There are a handful of moves that we all want to be able to say - "Yeah, I can totally nail that bad boy."
That #1 goal looks different for everybody. Not everybody wants to have the most IG followers, for example. Or any of these -
Bodyweight dips for reps
Handstand press ups
Wrestle a bear
The one I want to talk about today, is the humbling and super challenging pull up with a supinated grip. (Palms facing towards you.)
Specifically, the technical considerations you need to have a handle on in order to work effectively towards this goal. You'll also need a good spoonful of patience and perseverance too, because this doesn't happen overnight.
First, let's go through some basic rules.
Learn how to find your starting point. Most tend to use the pull up machine of which I'm not a huge fan. The design kinda sorta makes it harder for you to intuitively discover what the tricks are. The ingredients which actually come together to help you see progress.
You have a weight pushing you up, making it much harder to learn how to maintain hip & spine stability. In other words, squeezing your core, glutes and back muscles super hard. Tension is the name of the game.
So rule number 1 is actually two rules. Find your starting point and tension. How to simplify the movement to make it fit your starting point? You can use resistance bands, different rep and tempo schemes, use only the lowering phase by starting from the top, the possibilities are endless.
Fail. I would actually encourage you to fail. Fail a lot. Because you'll learn from it. :-)
It's best not to hold expectations for how long it's going to take, how it's going to feel, when you're going to do great and when you're going to do.. Not so great.
I've witnessed people give up the game or get unnecessarily disheartened because they held an expectation of what's going to happen which never came to fruition.
Just focus on the work, and trust the process.
However, I can't deny it does help if you have better clarity and understanding over what it is you're doing and why. If a trainer can explain it to you, helping you better visualise how all these little bits are going to come together to make a difference, that's engaging.
Let's look at some basic stuff you need for this to happen.
It's very handy if you can achieve full shoulder flexion without letting your rib cage flare up. Here's an example where it's not so good (left) and good. (right.)
Credit: Tony Gentilcore
If you're finding you can't get your shoulders overhead without looking like the first example. Then you first need to address whether this is a mechanical limitation, or a lack of stability through the body. In other words, can all of your muscles coordinate properly to get into the ideal position.
The best way to figure out which of those is relevant to you, is to ask me :-) Then I can point you in the direction for how to rectify this.
There's a lot of intricacy/shenanigans going on with muscles that act on the shoulder blades. Which means, there's a lot of room for at least something to go a bit AWOL.
For the sake of brevity. Think of the scaps as something which requires a triangulation of muscular pulling in order to generate movement.
In order to achieve a pull up. We need ample shoulder flexion (As seen above) We need to get our arms overhead with healthy upward rotation of the scapula. (See left side) followed by a firing of muscles in order to initiate downward rotation of the scapulae. (see right side).
All of which needs to be driven by the latissimus dorsi (and many more muscles) with ample core control.
It's the utilisation of the scaps which is most often overlooked, and most often the component impeding an individual from making pull-up progress. That's without including possible soft tissue/mobility limitations.
If you can't hang from a bar without keeping your shoulder blades down. Or it just plain hurts. There's something to address first.
Another ingredient? Rowing exercises are a big deal. Especially while paying very close attention to good movement and use of the shoulder blades to control these movements. My favourites for rows are -
The most important component you need in this department is the ability to prevent excessive extension. It looks like this.
It doesn't matter whether you're in a plank position, performing a deadlift, or indeed doing a pull up. You need to possess the ability to resist the forces which knock us into this "Stick my belly out" position. The job of the anterior core is to prevent just that.
Imagine two horizontal lines drawn across your nipples, and your belly button. Now draw a vertical line down the middle of these two. That vertical line shouldn't be allowed to get longer.
The correct lumbo-pelvic position (lower back and pelvis) looks like this.
The same rule applies for the duration of your pull up. What you need are exercises such as the hollow body hold.
*Newsflash* It's not a sit up.
Again, you're making sure you're not allowing your belly button line to get longer. You're bracing your core and resisting those extension forces. Plus, it'll crush your abs in a way you've not yet experienced.
I like to kick these in by doing 10 second holds on and off.
10 seconds on & off X 6 = 60 seconds of time under tension. Do 3-4 rounds and you've got 4 minutes of core work in. Try it, you'll cry.
Push. Really. Hard.
Pull up work isn't supposed to tickle. You're not going to get anywhere if you don't ramp up the intensity of your reps. We're talking 5-6 rep maximum. You're pulling serious forces through your body. You're giving it 100%.
It should of course go without saying. That if you're new to this, or have been off the wagon for a while. Then it is encouraged to start in a higher rep range (12-15) to grease the cogs and get you into the groove.
However, if after this 'Honeymoon' period you're still finding yourself performing more than 10-12 reps? Then you're not in the right intensity zone.
It's supposed to be really hard work. Aim for 5X5 w/ 1-2 minutes rest as a guide. Filling your 2 minute window with shoulder mobility drills or light stretches if need be.
Eventually, slowly but surely. When all of these ingredients come together multiplied by time, patience and damn good food. You'll nail your first pull up like Odilla did last week. Here it is.