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How to increase pull-up numbers quickly and safely
 
 
duff duff is offline
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12-18-2009, 02:46 AM
 
John's thread on pull-ups made me want to write a brief tutorial on going from 0 to many pullups in a safe, yet fairly brief time frame.

I couldn't do a single pull-up or pushup as a kid. Even in high school when I began to do long-distance running, I remember thinking it was a joke that our coach one day wanted us to do a pushup all the way to where your chest touches the ground. I mean, he couldn't be serious, right?

In college I decided I wanted to be able to do a pull-up just in case. I figured it would be a horrible way to die if I fell off a cliff and all that would save my life is to be able to pull my own weight (literally). After college, I lifted weights for a while on a "mass gaining" program, and found myself bloated, tired, and constantly sore. Even though I had gained about 15 lbs of muscle in 8 weeks, I decided it wasn't worth it! Not to mention I kept hurting my shoulders with heavy (for me, not for other guys) bench presses.

I was at about 4 or 5 pull-up reps when I started Transformetrics a few years ago. I got up to a personal best of 12 reps solely with a program of DVR pull-ups and visualization, and only testing my numbers about once a week over the course of about a month. I've lost those numbers temporarily due to lack of moving my muscles over the past couple of years, but I'm doing Transformetrics again and plan on beating my personal record again soon!

So what's the method I use to safely increase pull-up numbers?

Well first off, I'm a 6'5" skinny (about 150lbs) desk jockey with long arms. Pull-ups and pushups hurt my elbows if I'm not very careful. So the way I do it is to focus on DVR strength and exacting form.

The method I used before was to do DVR pull-ups with a wooden dowel I purchased from the hardware store for under $5. I decided to do this to make the pull-ups more "realistic" while visualizing pulling myself over the bar.

I chose to pick a rep number that was equal to my eventual goal. So since I wanted to do about 15 pull-ups, I did sets of 15 DVR pull-ups with my wooden dowel. I especially focused on pulling with my lats while relaxing my elbows. This takes a little practice at first to understand what I mean. But if I pull myself up with my elbows, I get immediate feedback in the form of twinges of pain! If I instead relax the elbows and pull with my lats, I fly up over the bar with (slightly more) ease.

So I did these sets of 15 DVR pull-ups--usually 2 or 3 sets in the morning and 2 or 3 sets again in the evening--daily for about a month. This was to utilize the "grease the groove" technique, but to also save my elbows from all the stress of being pulled by my body weight. Each time while I was doing a set of the DVR pull-ups, I visualized pulling myself over the bar to train my mind as well. I then "tested" my progress on my pull-up bar (a tree branch) once a week with 2 or 3 sets of real pull-ups.

If you can't do a single pull-up, it's probably better to practice lower rep numbers of the DVRs with higher tension. Otherwise you won't build up enough strength to get over the bar. I'd recommend practicing maybe max 3 times what you can do now in terms of DVR reps, and perhaps even less, with pretty good tension but not so much it makes you sore. If you're sore, back off for a day or two to rest, then start up again.

An additional trick...

If you do full-range pull-ups, here's an additional trick that I've found really works for me.

This time around, in addition to DVRs I've been practicing starting with going from a dead hang from the bar to just "lifting my shoulders away from my ears" using my upper back muscles in sets of 5 or so. This movement is a lot easier than doing a full pull-up, and can prepare you for more safely doing a full-range pull-up by strengthening your upper back--even if you decide to not practice them in the full range of motion.

After practicing this small movement, I slowly practice going from shoulders away from ears to then pulling with my lats, and again, keeping the elbows relaxed. If I cheat and try to use my arms too much, I get that twinge of pain warning me that this is a no-no! But if I keep it very strict by just using my back muscles, I can get over the bar pain-free.

In addition, just hanging from the bar for a few seconds can be good grip practice which you'll need later to do multiple reps.

The other key is to not care about reps, but form. Stop when you have "money in the bank" so to speak. If I keep going even one rep more than I can do with perfect form out of ego, I pay for it with elbow pain and then can't train as much! Practice DVRs until you build up strength, and also the reverse shoulder shrugging, and then try for real reps infrequently so you can rest especially if you twinge a joint.

Hope that helps,
~Duff

Last edited by duff; 12-18-2009 at 02:52 AM. Reason: clarity
 
 
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The Saint The Saint is offline
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12-18-2009, 05:10 AM
 
Class post, Duff, I'm defo gonna give this a go. I was all delighted with myself when I managed my first pull-up, but I've not managed to progress much since then, it's been mad busy & I've not had much time to put into training. I'm really chuffed with myself cuz I can now do more chin-ups than most of my male friends, and I've a party for my windsurfer friends in my house tomorrow & I just know they're gonna make me prove myself! But I really want to master pull-ups. This looks like great advice, and best of all, it's doable!
 
 
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John Peterson John Peterson is offline
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12-18-2009, 09:39 AM
 
Hey Duff,

It's great to see you posting my friend. You know first hand the true power that one can attain by developing mastery over the muscular/neurological system that DVR/VRT and Isometrics affords. It is a powerful skill that carries over into all avenues of life with great benefits.

---John Peterson
 
 
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JoeJustice JoeJustice is offline
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12-18-2009, 09:54 AM
 
Hey Duff, fantastic post! It made the Facebook page.

-Joe
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jonlclay jonlclay is offline
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12-18-2009, 10:21 AM
 
Duff,

Recently I too have returned to doing mostly DVR/DSR/ISO (M7 + IPB) and will be testing my pullup/chinup process. I do notice that engaging my back muscles is harder than arms/shoulders doing the pullup/chinup M7 exercises. I do not use a dowel/bar at this time. Do you think that helped you engage your back muscles better than not using one?

But thanks for the great post, love the positive feedback others have shared using DVR's.

Jon
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tom tom is offline
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12-18-2009, 11:09 AM
 
Thank you, Duff. I had heard that you worked up to some good pull ups but never new exactly what you did. I like the elbow relaxing, lat pulling advice. I've done some of the lat pulling trick, but not as consistently as you advise, which I should do. Relaxing the elbows I hope will help my tendonitis, my biggest pull up problem.

I didn't know you did two or three sets of pull up testing one day a week. That's a great idea. It follows something I read in the now-defunct Hardgainer magazines about once a week work outs for the long, skinny truly hard gainers. I'm the long, skinny type, too.

We both went through the same phase in college, it appears. I'm sure that 15 lbs we gained in 8 weeks wasn't all muscle. Looking back, what a waste of my time. But, to be philosophical about it, life mistakes aren't really a waste, just a part of life.

Thank you for the details and ideas,
Tom
 
 
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duff duff is offline
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12-19-2009, 02:26 AM
 
@TheSaint

If you give it a go, let us know how it works for you! If anything, the program could be done more slowly, so keep that in mind if you get tired or feel like you're overtraining.
 
 
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duff duff is offline
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12-19-2009, 02:58 AM
 
@jonlclay

I'm not sure if the dowel helped with engaging the lats. It's a curious thing what tricks work to learn muscle control, kinda like learning to wiggle your ears at first. If you can find any exercise at all that helps you to engage the lats, use that as a way to get to know how exactly how you do it, then it will transfer over easily to other moves.
 
 
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12-19-2009, 03:00 AM
 
@tom

Yea, the 15 lbs probably wasn't all muscle, but I did use bodyfat calipers at the time so it wasn't fat (at least by that measurement), although probably some water weight gain as I was taking creatine.

Let me know if relaxing the elbows and pulling with the lats works for you with your elbow pain! I'd be curious to know if this technique helps others too.
 
 
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MikeNY MikeNY is offline
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12-20-2009, 04:52 PM
 
Great stuff, DVR pullups do work to build strength and Duff I like your innovation with hanging and shoulder idea! This is a class thread.
 
 
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