serves you in no rules fighting.

The seemingly endless amount of time in jail enables countless sets of pull-ups and the opportunity to experiment with a myriad of variations on this traditional exercise.  For example, the infamous prison yard combatant, Michael Thompson, does pull-ups from underneath his bunk.

It is not only those in the system who become creative with their bar work.  From cage fighters to the elite bodyweight athletes, the Bar-barians, a wide cast of characters use pull-ups for the utilitarian muscle that they develop.  With this in mind, here are a few to consider:

Tennis Ball Pull-Ups

A favorite of former UFC Lightweight Champion Jens Pulver, these can increase grip strength for tighter guillotine chokes and better hand control.  To execute, simply place a tennis ball in each hand, place them on top of the bar, and grasp the ball along with the bar as you perform the pull-up.


Triangle Pull-Ups

Common to the hardcore fitness enthusiasts in the parks of Brooklyn, pull your chin over the bar in close proximity to your left hand.  While keeping your chin over the bar, rotate your chin toward your right hand before descending to the hanging position.  On the next rep, you can reverse the motion.

triangle pullup

Inverted Pull-Ups        

When in the guard position of BJJ or submission grappling, you pull in a specific movement pattern.  To replicate this line of effort, grab the pull-up bar with palms facing out, bring your legs up on either side of the bar and lock your ankles together around the bar (like a guard).  With your feet above the bar and your head hanging, complete this inverted pull-up to train the guard’s muscle movements utilized for submission and sweep options.


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