Those of you who train at NSS know that one of the big rock movement patterns that we find important to train, at a minimum, one time per week, is the upper body vertical pull. This can be achieved in a number of ways, but let’s focus specifically on the king of all upper body pulls, the pull-up. Now, before you write pull-ups off as something that you can’t or will never do, please hear us out. With proper training, and progressions, ANYONE…let us repeat, ANYONE can perform quality pull-ups and reap the benefits of this awesome exercise.
If you are already rocking body weight pull-ups check out this article HERE to maximize your output. But for those of you looking to rip out BW pull-up rep #1, let’s look at four variations of the pull-up and how to use them properly toward your goal.
Banded pull downs: There are three common positions we do banded pull downs with clients. Seated, half kneeling and double kneeling. Each of these will tax the body and accessory muscles a little differently. We start with seated, to keep the focus on the lats and other vertical pulling muscles. After a few weeks of seated, moving in to a half kneeling position will add work to both the torso and the glutes. In the final phase you can progress to a double kneeling position which intensifies the stability aspect through the torso and glutes.
To set up the banded pull down, wrap one or two bands over a pull-up bar or other stationary object that you can get directly under. In all three positions, reach up until your elbows are fully straightened, and grab the band(s) with both hands. From here pre-set the lats (think reverse shrug) by pulling the shoulder blades back and down, then drive your elbows to your side, as if closing your armpits to prevent someone from tickling you. After the first few reps you may need to adjust your hold on the bands to add to or reduce the tension. Perform 2-4 sets of 10-15 reps.
TRX rowing: The next accesory lift is more of a horizontal pull, but none the less a great exercise to guide you in to a full BW pull-up. The first variation to work on is a 45 degree TRX row. Grasp the handles of a suspension trainer, walk your feet towards the anchor until your body is at a 45 degree angle to the ground (with straight legs and straight elbows). Once you find this base position, draw in a breath, lock your glutes and torso, and pull your body up to your hands.
The next level to progress to with a TRX row is to perform a fully inverted row. To set this one up, position the TRX approximately 2-3 feet from the ground. Grab the handles and walk yourself all the way under the attachment of the TRX, keeping your knees bent, this will put your body near parallel to the ground once you extend your arms. From there, the same breath in, locking of the glutes and torso and pull your body to your hands.
To do an inverted row without a TRX or other suspension trainer, simply place your barbell in the squat rack approximately 2-3 feet from the floor and pull your chest to it, just as you would the TRX handles. (Hint: always make sure you are pulling toward the rack, never away from it)
With all of these variations, focusing on a solid pull from the entire upper back, will help to strengthen the lats along with the accessory muscles important in starting and finishing a quality pull-up. Perform 3-5 sets of 10-20 reps.
TRX pull-up: Next, to add in to your pulling program is the TRX pull-up. (See the picture above for an idea of how this should look) Position the suspension trainer handles just high enough so you can grasp them while barely keeping your glutes on the ground in a seated position. From here, bend your knees and tuck your heels as close to your butt as possible. Once into this base position, pre-set the lats (think reverse shrug again) by pulling the shoulder blades back and down, then drive your elbows to your side, as if closing your armpits to prevent someone from tickling you.
With the TRX pull-up it is important to keep your body as vertical as possible, which can be assisted by pushing as needed through your feet to help you finish the movement. Perform 2-4 sets of 5-8 reps.
Banded pull-ups: As we do very commonly with clients at NSS, the banded pull-up is a great exercise to use in accessory to full body weight pull-ups. To set this up, wrap a band of appropriate tension around your pull-up bar. Grasp the bar in an overhand, chin-up, or neutral grip position and hook the band either over a bent knee or around your foot on a straight leg. Banded pull-ups work great because they assist you when the pull is most difficult, generally at the bottom of the movement, when the levers are the longest. Perform 2-5 sets of speed loss reps, meaning once you start to lose the speed of movement you began with, jump down and take a rest.
Next time you are training, try a few of these to start your path to being a pull-up machine, add a few more reps to your max, or really hone in your skill. With the above mentioned variations of the king of upper body pulls, we know you will be well on your path to pull-up mastery.